The Depravity of National Review

I honestly used to believe that if American liberals and conservatives got together and had a non-combative exchange of ideas, they’d find that they agreed on more than they disagreed.  I don’t think that anymore and I haven’t for awhile. And if I needed any reassurance that this was the case, I found it on National Review’s The Corner, where David French wrote the following:

It is simply a fact that our social problems are increasingly connected to the depravity of the poor. If an American works hard, completes their education, gets married, and stays married, then they will rarely — very rarely — be poor. At the same time, poverty is the handmaiden of illegitimacy, divorce, ignorance, and addiction. As we have poured money into welfare, we’ve done nothing to address the behaviors that lead to poverty while doing all we can to make that poverty more comfortable and sustainable.

Earlier this week, Walter Russell Mead highlighted disturbing research showing that the poor — far more than the rich — are disconnected from church and religion. While church attendance is dropping among all social classes, it’s falling off a cliff for the poorest and least-educated Americans. In other words, the deeper a person slides into poverty, the more they’re disconnected from the very values that can save them and their families.  

It’s amazing how much wrong French was able to pack into two paragraphs.  I don’t have the time/energy to go through everything that is wrong/offensive here, but I’ll give just a couple of examples.

1) “It is simply a fact…”:  Generally you don’t want to start  your argument by assuming it to be true.

2) If an American…completes their education:  Sure, it’s as simple as that.  Complete your education.  What is meant by education I wonder? high school diploma? What exactly does French think that a high school diploma at an inner city school gets a person in today’s economy?  College education?  Ok and who is paying for it? Are you, Mr. French?  Graduate school? are you kidding me? 

3)”The Poor” aren’t a group that can be generalized:  This is so obvious it pains me to have to even point it out.  People are poor for all kinds of reasons. Some were born into poverty and had no real chance to work there way out of it, others fell into poverty for reasons outside their own control (an illness, the recession, etc…).  French isn’t concerned with any distinctions though, except for a religious distinction.  He doesn’t care why the poor are poor, he just wants a story to tell himself so that he need not feel bad that so many people in this country live in poverty.  The fact that French thinks it’s even reasonable to talk about “the poor” as one mass of people is offensive.

4) Does French even know what is meant by Depravity? Depravity is a pretty strong word and if you’re gonna use it, best to back it up with something (anything!).  Is it depraved to get divorced? Are the 50% of marriages that end in divorce evidence that 50% of all married couples in this country are depraved?  Interestingly, french’s cross-link for “depravity of the poor” is to his own post which still says nothing about what he considers to constitute “depravity”.  One can only assume he means secularism because he proceeds to lament the fact that many poor people in the U.S. are not religious. Which brings me to my next criticism.

5) The poor are poor because they’re not religious?! Part I:  Then how exactly would French explain all the places where most people are both religious and poor?  For most of human history afterall, most people have been poor and most people have been religious.  In many european countries where poverty is nearly non-existent (scandinavia for example) religious observance is also nearly non-existent. Now I won’t go as far as to say that secularism leads to wealth (that would be as stupid an argument as French’s converse), but French is too lazy to even consider alternatives to what he wishes to be true.

6) The poor are poor because they’re not religious?! Part II:  French cites to an article by Walter Russell Mead that cites a study.  Mead’s article notes that “Americans with higher incomes attend religious services more often, and those who have experienced unemployment at some point over the past 10 years attend less often.” Well, this is interesting.  Mead describes the study as concluding that church attendance correlates to poverty/wealth, while French would have you believe that poverty/wealth are a function of church attendance. Could it be that the poor have less time to spend at church because they are, I don’t know, trying to make ends meet? Could it be that the poor find little solace in religion because the world seems to have turned its back on them?  No, clearly, to Mr. French, they are poor because they don’t believe in The Great Gig in the Sky.   Mr. French either never took statistics or spent the whole class praying for good grades instead of paying attention.  He wants you to believe that the poor deserve to be poor. And he wants you to believe that the rich deserve to be rich. And on top of that he wants you to believe that the rich are rich because they are religious. These are all issues of causation, but French hasn’t bothered to assemble any evidence of causation.

7) Always look at what the study actually was about:  French fails to mention that the study in question ”focuses on whites because black and Latino religiosity is less divided by education and income.”   So let me get this straight. French wants us to believe the poor are poor because they are depraved and not religious.  So he cites to a study that excluded certain categories of people because those categories of people don’t break into the poor and non-religious vs. rich and religious dichotomy that is his thesis. 

