Sunday, June 07, 2009


MORE REFLECTION ON SOCIAL CASUALTIES This is the lady and the experience that set me thinking. Here is a picture of wretchedness.



The challenge for our society is how to get rid of the downside wretchedness without infringing on the upside freedoms. (fair warning: I am about to rage against both liberals and conservatives-----and offer my own quaint solution)

Needing more data, I went interviewing several other "casualties". This is Joshua age 27 and Rose age 18. I paid for this info: They live in a nearby patch of woods, pitching their tent nightly. He is a carpenter but has not worked in years BECAUSE HE DOESN'T WANT TO AND DOESN'T NEED TO. He collects about $30 a day panhandling. Rose collects $600 dollars a month SSI but her mother doles it out at $150 a week. Despite a combined income exceeding $1000, they live in wretchedness.
Now consider this: My trailer sits beside the lovely Rogue River, where I camped for 2 days in splendid comfort, enjoying TV, radio, internet access and cell phone conversations with my friends, YET I SPEND LESS THAN EITHER OF THOSE LIVING IN WRETCHEDNESS.

The words of Henry David Thoreau reverbrate in my brain:" THE CAUSE OF MOST WRETCHEDNESS IS NOT SO MUCH A LACK OF MONEY AS LACK OF IMAGINATION!"

Someday I may challenge myself to live among the bums to demonstrate that a cozy and interesting life can be had even there. I'm confident I could build a comfortable house of cardboard in some hidden nook, make it waterproof, furnish it with all the goodies and assemble a circle of friends to relate with.

My contempt for do-gooder liberalism is that their rescue visions are too expensive, lack imagination, infringe on liberties and foster infantilism, deceit and waste. (learn about the enormously costly welfare hotels in San Francisco---Cess pools of humanity)

My rage againt hard assed, self righteous conservatives and libertarians is that their vision is too small and ideologically driven. ("every person for themselves" is their dogma) They would let this woman die by the roadside or put her in the modern equivalent of a workhouse)
What we actually do is give her $600 a month and turn her loose to run her life. All in all a fairly humane solution.
What would lift her from her immediate wretchedness is A BETTER CART for her stuff', A NICE TRAIL TO PULL IT ON, AND A NICE CAMPGROUND TO SETTLE IN (with water and other campers likely there)
Here's my (inexpensive) vision for dealing humanely with the approximately 1% of Americans who cannot or will not play the mainstream social game.
I would first, mandate a national minimum income of $7,200 a year .(indexed for inflation and using biometric identification to prevent cheating) Liberals think you cannot have a decent life on that amount. They are mistaken. Conservatives demand (super expensive) means testing to assure elgibility for payment. A national minimum income would dispense with all that expensive bureauracracy saving tons of money. Those who want a more expensive lifestyle--work for it--LET CAPITALISM REIGN. (accumulate billions--live like a king---but when you die---we (society) will take a healthy bite out of your fortune--because wealth is earned in a context (society) and we have decided that WE (in some sense) ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER)
(interestingly, Bill Gates agrees with the "death tax."

I would have us build bicycle/handcart trails crisscrossing america. Something like the Applachian trail and the Pacific crest trail. (riding a bike across america would quickly become a rite of passage)
I would re-invent the handcart (M.I.T. students decades ago designed a hobo handcart with all the amenities of a good life built in-----shelter, bedding, cooking, bathroom, cleaning) The Mormon Handcart caravans of the 19th century proved it can be done. Shopping carts are pathetically inadequate---wheels too small--and they are stolen property) See the hit movie The Soloist to update yourself on the importance of handcarts to the 90,000 homeless people in the Las Angeles area. One critical thing I would build in would be security measures to protect ones "stuff". With a good cart one can be mobile and clean and comfortable.
I would create thousands of places LIKE THE SLABS for the handcart/bicycle nomads to camp---FOR FREE.
France has paved the way with laws allowing a night's camp on any farm. (I'm told) Phoenix, Az experimented with such a camp. Portland, Or created DIGNITY VILLAGE where the homeless have created a miniature self governing city. Santa Barbara, Ca (surprise) now provides free safe places for overnight camping. My readers might like to know about the SADHUs of India--a common and accepted AND SUPPORTED class of wanderers.
That's my plan to handle the approximately 1% of our population who by choice, accident or fate
"DONT FIT IN" (great poem by Robert Service: The Men Who Don't Fit In) Improperly handled, they are an expensive pain in the ass. Properly respected and inexpensively provided for they may surprise us like the hippies or the Cajuns did by enriching our culture.


