On the Wonders of Being Poor in America…and, No, this isn’t Sarcasm

I am poor. I am one of “the poor.” Statistically, by the current standards of measurement, I live below the poverty line. At a time like the present, when the poor of the US represent such a touchy political subject, both parties constantly elicit the plight of the poor in order to buttress their political philosophies. Since the 1930’s and the dawn of neo-liberalism the Democratic Party has consistently formed its rhetoric around being the “party of the poor and downtrodden.”

Creating such a division seems certainly politically advantageous. Humans have a penchant to root for the underdog. Whenever I happen upon a sports contest in which I am truly ambivalent towards the outcome, my emotions vacillate with the plight of the team or individual that is losing the game. If one team is clearly the underdog then I find my allegiances drifting, almost unnoticed, towards them. Likewise, the Democratic Party, or any political party, can always find support when brazenly championing the cause of the underdog. However, when the Ôø?underdogÔø? in question is a nearly immeasurable class of individuals each living and choosing under vastly varied conditions, the situation of “championing” their cause becomes a little more complicated than a simple football game.

I wait tables. I am a poor waiter who often has to pick up double-shifts of 12 to 14 hours to make rent payments. I consciously strive to butter-up my customers in order to get good tips. My situation could certainly be related in such a way that I come off as a anecdotal pity case–an often used strategy by Democrats (and sometimes Republicans) to bring a person in front of congress who has been failed by the system and needs help, specifically governmental help. The politician would comment on my college degree and me not working in my field (The field of philosophy? I consider this essay working in my Ôø?field.Ôø? But I digress.) They would comment on how hard I work and how the rising costs of heat do not help in frigid Colorado. “He lived with his parents for a year just to save up enough money so he could move out on his own. Is this the America we want for our children?” (Yeah, if I didnÔø?t choose to drop thousands of dollars on guitar equipment I could have moved out faster.) The possibly teary-eyed Democrat would then ask me to sit down and proceed to embark on an incensed rant about my case being one of only millions whom the “Great American system” has failed.

The Great American system has not failed me. I love my life and I, to the greatest extent, am completely responsible for my situation and my “poverty.” In this situation “poverty” needs to be in quotes. I live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood. I own a dog. I have cable television, a refrigerator, heating, a nice computer, a cell phone, many many books, thousands of CDs, a plethora of video games, and that only scratches the surface. I have made choices that have led me here for which I am completely responsible. I spent money on an expensive college to major in a completely non-lucrative skill. From buying thousands of dollars in guitar equipment, owning a dog, choosing to buy the entire Sonic Youth back-catalog rather than saving up rent (thus having to work doubles), to not wanting to work a job in which I have to wake up before 10 am, my current situation cannot be understood without understanding the choices I have made and the desires I have. Likewise, I am angered by politicians who speak for me,
“the poor,” and fight for me, “the impoverished,” without thinking of the individuals that construct such abstract statistical classes.

It is somewhat humbling to be a member of “the poor” in America and understand what it means to be truly poor in other parts of the world. America is a country where the poor can be fat. Furthermore, they can be fat, own two cars, have cable television, and decorate their house with knick-knacks from Pottery Barn.

The true deprivation of poverty can be seen all over Africa, where corrupt systems conspire against the well-being of the people. It could be seen in the former Soviet Union–where, in a small mining town, a riot started in 1962 when it was announced on the same day that the workersÔø? wages, which were already at poverty level, would be cut 25% and the prices of bread and meat would be going up 30%. True poverty can be seen in Western European countries (i.e. France) where governmental controls and artificially high minimum wages help keep unemployment between eight and twelve percent. What the poor have in America is a wonderful indicator of the greatness of our system.

The popular idea of the “poor” in America–the one that incenses politicians, idol leftists, and often helps create governmental policy–is based around the concept of the “static poor.” These are the people who are always poor, have always been poor, and can do nothing about being so. Furthermore, their poverty is not their fault and they cannot be held morally accountable for their abject state. Their entire existence is a perpetual struggle against the ever-present possibility of lethal deprivation of the essential goods and services.

It is exceedingly ironic that I am a member of the class that the Democrats are constantly fighting for. When championing and basing policy around a somewhat arbitrarily defined statistical set it is easy to miss the trees through the forest. The “trees” in question are individual Americans each choosing a path based on their desires, the available information and the available alternatives. It seems that the staunchest criticism of this statement centers on the negation of one, or all, of the relevant aspects of the situation. Perhaps a certain person has “false” desires that are the product of the system in which they live. This would be represented by the ever present criticism of the pejorative effects of the idea of “the American dream”–the ability of individuals to Ôø?make itÔø? in America despite their socioeconomic starting point. Following from this would be false information about what can be done about their situation–information that derives from a military/industrial complex that is interested in placating the subjects of their system. Of course, their alternatives are non-existent. They have little choice but to be poor. All of their efforts will be for naught and they will find themselves continually in an abject state of deprivation. Adding to this pain is the existence of the “static rich”–those who have money, have always had money, and gained that money at the cost of the “static poor.”