I’m sure there are many more problems with French’s post, these are just the first seven that occurred to me.  One last thing I’ll note.  French’s post assumes there are no poor people in his audience – he discusses the poor as if they were lab rats.  In some ways, that’s all you need to know about his mindset.

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  • http://www.tarheelred.wordpress.com Pino

    I honestly used to believe that if liberals and conservatives

    As a group or as individuals?

    they’d find that they agreed on more than they disagreed. I don’t think that anymore and I haven’t for awhile.

    I think that’s true. However, we never discuss what we agree on; we only fight about the stuff we don’t. And THAT’S harder. I think what we do is mistake disagreement on the margins for positions in the moderate.

    Sure, it’s as simple as that. Complete your education.

    It is pretty simple. Check unemployment by education.

    ”The Poor” aren’t a group that can be generalized

    Actually, generalizing a group is the best way to describe a group. You just have to be careful to make sure you know that it doesn’t apply to the individual. But I think the focus is not on WHY are they poor, but why they REMAIN poor.

    The poor are poor because they’re not religious?!

    I don’t wanna try and defend this guy’s work in total, but I don’t think it’s the RELIGIOUS aspect of church that is critical, it’s the lack of communities that’s missing. The community does two [or more] things:

    1. Provides a peer group that brings expectations. Hang with positive self-confident people, you trend to be more positive and self-confident. Hang with “victims” you trend to become a “victim”.

    2. Provides a support system. This is true through direct assistance; money, food or shelter. It also provides networking contacts to help get jobs, apartments or whatnot. Last, it provides a strong support group in simple, “I’m here to listen” terms.

    While I happen to be religious and certainly acknowledge the power of the Divine, I think this support I describe above could be provided by a fraternity, a lodge, a start-up company or other such community that has a reasonable diverse population -diverse to ensure that when disaster strikes, not every member of the group is impacted.

    he discusses the poor as if they were lab rats.

    While I think it’s very important to remember that we’re talking about people, it’s somewhat useful to divorce yourself from the individual story when working with solutions across systems, yes?

    If we were to investigate and “become” each and every individual circumstance, we would never get to the larger movements.

    Anyway, there is something going on with poverty right now. There is much discussion going on over the inner-tubes about this. I’m writing several posts about the subject. Any idea what’s going on?

    • http://poisonyourmind.com dedc79

      Nobody would dispute that church community groups provide a lot of assistance to those in need, but they cannon, on any mass scale, pay exorbitant medical bills or put a generation of this country’s poor through college. This shouldn’t be an either/or, there is a role for churches/synagogues/mosques/non-religious institutions/organizations and a roll for government.

      RE responded on the schooling issue. Have you ever even visited a school in a poor city center? I have. The bathroom stalls didn’t work, there were puddles of water/urine on the floor because the drain wasn’t working. The water fountains didn’t work. The library was a collection of books that people had donated. There were only a few old, computers for the entire school. There was broken glass and garbage littered all around the playing field. The kids had outdated textbooks. The classes were overcrowded. The smarter kids were grouped together with the struggling kids. You can take a really bright hard working student and put him in that school in 3rd grade and his chances of getting to college will drop precipitously.

      • http://www.tarheelred.wordpress.com Pino

        This shouldn’t be an either/or, there is a role for churches/synagogues/mosques/non-religious institutions/organizations and a role for government.

        Not surprisingly, I’m not sure that the role of government should be getting people, who otherwise wouldn’t choose to, to go to college.

        Have you ever even visited a school in a poor city center?

        I taught at a school in Minneapolis for poor teenage girls who were either pregnant or already a mother AND emancipated. While not a poor school, it was made up of poor students. But I take your meaning.

        You can take a really bright hard working student and put him in that school in 3rd grade and his chances of getting to college will drop precipitously.

        I’m not sure. See Freakonomics and the study of the Chicago schools.

        The district went from an assignment based enrollment to voluntary enrollment. If a single school was enrolled above capacity, then a lottery took place. The study was able to show that it was the simple act of PLAYING the lottery that signaled success in school.

        That is, you and I have kids in the same crummy school. We both apply to have our kids go to the shiny new rich school down the road. Your child wins and mine loses.

        Both kids achieve at the same rate over their school career.

        It comes down to parental involvement; turns out that schools don’t really matter. Which is why I think that free market thinking doesn’t apply to children who aren’t free actors. Even the very poor can signal high end markets, see the tennis shoe market among those poor. But when applied to school, certain people seem not to care and results are reflect that.