Dixxe's Doodles said...

You got me hooked into this now...because its been a topic of interest to me most of my adult life! From the time I read the book by Peter Jenkins, Walk Across America, Ive been interested in the Gypsy Vagabond lifestyle, but like you I hand a "home sweet home" sign in front of a cardboard box. In fact when I lived in NYC I nearly went belly up and homeless myself...while in Medic school for one yr I had to let my Manhattan apartment share go and move to Brooklyn. I moved out of a furnished apartment share into an UNfurnished Studio!..I had a TV and a Guitar and my Clothes! By the end of the week I had furnished my studio from the "curbside" free furniture store! A friend gave me a used matress she knew the past owner of and the rest was street finds!..YOU are right its a lack of imagination that brings these people to this wicked random lifestyle. I too think you can live on $20 a day and be very clean & comfortable!

ladynomad said...

Although I don't usually agree with you, I like your "take" on this subject. Like you, I agree that money (or lack of) is not the problem with street people. Not sure I agree with your term "lack of imagination", I do believe it is an affliction of the soul. I don't believe government has the answer in trying to force these people into a "normal" lifestyle. I do believe these people need help, I'm just not sure what type of help.

Rick Brentlinger said...

Interesting stuff Randy. I think some of the homeless have mental challenges while others have drug addictions which make it difficult to function in normal society.

Still others are canny like a fox, having figured out how to game the system by getting on SSI and then traveling, panhandling and living off those who work.

I suspect if we gave the folks in your photo a setup similar to yours, they would loose it in less than a year and be back on the street.

Rick Brentlinger

Rob said...

Life is all about choices. You have made yours, they have made theirs.

"Cure" wretchedness? I'd say that was one of those choices that being alive provides.

Anonymous said...

I don't really disagree with your analysis. I am just mystified why you are so interested in "Slabs"-type people. Is it romanticism or nostalgia for 1968?

Anyway, it was good reading, and I'll keep at it until I understand you someday.


Jim said...

Randy For President!

Rick Brentlinger said...

After paying folks like the subject of your current post $600 a month, comes now Randy Vining to say,

"That's not enough. We need yet another "redistribute the wealth program" to soak the rich in their death, one last time.

Do you really believe you possess so much have more wisdom and benevolence than the folks who earned the money, that you have the right to redistribute what they earned?

"I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on the objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents."
-James Madison

"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants and the creed of slaves." -William Pitt

Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance and the gospel of envy. Its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.
-Winston Churchill

Every utopian scheme based on confiscating money and redistributing it to someone who didn't earn it is doomed to failure. Being on the dole has not taught this dear lady self-sufficiency.

Instead of giving this lady a fish every day for the rest of her life, why not teach her to fish?

That way, she is independent instead of dependent on those of us who work.

Rick Brentlinger

Randy said...

Thank you Rick: I know you speak for many if not most Americans. Here's a few questions for your consideration: Who will or could teach this lady to "fish?" How much would it cost and who will pay. To straighten her mind out would require expensive psychiatry, not to mention housing and feeding her.
A laudable Reagan initiative was to empty asylums(figuratively) and just give the inmates a small amount of money. It cost 4 to 5 times the $600 to institutionalize misfits. Short of simply killing them, the dole seems the most efficient solution. Remember, however, I'm addressing wretchedness, not socialism-thats another blog. I'm suggesting we (society) flex our IMAGINATION to make their lives more comfortable and meaningful. I'm pushing clever handcarts and bike trails and free campgrounds.

Rob said...

My problem with your whole "wretchedness" thing is the assumption you make that there is something 'wrong' with these people.
I'm not saying there isn't but they are living their lives as they want.

Who are you (or I) to tell them to live differently? I don't like it when someone tries to tell me how to live and I suspect that you value your lifestyle a lot more than many people would.

I'll bet there are folks out there who would love to force you to change the way you live. Get a 'real' job, get an apartment, etc etc.

Randy said...

No!NO!NO! Rob---I don't want to FORCE them out of wretchedness. I would like to increase their options. Somewhere between doing nothing for them (Libertarians) and Everything for them (Liberals)is the middle ground I advocate.
I want us collectively to provide a guaranteed minimum income,create bicycle/handcart paths and free campgrounds across America. The clever handcarts would be best handled by charity.