Both of these categories are phantasms. In America over 90% of the population do not stay in the same quintile of income distribution for more than ten years. (I must admit a lack of source for this statistic. I do not have the source in which I encountered this data on hand. However, the pure numbers are irrelevant. Sufficient for my argument is the fact that the vast majority of Americans do not make the same amount of money and live at the same standard for a very substantial period of time.) This seems, in many ways, clearly true. First and foremost, income and wealth in the United States are incredibly age-dependent variables. Those in their early twenties (as I am) do not make as much as those in their mid-thirties. Likewise for those in their mid-thirties and those in their early-fifties. This is, of course, to be expected. Income varies with skill, experience and seniority. And justifiably so. As workers age and become more difficult to replace, their skills become more refined and more valuable to the workforce. Strictly speaking, they become a rarer “good” that cannot be easily substituted for by any other worker with less experience and less refined skills.

However, the subtleties of an individual’s advancement in job skills and their subsequent movement through economic brackets are completely missed by statistics that simply lump classes together. Although statistics can be useful for many ways of understanding an economy they are very ill suited in determining the “justice” of an individual’s situation. Whether or not I deserve what I have, whether or not my “poverty” is a choice, whether or not I am an exploitee of the “system,” or whether or not my situation can be remedied are all questions that cannot be answered in umbrella fashion. Understanding individuals’ situations is paramount to forming opinions on whether or not the situations are just.

I choose to work the job I do for reasons other than money. I work a very short week–20-30 hours. I could change this if I wanted, but I don’t want to. By working sparingly I am able to free up my leisure time for friends, reading, writing this essay, or simply relaxing and watching The Jerk. I certainly could find more lucrative employment. Right now, however, my cost-benefit analysis keeps me where I am. I work amongst friends whom I don’t want to lose. I have seniority. The process of finding a new job, training new skills, gaining friends and the respect of bosses, and losing the familiarity and experience of a comfortable working environment is simply too costly right now. Of course I don’t mean monetary cost, but rather the cost of trading-off to find new employment and possibly lose everything I like about my current situation. Therefore, I am continuing to exist where I am right now. Will I be in the same situation making the same income in five years? I hope not. Not if I can help it. And I can help it.

It is very important to realize that my situation as a “poor” American is not even remotely unique. Although I cannot begin to throw out numbers or percentages I would be wholly comfortable in saying that there are many, many people in a very similar situation. All my roommates, the majority of my coworkers, and nearly all of my friends are in the exact same situation as I am. They are statistically poor yet live very good lives. Furthermore, their choices have made them so.

I am prepared to argue that the majority of the statistically poor in America fall into a similar class as me. I am not an aberration. I am young and impulsive. I am an intelligent guy, but I have seriously considered foregoing health insurance in order to buy a new guitar. Had I done so I would immediately have been a member of two classes that are salient issues for Democrats, “the poor” and “the uninsured.” It is very easy to make the simple, all too human mistake of supplementing immediate rewards for long-term prosperity and stability. For others who are also “poor” they may choose to work a lower-paying job with their significant other than attempt to find more gainful employment. Another member of the “poor” may continue to work a short night-shift at a gas station in order to free-up time to write lascivious science fiction. People such as these are far from being the exploited “static poor” whose image the Left has such an invested interest in maintaining.

When speaking about such an important subject as “the poor” it is vitally important to be clear in our discussions. No one is helped by statistical abstractions that fail to account for individual choice. We all want more justice in our societies. Towards this goal our debates often center on the most impoverished members of our systems. If we are to help them we must be concerned with what they want to do. With many members of our society that are described as “poor” their status may result from decisions that reflect exactly what they want to do given their current desires. So it is the case with me, and many other members of my statistical set.

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29 Responses to On the Wonders of Being Poor in America…and, No, this isn’t Sarcasm

  1. shakymink says:

    Ah, Colorado. Well do I remember the costs of living there. I myself am living below the poverty line and count as ‘poor’, though I too have come to it through concious choices. I am not proud of it, nessecarily, nor am I ashamed. These are paths I’ve chosen to walk and to hell with you if I find certain things more important than money. (I really should’ve thought of a more intelligent way to put that) I’ve made the choices that make me happy, and will help me further what I feel are my future goals. I enjoyed your essay. Good show.

  2. McZen says:

    Your overall point is well-taken. Defining the “poor” with only one major criterion, i.e. income below a certain mark, does seem sort of inadequate when you consider how much Democratic policy and rhetoric gets pinned to that term “the poor.”

    Still I do think you’re ignoring something important. You’re young and single. You don’t have a family or your own home. While you’ve proven your ability live comfortably below the poverty line, it’s not fair to assume that ability in regard to a full-fledged family. The poorest of “the poor” are the homeless. And the fastest growing population of homeless persons is not single, college-educated males. Unfortunately, it’s women and children.

    I also wanted to mention that the statistic you cited about change in earning potential is very interesting. I hope you’ll edit this post later if you find the source. One thing I’d like to see is whether there are brackets at the extremes of wealth and poverty, into and out of which people rarely move.

    Also if persons are moving from the poverty line into the middle-class and vice versa, that suggests to me that most of those people have good work ethics and the desire to better themselves, but circumstance have played some role.

  3. Aaron Powell says:

    I can try to track it down, but I do seem to recall that the statistic Trevor mentions and the one McZen asks about is referenced in Thomas Sowell’s book “The Quest for Cosmic Justice” in the essay entitled “The Mirage of Equality.” I don’t have a copy of the book myself, but I’ll look up the exact reference — and the original source — the next time I’m at the library.

