I’m Supposed to Respect That?

Been a while since I’ve posted. I’ll try and work on that.

Anyway, have you seen this Facebook meme, or something similar?

When I was a kid I didn’t have a computer, internet, Nintendo DS, XBox, or Wii. I had a bike and a curfew. My toys were the outside world. If I didn’t eat what my mom made me, I didn’t eat. I didn’t dare tell my parents “no” or dare to talk back. Life wasn’t hard, it was life… And I survived. Repost if you liked the way you were raised…and drank water out of a hose.

Personally, I can’t stand stuff like this. So, what you’re telling me is that you didn’t have a lot of technology, your parents didn’t really pay attention to what you were doing, and you were scared to question their authority? Do you want a cookie for this great accomplishment? Hold on, there’s one that’s even worse:

My curfew was lightning bugs. My parents didn’t call my cell, they yelled my name. I played outside with friends, not online. If I didn’t eat what mom cooked, then I didn’t eat. Sanitizer didn’t exist, but you COULD get your mouth washed out with soap. I road a bike without a helmet. Getting dirty was OK, and neighbors gave a darn as much as your parents did

Precisely what is good about not having a cell phone for your parents to contact you with? If you happen to be out of earshot until Lightingbug o’clock, they can come in handy. Also, you see some virtue in having more germs on your hand? Even if it’s not a huge threat, what possible good comes from more germs? Is there an award for it, or does it only go to kids who needlessly crack their heads open by biking without a helmet?

I get it, you’re mythologizing your past in an effort to make yourself feel superior to the lowly youth of today. Considering the leaders you have to look at, I can’t blame you. Take Senator Marco Rubio, for example.

In 2010, Senator Rubio, trying to get in good with all the cool conservatives, decided to pile on the idiotic “Barack Obama uses a teleprompter” meme. Now, let’s break this meme down for a second: they’re accusing him of using technology to make coherent speeches while not breaking eye contact with the audience. Teleprompters are actually really useful to maintain poise, keep your pacing consistant and, let’s see, what else can they do?

Oh, yea. They can help you not lose part of your speech, Senator Rubio:

It’s almost like the advanced technology is better than the old system! Of course, it’s only better if you don’t recognize the inherent superiority of easily lost pieces of paper to accomplish the same task, but since reading from a teleprompter and reading from paper are functionally the same, I have to presume that every moron who makes a teleprompter joke just feels there is something fundamental about the medium that somehow makes the less efficient paper preferable. Ask Rick Perry or Rick Santorum what happens when you try and talk off the cuff.

Let’s take one more example. I often run into people in online debates who like to bring up their own struggles and cap the story with, “And I didn’t take government assistance”, as if this is supposed to make them seem more respectable.

You know what? It makes them sound like a moron.

No, hear me out for a second. Let’s say that you wanted to put a pool in your back yard. Before you do anything, you have to dig a hole. Rather than use the backhoe that you’ve previously paid for, you decide to use a plastic shovel instead. Am I supposed to praise you for your triumph over adversity? An adversity that you pointlessly inflicted on yourself?

Similarly, telling me that you, due to principled reasons, eschewed government assistance while you were having trouble, assistance that you’ve been paying for while working, just makes you seem like you weren’t taking advantage of all of the tools at your disposal. There’s nothing honorable about that, nothing noble. If you have kids and make their lives more difficult than they have to be to serve your pride, I’d even argue that that’s child abuse.

This type of story, however, is a classic logical fallacy: appeal to emotion. We love to hear underdog stories, how people triumphed over the odds. We love to hearken back to “simpler” times, a concept I think was best exemplified in this Daily Show segment.

Of course, the point of the segment is that perspective is everything, and we tend to be emotionally attached to the time when we didn’t have anything to worry about. The growing concerns of our lives combined with a growing awareness of the world can leave us defeated, worn down, and wishing not for the events of our childhood, but for the freedom from worry that childhood came with and a sense that because other people were taking care of the problems, they were easy to take care of.
That’s why when I hear, “I suffered and never used government assistance, therefore other people can do the same” arguments, it makes me think that the person saying it falls into one of two categories:
1. People who have no idea what it’s like to be poor in America today. There’s nothing intrinsically immoral about this position, most people just don’t think about it. For example, I’ve heard the argument that “my father worked hard and provided for our family so my mother didn’t have to work. We didn’t have a lot, but we always had food on the table.” That’s all well and good, but what you don’t seem to understand is that not only were things cheaper back then, even adjusting for inflation, but people actually made more money by the same adjustment. What you thought was a “struggle” would be paradise to people in largely the same wage bracket as you today. A single parent made enough that they could take care of their families. That’s just not a reality today and you’re trying to compare two very different economic landscapes. My ability to sail does not qualify me to lead us out of the jungle, even if that jungle is on an island.
2. People who are lying. Let’s be perfectly frank: people who have lived in cars and eaten out of trash cans generally don’t wish that on other people. The assumption from those who make these arguments is that a person’s poverty is their own fault, a consequence of the choices they’ve made, and outside forces don’t factor in. Of course, outside forces have a major impact on poverty including age when you first become poor, length of time you’ve been poor, your race, the general economic state, quality of education, and gender among others. The claim of not taking assistance is a ploy to make the speaker seem superior, as if they realized that they were solely in charge of their own destiny and crawled out of a bad situation all by themselves. People who have actually been poor know this is remarkably unlikely and while I’m sure there’s a few people who look with disdain at those who haven’t been able to accomplish what they have, I’ll play my odds that the person making this claim is a fucking liar.
That being said, in both cases we see people who are fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of the problem they’re claiming to have overcome, so it seems plausible (to them) that their story could be not only true, but reflective of the reality of today. In the first case, they see their struggles as being on par with the struggles of others, in the second case they fall back on the assumption that the less successful are lazy, stupid, and worthless, so they invent stories to try and fill in the fact-shaped holes in their ideology.
This doesn’t take into account people who have made an attempt at getting assistance and haven’t been able to for reasons outside of their control, but that’s an entirely different post.
Whether you’re saying that it’s somehow a vice to use an incredibly helpful piece of technology to better communicate during speeches, or suggesting that your coincidentally not breaking your head open is somehow proof of the superiority of your methods, or even saying that you’re somehow a better person for not using a tool that, and I can’t stress this enough, you paid for to accomplish a task, you’re basically basking in ignorance. You’re eschewing easier, better, and safer methods for no particular reason.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of tribalism. We associate ourselves with a group, then wrap reason into knots to rationalize away inconsistencies between our ideology and observed reality. It’s something everybody does. And the best way to combat it is to be aware that we’re doing it. The second best way is to let your friends know when they are. It doesn’t have to be mean (I try to be nice to my friends, even though I’m hilariously mean to hypothetical people here), but if we’re to be honest with ourselves and one another, we need to challenge established ideas, weigh them, and throw out the ones that don’t work.
And yes, that means pointing out when things are just remarkably dumb.
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One thought on “I’m Supposed to Respect That?

  1. Pingback: Mental Junk Drawer | Reasonable Conversation

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