Monday, June 20, 2005

Katherine Kersten on...A Kid With One Arm

Evidently, Katherine Kersten had nothing to write about today. So she went on and on about a 10-year-old who has one arm. It has the ever-present conservative message of triumph over adversity and belief that a sunny disposition will get you anywhere you want to go in life.

Of course, as a cynical blogger, optimism does not always come easily to me so it shouldn't be surprising that I find something askew in Kersten's writing. Her message is certainly fine: On those days when you feel like you have one hand tied behind your back and you just don't think you can go on, remember this little boy who is able to do so much. The story is uplifting, inspiring, and has a message that ought to be told.

What I find amiss in Kersten's article, though, is not really her fault (unless she did it intentionally, which I will probably never know). It's written in the same tone as a career politician speaking about this or that impoverished family who managed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, fight off their troubles, and work really really hard to eke out a middle class existence. It's a tone that is casually dismissive of the millions who suffer from poverty, from discrimination, from society's willingness to cast off that which is outside the norm, and reflects the image of America as filled with rugged individuals. If you are unable to pay your bills, or if you file for bankruptcy, or if you can't afford healthcare, then that means that you are lazy, that you are not smart with money, that if you just work a little harder you'll find a break. In reality, however, a little extra work won't always yield a break, and poverty can't just be willed away. It takes a dedicated effort on everyone's part - poor, middle class, and rich - to achieve that dream.

Read the article about the boy with one arm. Maybe I'm looking too far into this. Maybe I'm trying to make a point that's not really there. Nevertheless, it doesn't change the truth.


Ilya said...

Well said. I think philosopher Nicholas Rescher echoes your point:
“The classic idea that ‘character is fate’ is deeply problematic in all its versions, because to a greater extent than any of us like to admit, it is our luck rather than our nature that determines what becomes of us in this world.” (Rescher, LUCK, p. 23).

Zaphod said...

What you found wrong with Kersten's article definitely was intentional. As someone who read her editorials years ago, and knowing full well what the Center of the American Experiment is up to, there's no doubt that she means to demean everyone who just doesn't work a little harder and pull themselves up by their bootstraps. After all, she did it -- without any help from her connections, family and friends, of course. That's why a miserably poor writer with a one-note hackneyed dogmatic agenda gets given a columnist job at the Star Tribune, and gets paid as a "senior fellow" (hahahahahah!!!!) at the Center of the American Experiment. She worked "hard" and pulled herself up by her bootstraps!

I can't think of any Minnesotan more smugly self-righteous and deserving of every evil calamity that kharma could visit upon her than Kersten.

Anonymous said...

Two thoughts:

1 - in this modern day and age, who still has bootstraps? I've never seen one. Perhaps I have them and don't even know it, given that I grew up in the well-to-do suburbs.

2 - the original post, and subsequent comments, address a very valid point. To add, there is the very real psychological concept of "learned helplessness," where an individual is brought up in what appears to be a hopeless situation and is never taught differently. The "american dream" painted by the rest of the country doesn't include someone like them. As a result, they don't have the goal to "make it," because it doesn't occur to them that they could. Hard to pull yourself out of desperate straits when you don't know that it's even possible to do so.

Decriers of this concept should walk in the shoes of those brought up in truly hopeless situations to see it for themselves (and they should consult the psychological research on this topic).