  4. Aaron Powell says:

    And I will say that McZen’s reaction is the same I had when first reading Trevor’s piece. His living situation, the one that makes being poor “okay,” simply isn’t possible for a single mother, a family out of work, etc. He lives in a nice house because he shares it with several other people. He can buy video games because he doesn’t have to purchase baby food and diapers. While it is true that, in practically every sense, the poor in this country have it better than the poor in most other nations (they have access to health care, usually aren’t starving, etc.), being poor, for a good number of those who fit in the demographic, isn’t nearly as “wonderful” as Trevor currently has it.

  5. Trevor Burrus says:

    First, the citations: Greg J. Duncan and others published “Years of Poverty, Years of Plenty: The Changing Economic Fortunes of American workers and Families” published by University of Michigan press, 1984. This study found that less than half of the families followed between 1971-1978 remained in the same quintile of income distribution through those years. Also a report prepared for the Joint Economic Committee in 1992 entitled “Income Mobility and Economic Opportunity” that followed income tax returns found that more than 80% of individuals who filed returns in the bottom 20% in 1979 were no longer there by 1988. Both of these citations were found via Thomas Sowell, either in “The Quest for Cosmic Justice” or “The Vision of the Anointed.”

    This essay was intended to describe my situation as one of “the poor.” It was also intended to argue the somewhat evident conclusion that, although there are true poor people in the United States, my type of poor is a common type of poor and a type that should be considered when throwing around lump sums and statistical abstractions.

    I realize that there are people in more difficult situations than I am. I did not write the essay to diminish their perilous states. However, being poor in America is still relatively wonderful to the levels of poverty that exist in the rest of the world or throughout history. Nearly half of the poor have air conditioning, more than half have cars and there are 20,000 “poor” with a swimming pool or jacuzzi. (Robert Rector, “Poverty in the US is Exaggerated by Census,” Wall Street Journal, 9/25/90).

    What is to explain this? One fact are the shifting incomes of individual people. In terms of income; a person who runs his own Law Firm can go from being statistically rich, to being statistically poor, to being in the middle in only few years time. Business can be good, then lawyers can leave and income can fall to very low levels but be returned with new partners. (This, more or less, happened to my father) However, income is different than wealth, and poverty statistics usually focus on income because it is more alarming. But something is up with the poor in America. The Robert Rector article also found that the statistical poor in America spend an average of $1.94 for every dollar they earn.

    Debt is certainly part of the higher standard of living “the poor” incur. Debt is essentially charging current goods and services to your future self. Because we have an intricate system of credit and debt in America, and because, most likely, our future selves will be making more money than our current selves, the system generally works and the poor can live well.

    The differences in age income distribution is worth pointing out with statistics. Income differences in the US are less differences between abstract, morally charged “classes” and more differences in age. As of 1989 28% of people aged 45-54 yrs earned double the national average. Only 13% of 25-44 yr olds did likewise. (US Bureau of Census, “Current Population Reports, Series P-60, No. 177). Also, over 60% of people in the top 5% of earners in 1992 were 45 or older. (Ibid.) Class is mostly an age phenomenon, not the abstract moral categories of deservers and non-deservers that Marx left as such an eternally significant legacy.

    Thanks for the remarks guys.

  6. kid woof woof says:

    You’re not poor, you idiot; you’re just playing at slumming around until the Corporate Shilling buys your ass; and even then you’re making a bad job of it. And who are you speaking for, Trevor Burrus, when claiming “we all” want more justice? Not for the Kid, that’s for sure. He wants a whole lot less ‘justice’ – on the basis that ‘justice’ is nothing more or less than humans playing inadequately at God/god via whatever self-mutilating, vindictive, spiteful and asinine belief system they happen to have hypocritically signed up for in their supreme unthinking, terrified ignorance and horror.

    ‘Justice’? Just another way of saying – BE LIKE ME! and, if all else fails, if I can’t have it nor, certainly, can you. Equality? Oh yeah. Everyone is equally insignificant in the eye of the id. Exterminate all the brutes.

  7. the leg-spinner formely known as the prince says:

    The problem I have with the poor is that they are essentially lazy (and tend to come from ethnic minorities – if they are white they tend to be ‘bad whites’).

    The poor are also the greatest disseminators of STD’s (96% of Aids victims had HIV at one stage!), as such I do not believe they have a right to justice (93% poor are considered to be ‘unjust’).

    Justice is there to protect all, those who are not all (the poor) are not covered by justice.

  8. DM says:

    My comment is not on the original essay nor the composer of it, but rather on some of the comments I read from other readers (assuming they will ever read this).

    “kid woof woof”
    You are very fast to judge someone of whom you know nothing. You call him an idiot while based on what I have read from each of you, he is far more articulate. This is someone else’s essay/opinion; he never asked you to agree with it. Don’t be so quick to pass judgment, it seems to me that you are, in fact, the idiot.

    “the leg-spinner formerly known as prince”,
    Your comment “the poor are essentially lazy” tells me that you have never really known anyone who is poor, nor do you care to. There are millions of hard working “poor” people out there; just because you are oblivious to them does not mean that they don’t exist. You too are very fast to judge people whom you don’t know. Your prejudice and ignorance will be a permanent fixture in your narrow minded life.