    • Malignant Bouffant

      This might give you an idea of what’s going on. Depraved conservatives, mostly.

  • http://poisonyourmind.com reflectionephemeral

    Yep, all you gotta do is go get educated. Can’t be that hard, right?

    What do the facts say?

    a child born into the lowest-earning quintile who manages to attain a college degree is less likely to be in the highest-earning quintile than a child born into the top quintile who does not attain a college degree. This is all the more remarkable when you consider that making it to, and through, college is far harder for poor kids than rich kids even at a given level of aptitude. (Two thirds of the kids with average math scores and low-income parents do not attend college, while almost two-thirds of high-income kids with average math scores do.)

    Also too:

    according to the OECD, 47 percent of the economic advantage that high-earning fathers in the United States have over low-earning fathers is transmitted to their sons, compare to, say, 17 percent in Australia and 19 percent in Canada.

    These kinds of arguments from conservatives never, ever engage with the reality of how life actually works.

    Like defenses of geocentrism or the divine right of kings, they always flow from a priori principles. Facts are absolutely toxic to the conservative worldview, and simply cannot be permitted to muddy their pristine model of how things work. (That’s why they hate scientists and the media so much– they tell them things that hurt their feelings, so they regard facts as “bias.”)

    • http://www.tarheelred.wordpress.com Pino

      a child born into the lowest-earning quintile who manages to attain a college degree is less likely to be in the highest-earning quintile than a child born into the top quintile who does not attain a college degree.

      But really, we’re not trying to build a program that either moves the poor into the highest quintile in a single generation OR one that properly adjusts the top quintile at all, right?

      Poverty programs in America should be about identifying the poor and making them not poor anymore.

      Two thirds of the kids with average math scores and low-income parents do not attend college, while almost two-thirds of high-income kids with average math scores do.

      My wife and I attended college. We’re both what I think America calls high wage earners. Even if my kids were ignorant of math facts, they would go to college. This has little to do with wealth, it has to do with expectations.

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  • tsam

    This is why there is no point in listening to damn thing any conservative has to say. They’re wrong about everything. Civil rights, suffrage, slavery, GLBT rights, marriage, economics, religion, culture, education, worker rights….

    They are on the wrong side of every single thing for which they formulate their little opinions. Just try to find one thing they’re actually right about.

    • http://poisonyourmind.com dedc79

      I was stunned by the laziness of French’s post. He didn’t even look at the study very closely, he was too eager to assume it reinforced his own prejudices

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  • The Prophet

    For all the talk about religion here in this guy’s column (especially Christian religion in the form of “churches”), it is ironic that this guy takes such a disparaging and “blame the victim” view of the poor.

    It says in the book of Proverbs: “He who hates the poor, DESPISES their maker.”

    Translation: If you hate on or mistreat the poor, you ultimately HATE GOD HIMSELF.

    Moreover, the Bible itself, from beginning to end, is filled with examples of God coming to the aid of the poor and weak against those that are powerful, and I’ve heard more than one religious preacher give sermons to the effect that the Bible basically teaches that God is on the side of the poor.

    After all, Jesus said, “He who is first, will end up being last.”

    Also, someone should look up the story told by Jesus of the rich man and Lazarus in the book of Luke. The suffering and bereft poor man ends up in heaven, while the arrogant, selfish, and insensitive rich man ends up burning in hell.”

    I love these right wingers. They talk God and religion right and left, but in the end they show themselves to be ignorant frauds and nothing more than the “blind leading the blind.”

    • http://poisonyourmind.com dedc79

      Agreed, religion in French’s conception seems to mean not getting divorced (and probably not being gay). Also it means making lots of money.

    • http://www.tarheelred.wordpress.com Pino

      I love these right wingers. They talk God and religion right and left, but in the end they show themselves to be ignorant frauds and nothing more than the “blind leading the blind.”

      Prophet,

      In your mind, do you acknowledge the difference between me giving my own time and money to the poor and you writing a law forcing me to give my money to a government you think gives money to the poor?

      Is it possible to have the opinion that government programs don’t help the poor AND yet still love those same poor?

      Or is government your equivalent to that vile organization you accuse the right of loving; the church?

      • http://poisonyourmind.com reflectionephemeral

        That’s not what this conversation is about, though– it’s about French saying that the poor are poor because they suck.

