Friday, January 15, 2016

Eating Cake

My mental wheels have been falling into ruts lately. Crisis has a way of forcing either/or, unilateral thinking, I guess, because I feel the need to decide, to act, to get moving.

For example, a friend of mine recently went on the lam, or, as his PO said, "absconded."

Now, that is what it is, for  better or worse. He has his reasons I guess.

But  can't help but wonder why.

On the one hand, he had the personal autonomy to "decide," to "get his shit together," to "pull himself up by his bootstraps." We all know this explanation of poverty as a choice not to work, as being the poor person's "fault" for not having the gumption to get out there and start a business to break the cycle of poverty by force of will.

Let's call this the "personal responsibility" camp.

On the other hand, my friend had social forces and inertia aligned against him. As a convicted felon, doors closed to him. Resumes and applications went unanswered, conversations died when people learned of his status as ex-con; he had lost the support of his family. In general, he wore a scarlet letter that earned him hard knocks.

In short, this guy, and others in his situation, or anyone coming from a socially marginalized position, faces an uphill climb against lack of opportunity, proximity to crime, difficult family relationships, and low expectations. This group does not share the entitlement that goes along with being a privileged member of society. Anyone who thinks they know what this is like who hasn't been there is full of caca.

Let's call this the "social product" camp.

Now, the problem here is that both of these camps contain germs of validity, and it is pointless to argue that only one is the sole cause of his actions. This man is a complex mix of both.

Throw in struggle with addictions, mental and physical illness, fear of returning to prison, and being fed up with trying to live within the system, and you may be approaching a more realistic understanding of why he did what he did.

In order to do that though, one has to skip the track of either/or thinking, of not being able to have cake and eat it too, of admitting that truth travels within both liberal and conservative lines of reasoning.

Such a leap means that one has to venture beyond the camps of easy answers and begin to listen to others with whom one disagrees.

One has to get off the belief that cake only comes to those who have it.

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