    These responses/opinions are not from someone who is “poor”, but rather someone with an open mind and heart.

  9. McZen says:

    In response to Kid Woof Woof’s: “Justiceí? Just another way of saying – BE LIKE ME! and, if all else fails, if I canít have it nor, certainly, can you. Equality? Oh yeah. Everyone is equally insignificant in the eye of the id. Exterminate all the brutes.”

    I like your post, but I thought you might have closed it better if you added, “This is not an advertisment for MTV.”

    In response to Leg Spinner’s:”The poor are also the greatest disseminators of STDís (96% of Aids victims had HIV at one stage!), as such I do not believe they have a right to justice (93% poor are considered to be ëunjustí).”

    Statistics can be used to prove anything, Leg-Spinner. Even 34% of all people know that.

  10. kid woof woof says:

    DM, you moron – it seems to me that you are making rather hasty judgments about my idiocy or otherwise, given your standard, pathetic liberal plea for letting folks have their unmolested opportunity to spout garbage. Prissy goons like you tend to bother about things like consistency. I’m disappointed.

    McZen – I have no idea what point you’re trying to make. Do you?

  11. Trevor Burrus says:

    Kid Woof Woof: You are an unwarranted elitist. You believe your beliefs and attitudes place you in a higher category than the rest of us, both intellectually and morally. However, your actions speak louder than your words. You have posted often throughout this site. All the while trying to make it clear, with several hundred words, that you are above these debates, that you realize things that make you epistemically and morally priviledged, that language is meaningless and inaccurate, and that your involvement in these debates is only a proverbial toe-dip in a cesspool of verbose, inane, self-styled intellectuals who should be gratified to be in your presence.

    I am in no way gratified. You do not argue, you assert. You do not confront arguments, you name-call. You seem to feel that your opinions give you the privilege of baseless assertion. You parade around like a teflon intellectual – saying things without argument in highly stylized prose, letting no facts or cognitive culpability stick to you.

    I, however, understand you. I know you are smirking now, reading this post saying that a lowly philosopher engaging in meaningless debate “understands” you. But, I do. I was once very much like you, believing that my opinions offered me special considerations. I once believed this entire human endeavor to be a pointless waste of time perpetrated be sacks of flesh that were, by nature, evil, spiteful, vindictive killers. I also gave myself no special consideration. I was as base as all the rest. However, I realized that the driving force behind my beliefs were the privileged status I felt they afforded me. Here I was, realizing something that no one else had the gumption to say. I was a warrior for an angst-filled truth that everyone was too weak to own up to. I was special.

    Clearly, you feel you are special – otherwise you wouldn’t spend so much goddam effort to show us how stupendously perspicacious you are. Stop rolling your eyes. This post is amusing you in its simplistic “understanding” of the complexity of your other-worldly thought. Right now, a flurry of compound-complex sentences to deflate my rhetoric is forming in your head. Most likely you will own up to the majority of what I have said. Owning up to it makes you better than it. There is nothing that you are not prepared to say about yourself.

    Intellectual authority is not achieved by launching invectives over a wall built by turgid prose. It is not achieved by supplanting art for matter and straw men for rigid argumentation. It is achieved by making people realize things of which they were previously unaware. It is achieved by adding to the panoply of knowledge that allows humans to negotiate the world with an increasing level of success.

    So far you have achieved nothing here. Throughout your posts, although well-written and enjoyable to read, you have made no one here believe anything differently. You have given us no reason to address your assertions with careful thought or cogent rejoinders. You have made no mark on anyone who does not already agree with you. On this site you have shown yourself to be, so far, an intellectual failure.

    I am engaged in a concerted effort to make people think when they leave this site. You want to blow them away with vocabulary and style. I would like people to consider what I have to say because it carries with it at least the possibility of being true – and if it isn’t true it warrants respect and refutation. Yes, I want to change other’s beliefs by giving them clear reasons to think differently. You, however, don’t want to argue for your beliefs because you don’t want anyone else to hold them. This revocation of the idiosyncratic, uniqueness of your thoughts would be a serious dent to your ego.

    If you’ve read this far you are rolling your eyes again. However, I appreciate your giving this criticism some time. After all, this is meant to be constructive criticism. When I had similar thoughts it took a little bit of intellectual bullying to pull me away.

    You are obviously intelligent. Also, aesthetically, I really like your prose style. However, please raise the level of this discourse above name-calling, straw man caricature, and baseless assertion. We would all be better and happier for it. Thank you.


  12. kid woof woof says:

    Listen, Trevor Burrus, you have no idea how low your personal happiness ranks on my list of concerns. Safe to say that it’s no higher than my concern for all the other dime-a-dozen would-be intellectuals caught in the headlamps of the Spectacle, and who offer their penny ante thoughts with such dread and dreary earnestness.

