- Dec 2022
One dominant way that people think about poverty, both in scholarship and in publicdiscourse, is to focus on demographic characteristics. This explanation assumes thatthere is something wrong with poor people’s individual characteristics: that they aremore likely to be single parents, they are not working enough, they are too young, orthey are not well-educated. So, the way to attack poverty, from this perspective, wouldbe to reduce single-parenthood or reduce the number of people with low education. Thisexplanation concentrates on the individual characteristics of the poor people themselvesand how they are different from nonpoor people.The problem with this explanation is that it does not adequately explain thebig differences in poverty between countries. For example, think about the big fourindividual risks of poverty—single parenthood, becoming a head of household at anearly age, low- education, and unemployment. These are indisputably the four bigcharacteristics that predict your risk of poverty. If the demographic explanation iscorrect, then the United States should have very high levels of single-parenthood, youngheadship, low educational attainment, and unemployment. That would explain why wehave high poverty: We have a large number of people with those four characteristics.The reality, however, is that the United States is actually below average in these areascompared with other rich democracies.
- Sep 2022
Or, take the case of unemployment as described by sociologist C. WrightMills:When, in a city of 100,000, only one man is unemployed, that is his per-sonal trouble, and for its relief we properly look to the character of theman, his skills, and his immediate opportunities. But when in a nation of50 million employees, 15 million men are unemployed, that is an issue, and
we may not hope to find its solution within the range of opportunities open to any one individual. The very structure of opportunities has collapsed. Both the correct statement of the problem and the range of possible solutions require us to consider the economic and political institutions of the society, and not merely the personal situation and character of a scatter of individuals.16
- C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959), p. 9.
I love this quote and it's interesting food for thought.
Framing problems from the perspectives of a single individual versus a majority of people can be a powerful tool.
The idea of the "welfare queen" was possibly too powerful because it singled out an imaginary individual rather than focusing on millions of people with a variety of backgrounds and diversity. Compare this with the fundraisers for impoverished children in Sally Stuther's Christian Children's Fund (aka ChildFund) which, while they show thousands of people in trouble, quite often focus on one individual child. This helps to personalize the plea and the charity actually assigned each donor a particular child they were helping out.
How might this set up be used in reverse to change the perspective and opinions of those who think the "welfare queen" is a real thing instead of a problematic trope?
I've recently run across a few examples of a pattern that should have a name because it would appear to dramatically change the outcomes. I'm going to term it "decisions based on possibilities rather than realities". It's seen frequently in economics and politics and seems to be a form of cognitive bias. People make choices (or votes) about uncertain futures, often when there is a confluence of fear, uncertainty, and doubt, and these choices are dramatically different than when they're presented with the actual circumstances in practice.
A recent example was a story about a woman who was virulently pro-life who when presented with a situation required her to switch her position to pro-choice.
Another relates to choices that people want to make about where their children might go to school versus where they actually send them, and the damage this does to public education.
Let's start collecting examples of these quandaries at all levels of making choices in the real world.
What is the relationship to this with the mental exercise of "descending into the particular"?
Does this also potentially cause decision fatigue in cases of voting spaces when constituents are forced to vote for candidates on thousands of axes which they may or may not agree with?
- decision fatigue
- behavioral economics
- cognitive bias
- decisions based on possibilities rather than realities
- information overload
- decision making
- descending into the particular
- Nov 2021
Nobody is perfect; nobody is pure; and once people set out to interpret ambiguous incidents in a particular way, it’s not hard to find new evidence.
Wouldn't it be better for us to focus our efforts and energies on people who are doing bigger mass scale harms on society?
Surely the ability to protect some of these small harms undergird ability to build up protection for much larger harms.
Why are we prosecuting these smaller harms rather than the larger (especially financial and) institutional harms?
It is easier to focus on the small and specific rather than broad and unspecific. (Is there a name for this as a cognitive bias? There should be, if not. Perhaps related to the base rate fallacy or base rate neglect (a form of extension neglect), which is "the tendency to ignore general information and focus on information only pertaining to the specific case, even when the general information is more important." (via Wikipedia)
Could the Jesuits' descent into the particular as a method help out here?