        As to the best means to ameliorate poverty, conservatives just plain don’t care about it.

        It’s not like we go to the National Review and Heritage Foundation to read about smart ways to increase social mobility and average wages based on the experience of the US and other wealthy countries. They only mention poverty if they want to say that poor people are bad people, that they don’t like the government, or that poverty isn’t that bad a thing.

        This attitude in the GOP is, of course, the result of the Southern Strategy, the GOP’s highly successful effort to corral white frustration over desegregation into anti-government emotion generally. As a result, “among white voters being ethnocentric is associated—independent of self-described ideology and other factors—with decreased support for means-tested welfare”— even though “ethnocentrism helps to build support for social insurance programs among white Americans”.

        • http://www.tarheelred.wordpress.com Pino

          That’s not what this conversation is about, though– it’s about French saying that the poor are poor because they suck.

          The prophet claims that the right don’t love the poor. It seems that his [or her] proof of this is that we don’t approve of his approved method of aid.

          I’ve already demonstrated that conservatives are more charitable than liberals. We give more; more time and more money, heck, we give more blood. We certainly aren’t doing this because we think poor people suck.

          Now, we may think that the things poor people do suck. Do you disagree that having children within the context of a married family trends to build stronger children? With less poverty?

          I’m not saying all, mind you, I’m not talking about specifics. I’m talking about general numbers. Households with two present parents are less poor, more educated than other households.

          As to the best means to ameliorate poverty, conservatives just plain don’t care about it.

          Sure we do.

          We say “get married. stay married” Further, we say “go to school and stay in school”. After that, we say “get a job and work hard.” The programs that we champion are the ones that help people do those things. The programs that government builds are ones that simply transfer money.

          Unemployment. Food stamps. WIC. Medicaid.

          Do we need to build such programs during times of transitions? Sure, absolutely. But do they, by themselves, reduce the things that make poor people poor? Nope. They just make it more comfortable.

          I don’t think you don’t care about the poor. But I’m getting really tired that you [the general you, as in the Left] continue this meme that I don’t care about the poor.

          The equivalent is me calling you unpatriotic because you don’t serve, don’t support the defense department and don’t like war. It’s silly of course, but so is this tiresome and wore out theme the Left wages against the right on poverty.

          Oh, and on race.

          • http://poisonyourmind.com reflectionephemeral

            This discussion is getting a bit too unspecific and individual-intentions-focused to be useful.

            My contention that the Republican Party, and its PR firms like Heritage and NR, are completely uninterested in ameliorating poverty stands unrebutted.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PG5J4JRTD55VQ3CVUSSDNJ3XF4 Dee

            zzzzzzz

          • fuster

            there are certainly people all along the political spectrum that care about helping others, but the thrust of the disapproval with French’s argument about depravity is that his evidence is selective and biased and his reasonable ignores rules of logic.

            (Yglesias notes that French confuses correlation and causality.

            http://thinkprogress.org/yglesias/2011/08/24/303655/the-depravity-of-the-poor/)

            households with two adults both bringing income are indeed likely to be more affluent than a single income household, but 1) not always, and 2) not BECAUSE the two adults got married. the two incomes are still there if the folks aren’t married and, if they’re both male wage earners, it’s likely that the household will be even more affluent than if one of the couple is female.

            of course, French would label that couple VERY depraved despite the lack of poverty and the family bond.

          • http://poisonyourmind.com dedc79

            Yeah, the first thing that struck me as so offensive about French’s post was that it assumed what it sent out to prove, and that involved turning a blind eye to all facts that didn’t correspond with his world view (even if they were in the very study he was citing). This is all too common among religious conservatives. Read any Douthat column in the NY Times for example (as painful as they are) and you’ll see the same thing, although he is far more cautious than French is. The common thread is that religious conservative are now trying to selectively use social science to support a religious world view. French is a particularly sloppy example of that trend.

            And as you point out, he fails to make any case that it is marriage and not joint incomes that lead to greater family wealth.

          • http://www.tarheelred.wordpress.com Pino

            1) not always,

            What’s the point of even saying “not always”? You mean to imply that until a thing is true across every household it’s not a valid descriptor?

            not BECAUSE the two adults got married.

            I think that you are incorrect in this statement. If I make $30k and my wife makes $38k, we are measured as 1 household making $68k. However, if we get divorced, or decide never to marry, we, the same two people living in the same house raising the same kids while paying the same bills, become measured as 2 households making less than $40k.

            THAT matters.

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