    Whatever – thanks for reading my mind and telling me what I “really think”. That’s quite a gift you’ve got there – you should join a circus. Or some other freak show. But you’ve got me wrong, all ends up. I’m not aiming for “intellectual authority”; that’s just an example of projection on your part. Nor do I give a hoot whether you agree with, are persuaded by, give respect to, allow psychic space for or otherwise accommodate the coddery that speaks me. You dunderhead, it’s not “mine” any more than the conventional pieties and low grade banalities written under the sign of “Trevor Burrus” are “yours”. ‘I’ don’t exist; nor do ‘you’ – “we’re” just conduits, ducts, sewage systems, conducting the accumulated silage of the milennia to its inevitable home in the ‘hearts & minds’ of other equally pig ignorant hominids. Idiosyncratic? Unique? Hardly. Just another churning turd in the overflow pipe, that’s all.

    It’s good to know that I’ve achieved nothing. That’s always been my most devout wish. OK – I’ll give you some advice: it seems you don’t like the Kid. So, ignore me – you never know, I might go away. But every time you beard ole KWW with your attempts at cleverness he’ll be back to make sure you realise how stupid you actually are. The Kid has the last word. Always.

  13. the legspinner formerly known as the prince says:

    I think the problem here is an epistemological one. D. Dennett talks about ‘inversing the patterns of modernity’; not post-modernity, but ‘inverse modernity’. What inversed modernity tells us is the striving for meaning is an inverse project, i.e. what we actually arrive at is the inverse of what we were aiming at. Dennett argues that everytime I think of P, the inverse is the case (the inverse of P is d).

    the project of ‘understanding’ is a misunderstanding, for we have totally overlooked the inverse of ‘understanding’, which is our only means of understanding (cf. also T Grasci’s ‘periodicizing of continuity’ – which argues along similar lines to Dennet). The implications are great and far reaching: the dyslexic who inverses the shape of letters, who ‘misreads’ p for d, is the model of the future’; the intellectual who inverses the patterns of meaning and understanding and the tools which we ‘use’ to understand and mean, i.e. language.

    Kid Woof Woof overlooks this, and so do the rest of you! – Dennet ends his text with a powerful quote from T. Turner: “we don’t need no more hereos”

  14. kid woof woof says:

    True – the dyslexic offers some virtue in the form of her pathological misreadings of the most simple cultural performances and texts, thereby sabotaging the taken-for-granteds of everyday representation. But, beyond that … nothing.

  15. Trevor Burrus says:

    Kid Woof Woof’s posts are the worst kind of philosophical tripe. They foster no debate, they make no one take pause and think. And, far and away from his posts “mak[ing] sure [I] realise how stupid [I] actually [am],” they buttress my self-image entirely.

    The Kid will always have problems with anyone ever caring what he has to say. Right now, I have a problem trying to get enough time to respond to everything that people want to say about my philosophical positions. The Kid clearly wants people to listen to him – an endeavor in which he will always find great difficulty.

    In short, this is my website and the Kid has broken the rules far too much. Aaron has asked him to refrain from his name-calling and baseless diatribing. I have done likewise.

    Although we encourage all types of opinions on this site, we do not encourage all types of attitudes. This site is monitored to maintain the desired levels of productive discussion. In that sense it is a fascism that autocratically controls its members. We see this as the only way of keeping the site from becoming an avenue for degenerate debators and debating tactics. The expectations are not high, nor difficult to maintain.

    Therefore, from now on the Kid’s posts will be monitored heavily and deleted if desired.


  16. kid woof woof says:

    Hooray for democracy and the American Way! Delete away, sad sack.

  17. Trevor Burrus says:

    As I stated: this is an autocratic, oligarchical (Aaron and I) fascism. No democracy or “American Way.” We don’t care what you say, we don’t care if you have poor arguments, we don’t care if you are a poor writer. We simply care if your attitude towards those who disagree with you preempts productive debate and degenerates discussion into the morass that the Kid is trying to pull us into.

    I know your “status” on this site is a badge of honor to you, Kid. You feel you have browbeaten us into capitulation and retreat. You made us think things we didn’t want to and we are now reverting to an intellectual fetal position. Now, the only thing we can do is censor you.

    Feel as you like. Your status on this site is clear to everyone but you.


  18. Trevor Burrus says:

    Thank you for asking me a question. I will attempt to address it in a somewhat curt fashion, because I fear a philosophical, long-winded pull from a question as large as…

    “How can one understand culture empirically when it is ineluctably infused with psycho-social significance?”

    First of all, you have made an empirical observation of culture – that it is infused with “psycho-social significance.” Seeing as that I highly doubt you claim this to be an item of a priori knowledge you seem to believe some empirical knowledge of culture is possible. Now the question is one of degree, not type.

    So what type of empirical understanding do you feel is undermined by “psycho-social significance?” It seems you have some disdain for the traditional concept of the correspondence theory of truth. Insofar as I can reconstruct your position, and I apologize for any straw men here, you believe that human beings are so laden with symbolic significance and psyches built on evolutionary drives that finding the correspondingly true statements is an inevitably fruitless exercise.

    Do I believe in truth? Yes. If an external, non-dependent world exists than there is at least one true statement, that it exists. If it has any more states than simple existence then there are many true statements.

    Is the inaccuracy of language problematic to making true statements? Possibly. However, it is an inevitable problem as long as there is a distinction between “the knowers” and “the known.” Even God would have this Kantian problem of knowledge (for more on this read Schopenhauer). Therefore, the problem can be realized and steps taken to counteract the linguistic inaccuracies. The answer is not to throw one’s hands in the air and say “I give up.”

