Posted by: CJ | April 22, 2011

Haters be hatin’

I had an interesting conversation with a friend yesterday. He’s canadian, but his parents are mainland Chinese. He’s pretty prejudiced against the poor, despite a noticeable lack of interaction with them, and minorly prejudiced against African-Americans by extension.

Being the good vaguely bleeding-heart liberal I am, I was slightly sickened by his viewpoints. But I found them interesting listen to. His basic perspective seemed to boil down to if a person is poor because they can’t find skilled work, then they should go back to school to get a better education so they can get some sort of skilled work. And not necessarily a bachelor’s degree, but associate’s degrees, technical certifications, whatever. Skills so they can get a decent–though possibly working class–job.

His perspective of the poor seems to boil down to they’re poor by a combination of choice and ignorance. And the ignorance he hardly finds an excuse since finding information when faced with a problem comes so naturally to him and everyone he knows.

I pointed out that it takes a lot of energy and belief to decide that one must go through a long educational process without being certain of the results. Not to mention a non-trivial amount of prior education to know how to even begin discovering what opportunities are available–in terms of programs, tuition assistance, and future employment prospects. He agreed heartily…and quickly responded that the Chinese ethos is much better at motivating people this way. Through shame. Lots of it. Endless amounts.

To that my response was basically that Americans don’t shame easily because…well…we sorta each try to find some niche that we excel in and chase after that niche. People may be at the bottom of the hierarchy in various ways, but they don’t usually define themselves in terms of their weaknesses. And it’s hard to shame someone that thinks they’re really awesome in the core areas of their life. He agreed heartily…and said this was one of the several big reasons America is such a crazy place. A lack of shame.

So here, ultimately, are my two questions.

  1. What’s an effective response to this perspective, if there is one?
  2. Is this perspective any different at heart from that of the various factions of middle-class Americans that blame the poor for their own problems?


  1. Effective response? An xkcd I read recently suggested that the perfect answer for just about anything is, “well, I’ve never been into Pokemon, so I couldn’t say.”

    If that doesn’t work, the discussion is trickier. American’s lack of shame leading to social chaos seems simple enough, but our cultural assumptions are so varied that even if shame were pushed as a social cure–what actions or situations should cause that? When we enfranchise personal choice and individuality as virtues, identifying “shameful” behavior or situations is much more difficult. Same thing for who the shame is reflected on–with psychology etc telling us there are many forces molding people and society, why should the parents shoulder the shame for a child’s failure?

    And that’s just the beginning.

    To really make the discussion fun, introduce the concept of locus of control.

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