Rick Brentlinger said...


The fly in the ointment seems to be:

"Who will or could teach this lady to "fish?"

In other words she may be unwilling or incapable of graduating from wretchedness to what we regard as worthiness.

I love the concept of personal autonomy, self-reliance and independence to pursue life as free from government interference as possible.

That, I think, is what all of us wish for.

Your ideas are pretty much in effect right now since there are plenty of free campsites scattered around the country, plenty of free food available (as you referenced in your post about Fort Bragg) and even shopping carts which some appropriate for personal use.

I salute your empathetic response to this dear lady's need, even if I may disagree with confiscating the earnings of others to implement your solution.

Rick Brentlinger

Terry said...

Randy - Way to tell it like it is. They call it "The American Dream". But it is NOT my dream. I would never think of depriving someone if they chose to live in a large home. Why would they think they should deprive me from my wandering home? Terry

gizzy said...

Once I volunteered for a youth program for 10 days called Youth At Risk and we put about 50 teenagers from the housing projects in Philadelphia through this intense program where every minute of every day was structured with activities, like a ropes course, and encounter groups and talent shows etc.. I got the feeling after a lot of hard work that maybe, given 3 volunteers per participant, and a gigantic community effort that the kids saw a new possibility for themselves and that maybe a few would go back to their lives and try to pull themselves out of poverty with hard work and determination. I think we broke through that macho tough facade and taught them that their posturing did not help them succeed. But creating social change amongst those that are wretched as you call them, is not going to be easy because that behavior is learned and reinforced over years and years.

Randy said...

Thank you Gizzy for your input. I think you've pinpointed the problem: The time, energy and expense of retraining the wretched. I want a cheap solution so I'm suggesting a minimal dole and some minimal infrastructure. Then those who are disposed to bootstrap themselves will do so and the others will not.

gizzy said...

I think your solution is great and I am all ready implement it. Seems like it would benefit all. I have really enjoyed reading through your blog the last couple of days and my mundane question for you is how do you eat? Do you do a lot of cooking? In your truck? Supermarkets? Have I missed a blog when you have talked about this already? Thanks Randy for sharing your life with us wannabes.

Randy said...

I carry a huge supply of food of all sorts and do my own cooking. I plan to blog soon on the interior workings of my rig.

Ed said...

“Short of simply killing them, the dole seems the most efficient solution.”
If I read this correctly killing them would be the most efficient solution plus you have also said the following:
“We must boldly establish limits of expendability–limits that are as fair and humane as we can afford.”
So, in this case you elect to set the limits of expendability for the wretched at a inflationary adjusted $7,200/annum plus other reasonable cost benefits. I assume that once they became more of a burden on society than these doles could bear then the most efficient solution would be brought into play

Randy said...

No Ed---What I would do would be to reduce the dole figure to what we could afford--maybe 5 or even 4 or 3 thousand--one can live rather nicely on $3000 dollars a year---I met a guy who did it on$120 a month.
There is no reason to raise (in our society) the limits of expendability above brain dead or some such. Tell us Ed whether you favor ANY limits of expendability. You one of those who would spend billions keeping the Terry Shivos of this world alive?

Ed said...

"There is no reason to raise (in our society) the limits of expendability above brain dead or some such. Tell us Ed whether you favor ANY limits of expendability. You one of those who would spend billions keeping the Terry Shivos of this world alive?"

No, I would not spend billions to keep the Terry Shivos of the world alive. Yes, I favor a limit of expendability, probably lower than your 'brain dead or some such'. I believe that our society will arrive at these lower limits through the ethic evolution that you have discussed.

Randy said...

Well Ed--we seem to be near a meeting of the minds--So I will ask the make of break question: Where do you think ethics come from: Are they REVEALED by God or INVENTED by humans.(i.e. is ethics ABSOLUTE or RELATIVE) Tell me which side of this line you are on and I will know in my mind whether you are a part of the problem or part of the solution.

Ed said...

I do not think ethics are absolute; they would seem to be relative or we would not see ethics change over time.
"Tell me which side of this line you are on and I will know in my mind whether you are a part of the problem or part of the solution."
I don't know about your mind but in my own I am neither part of any problem nor part of any solution. I simply think what I do based on my experiences and what I see happening around me. I'll leave the problems and solutions to the deep thinkers.