    You do make some points concerning I subject very important to me. The question of “what is true” is significantly different than the question “how do we know what is true?” Towards the latter my interest sits. The pioneering work of Karl Popper and, to a lesser extent, David Hume has elucidated the salient nature of the epistemic question over the metaphysical one. Our central concerns should lie in using well chosen methods of choosing beliefs rather than using metaphysical jargon to prove existence and actuality. The advent of science as a method of trying to discover what works – making predictions and adjusting your beliefs based on what happens – has been a major advancement in human thought. Science is a method of discovery and testing. Due to the reasons stated by Hume, Popper, and others, we can never know, for sure, if something is true. There is always a problem of knowledge. Therefore our efforts can center on belief refinement and adjustment.

    There is more to be said here but I have to go to work. Please respond Kid, and try to give me a more clear statement of your views so I can respond to them as they are.


  19. Mulalu says:

    I think the K-K-Kid deserves some sympathy for f-f-fighting his corner…the ‘Trevor Barris’ unit-approach leads nowhere…’Ron Powell’ takes us within c-c-clacking distance but has no substance, Now I’m not saying the Kid is right…he’s a seethingmassofmeatbonesandgristle after all…but he offers us a way, a path, a future.

  20. Hayder Al-Mohammad says:

    Hello everyone, I’m an undergraduate. First year. This discussion is really interesting.

    I don’t know much about philosophy, but what say Trevor sounds really right. Even if the mind is driven by unconcious desires that we are conciously unaware of, we still have our conciousness nevertheless. It is aware and it does, somehow, perceive the world.

    Correspondance theory is synonomous with denotational theory, I think (if I’m wrong I apologise). That is p is true if and only if p.

    According to this theory, truth consists in a correspondence relation between sentence like “truth-bearers” and features of the actual world. True statements represent some aspect of the actual world – some actually existing situation.
    For example, the sentence “there is a beer in the refrigerator” is true iff there really is a beer in the refrigerator.

    Now, in your argument you mention Kant. Why? He does not support what you say in any way (not as I have understood him). Kant is anything but a denotationalist (I know your mentioning of Kant had nothing to do with this issue, however, you mention a thinker who fundamentally takes apart your stance).

    For Kant, “truth” is no longer a correspondence between a particular experience and “external” reality (neumena), but coherence -the agreement of an experience with the system of rules by which we constitute our experience and our logic under normal conditions (the categories).

    A belief is true if it is allowed by one of those rules that impose our experience on us. A belief is false if it goes against the rules constituting our experience.

    For example, under normal conditions the things we perceive “really are” there, because they behave according to the “rules” of cause and effect, logic, and Euclidean geometry. On the other hand, when we hallucinate, dream, fantasize, or when our senses aren’t working properly, “normal conditions” do not prevail, our experiences tend not to follow the “rules”, and beliefs we based on them are false.

    However, Kant held that human beings conceptualize the world in the same way. But if they do not, who is “right”? Can anyone’s experience be more “right” than others? The coherence theory of truth ultimately seems to end up being a relativistic one.

    Let me clarify, I do not agree with kant. I discuss him to show the correspondance theory of truth to be slightly crazy in the light of the work that has gone on throughout the last 200 years.

  21. McZen says:

    WoofWoof –

    It was a heavily disguised, but brilliantly pithy insult (if I don’t mind saying so myself). The fact that you didn’t get it was mostly expected. I suspect others here who share my perception of you did get it, or I wouldn’t have bothered posting it.

    Normally I won’t go that low, but when someone posts a message both arrogant and insubstantial (at least in so far as it was communicated), and all to attack someone else’s sincere, thoughtful and coherent comment, I can’t help but lay into a pretentious asshole. I’m feeling generous though so I’ll explain it to you.

    “This is not an advertisement for MTV” is an MTV campaign. The brilliance of it is the fact that it alludes to the absolutely assassine disguise most advertisements wear. Namely, “Hey there, gentle TV viewer, we’re here for you! This advertisment isn’t really intended to benefit our product, it’s all for you!” MTV took that idea to the extreme and came up with a great idea: an advertisement for MTV that outright declares “This is not an advertisement for MTV.”

    In most of the ads, the viewer’s attention, as represented by a first-person camera shot, keeps wandering because the information being presented is either vapid, boring, or pretentious and high-flown.

    What’s the analogy to your post?

    There are several points.
    1)First, your post is disguised in just the same way. You’re saying this post is NOT an advertisment for the Kid! This is about Kid offering you all something! But your posts are a ridiculously obvious attempt to garner some intellectual respect for yourself, probably because you desperately need to believe you are intelligent, even though you suspect that deep down Mom may have been exagerating all these years.
    2)Anyone that reads your post probably suffers from a wandering attention span, because the “information” presented is either boring, or vapid, or pretentious and high-flown.
    3)Your comments are “edgy” in the same way MTV is. It’s in your face, it’s loud and willing to go just about anywhere, but there’s really no substance. It’s a sound byte here, a sound byte there. MTV certainly taps into the culture of cool, and I’m sure if you cared spend a little more time developing your posts there’d be something worth reading there. But in the end it’s all mostly style.

    In that sense you are an advertisement for MTV (loud, edgy, mostly style), claiming you’re not an advertisement for MTV (the Kid’s here for you).

    In another sense, you’re also not an advertisment for MTV, since you’re exactly what no one here wants to be.

    Fuck though, I think it was a lot funnier just to say you should add to the bottom of all your posts, “This is not an advertisement for MTV.”

    In another post you said to Trevor, “Whatever – thanks for reading my mind and telling me what I ìreally thinkî. Thatís quite a gift youíve got there – you should join a circus.”

    The fact that Trevor needs to be a mind-reader in order to make sense of your posts may have more to do with your communication skills than his claiming absurd powers.

  22. McZen says:

    Alright, I was a bit more of a dick in my last post than I needed to be. So I’m done dissin the Kid. This is the last time I’m going make a post to him, unless he changes his attitude, but I’d like to amend what I’ve already said to a make a little more positive, since that really does seem to be the general spirit of these forums.

    WoofWoof, you’re not stupid, even though it seems obvious that you’re deeply insecure about something if not your intelligence. And if you look closely at my post I never claim you are stupid. But you’re communication *style* is completely inappropriate for a friendly forum geared toward sharing new ideas and perspectives with other people who have something to say.

    I think you really do have something interesting and worthwhile to say, but you’re intentionally packaging it to compact as much meaning as possible into the fewest words possible, and most of the time you’re only intent seems to be to provoke. That’s a wonderful communication style… for poetry. But it’s terrible for a forum like this where people aren’t interested in getting worked up as much as they’re interested in learning something new. You have no reason to be insecure about your intelligence, quit hiding behind such an abusive communication style.

    The reason so many people are apparently misunderstanding you is that you’ve (intentionally) made it so easy. Make an effort to tell us what you really think and why. I for one think you probably have a unique and interesting perspective, if only anyone here could wade through your communication style to get there.

  23. Jon Dunham says:

    Hello, all. Let me start off by saying that I’m probably the most ignorant on the subject of philosophy, seeing as how I’m a 17 year-old high school student. However, I can still appreciate Trevor Burrus’ essay, mainly because it will probably be of great importance to me in a matter of years. Completely off the main subject, though, is what I’ve derived from the comments here. I used to think that a person’s grammatical correctness and English education made their way of thinking and opinions more valid than somebody who, oh say, didn’t know the difference between you’re and your. Although how somebody writes can indicate — in some instances — their education on other matters, ‘kid woof woof’ has shown me the errors of my ways, and I sort of passively thank him for it. In all of his five comments on this article, he never contributed a real opinion to the discussion (R.I.P.) that would help someone better their way of thinking. He presented everything as (what he believed to be) truth, rather than his own take on the matter. Forgive me if I’m misquoting, but I think it would help him to realize that “the first step in knowing everything is admitting that you know nothing.” Something tells me he skipped over that step.

  24. DM says:

    Trevor Burris is brilliant, and as I have said before he never asked anyone to agree with his opinions; even I do not agree with all of his opinions or statements. However, there is this thing called the First Amendment. This Amendment is all about freedom of speech. If you think these people are “spouting garbage”, why do you bother reading a word of it? I can’t imagine you are being forced.
    The “kid deserves sympathy”? You must be joking! Maybe for his obnoxios and ridiculous comments and un-warranted attacks on others in his debates which may require therapy.

    I see that you are back to your name calling which proves (once again) you are inarticulate (that means poor vocabulary, I’m assuming you do not know that term); you possess a lack of self esteem and intelect. And I’m the one who’s ‘hasty’? If I recall correctly your ‘hastiness’ was preciseley the reason I wrote a comment back to you in the first place! I am no prissy goon, and never did I say or implicate that I am a liberal.
    What ever happened to a friendly debate among people with different opinions. These things can possibly enlighten all of us. I agree with what John Duhams’ take was on this whole matter. If “kid” could partake in a debate (without attacking others) ‘perhaps we could all learn from one another and be that much better for it’. For some reason, that is not alright with you. Anyone who sees things any other way but your way (of which I’m not entirely sure is anything other than prejudice and arrogance) is an “idiot” or a “moron”. If I’m not mistaken, Trevor’s statement about “reading his mind” was sarcasm (this happens to be a personality trait many have in which you will need people skills to understand; that is something you may want to work on). But I suppose your reply to that is where that arrogance rears it’s ugly head again.
    Oh, and by the way you mention that Trevor’s personal happiness ranks low on your list of concerns, if that’s the case why would you have said any of this, and why would you continue to read or write anything here if you don’t care? Is it just to be nasty to other people. that would be my guess? I, on the other hand (while the lowest on my priority list of caring) am worried about why you feel you must treat others this way. What a sad way to live.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you on the fact that “kid’s” communication skills need work, and lots of it.

    John D,worrie
    You seem to be very intelligent and perceptive, and especially for your age. I look forward to seeing things from you in the future.

  25. mulalu says:

    I’m sorry…but I’m with kid on this one…the conceit of Trevor Barris to describe himslef as poor. Thus I invite him to answer the following questions…

    How old was he when he saw his first dead body?
    How many of his relatives have died before the age of 40?
    How many of his siblings are dead?

  26. Sirveri says:

    You know, I don’t think you’re as poor as I am. And I didn’t used to be poor either!

    In ’01 I was making 35k a year. In ’02 I made 18k. In ’03 I estimate that I will make 10k. I haven’t had benefits since I lost my ‘good’ job in 2/02. I’m 23, I have no college degree. The industry I was in (Construction) collapsed with the tech industry. Probably doesn’t help that I’m in the epi-center of destruction, the San Francisco Bay Area. That said, I’m over skilled, and under educated. All the babyboomers have over inflated the market so it is not actually possible for me to get a job in my field. Shitty retail stores don’t want to hire me because they see me as being too skilled and a turnover risk.

    When I work, I am one of the most hardworking people around, ask any of my coworkers about the level of pride and energy I put into my work. My only downfall is that I demand to be treated fairly. A sad comment for this age where wanting to be treated fairly leads to you getting fired.

    I have sent out resumes and applications to no less than 50 differant locations. I have not recieved a single phone call. Not one. My rent is due to increase in March. So yes, you are below the poverty line, but you are not poor. I can not afford to heat my house, sure it’s only 53 degrees, but really, who cares I’m still cold! Do I need help? Oh yes I do, I need to go back to school, yet the government which is currently controlled by republicans has just raised community college fees from 18 dollars a unit to 26 dollars a unit. And they cut funding to grants.

    You could ‘improve’ yourself, and for various reason you don’t. But you aren’t on welfare, you aren’t on general assistance. You aren’t screwing over the system. So you’re right, we must be concerned with what the poor want to do. You’re considered poor, and you want to stay that way, and you don’t take unfair advantage of the programs for the poor. I’m poor and I want a job. There are single mothers living in the slums of Oakland who just want to survive.

    President Bush talks about no child left behind. Well you know what, screw the children, I actually PAY taxes! Oh but then he cut that program, so I guess he agrees with me. I need a education, yet I made too much money in ’02 to get any government aid. I only made 18k, 10 of which was from unemployment benefits. Why am I posting this, I’m posting this because I am going to talk for as long as I have net access. I’m going to talk about how people who were once in the middle class are drowning and nobody is helping them. I’m going to shout in the hopes that my voice will be heard in a ocean of noise. I’m going to shout because it’s the only thing left for me to do.

  27. Trevor Burrus says:

    I believe mulalu missed the point of my article.

    My article is intended to show that I am “statistically poor” but not impoverished. No, I have no dead siblings or relatives. Yet I am still one of the “statistically poor.”

    There are members of “the poor” in the US and the world who have to deal with abysmal conditions constantly. This may include the deaths of many close relatives. However, in a sense, mulalu is arguing my point. I am one of “the poor” yet I am far from a decrepit state.

    Modern political rhetoric, particularly Democratic rhetoric, is interested in equating the “statistically poor” with the “static poor.” The intent is to show that there are millions of destitute Americans out there, the “bottom 20%,” who are impoverished through no fault of their own – and with nothing to do about it. Therefore, government aide is required to assist those whom “the system” has failed. My article was a simple attempt to show that I am part of the “statistically poor” but I am far from being a “static poor” who needs government assistance to lift me from my morass. Furthermore, my article aruged that I am not alone in my situation and, indeed, I am part of a large enough group to be relevant to discussions of “the poor.”

    Sirveri, your story is appreciated. It is important to hear stories such as these. Likewise, it is important to hear stories that are the converse of yours – success, good luck and happiness.

    Unfortunately, you are not going to like anything that I have to say about it. It is difficult to tell someone that their personal prosperity is NOT synonymous with a nation’s or an economy’s prosperity. However, it is the essence of an economy, that people need to loose jobs, business need to go bankrupt, wages need to fall, and many other discretely undesirable things need to occur in order for an economy to function well. So here is where charges of “heartlessness” or “mean-spiritedness” start being launched.

    However, again, this post resembles mulalu’s in some degree. Precisely, I am saying that I am “statistically poor” and I am doing quite well. I am NOT saying that all statistically poor are doing equally well and that there is not undeserved economic suffering in the US or elsewhere. I am simply saying that my type of “poor” is important to consider when debates and sweeping pronouncements about “the poor” are made.

    Thanks for responding.

    Trevor Burrus

  28. mulalu says:

    Thanks Trevor for having the grace to respond to my q-q-questions. However in describing yourself as ‘poor’ you are merely playing a ‘language game’ of the same level that is found in standard political rhetoric and which this site is attempting to take onto a more informed level if not puncture. Yes, in a Wittgensteinian sense there are certain ‘family resemblances’ between your ‘brand’ of being ‘poor’ and the poverty of countries such as my own where average life expectancy is 40 years old and where no-one would be able to tell you when they saw their first dead body because they’ve seen so many. However, your self-description is a linguistic conceit of the lowest order, such as describing a famine and losing a sports match as ‘tragedies’ and inferring that they are of the same register rather than being completely different experiences that merely share the same sign. Likewise your ‘brand’ of ‘poor’ covers an entirely different semantic field and although misguided and inaccurate I do not believe it betrays anything more sinister than a limited experience of the w-w-world.

  29. FanaticallyApathetic says:

    Mulau heís talking about the American poor, I think, and not the poor of other countries. Candidates in America usually donít talk about international social programs. So I don’t think heís criticizing the stretching of the poor in other countries.

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