On the Homeless

My moral failing 

Homelessness is a problem we all want to ignore. I must admit this is perhaps my biggest moral Achilles’ heel. I don’t give money to the homeless. I ignore them and treat them like they aren’t there, or avoid them, not look at them, even if they try to talk to me I blank them as if they were anyone else who was passing by, or rather, a no-one who I have no concern about. If I am caught by a homeless person and forced to talk, I try and make an excuse but it seems so feeble and degrading, that both of us feel worse off from it. Let me repeat myself: I don’t give to the homeless.

My friend Will

I have a friend who is a social scientist, lets call him Will. Will is a man of strict moral convictions who, although we disagree on important metaphysical issues; we find a kindred spirit in our social awkwardness and anxieties, and also our discontent with the way our peers behave. My friend will did a dissertation on the homeless, researching on the difficulties of methodology, and working around this, the information we have about the homeless.

I am proud to know a man who cares for the homeless, the downtrodden, the rejects of society. Will is a dear man, I fear him, I fear his love, but I admire his strength. I could never be as morally courageous or strict in his personal resolve, openness, and challenging nature. I wish I could tell him that I am Sinistre, or that I am a member of Areopagus.

My attitude

Okay, so we grant that I don’t give to the homeless. Why not? Let me explore this introspectively:

  1. I too am poor – I live on a meagre pension from my patrons, and I have taken an oath of dedication to my cause
  2. I don’t care – I’m selfish, and if I gave to one homeless person, I’d have to give to them all
  3. Homeless people offend my sight – homeless people smell of god-knows-what, and could be dangerous or crazy, or ask for more money (happened before)
  4. It won’t help them – they probably will buy booze or drugs, or something that won’t help them survive in some long-term sense, but will satisfy their more carnal desires that give greater pleasure.
  5. It won’t help them (2) – giving to the homeless is the same as charity; it is a fringe wage for a fringe organisation/cause, which will only have fringe effects. Homelessness is NOT a fringe problem, it is a serious problem, and serious problems need to be addressed seriously. We don’t cure AIDS with a band-aid.
  6. It won’t help them (3) – helping one homeless person does nothing about their situation in general, it does not change the system that makes them homeless. How does it help to give a little meagre sum to them that does almost nothing, when it doesn’t do any genuine commitment or contribution to the improvements of their lives proper. we need structural change to solve this problem

Concluding remarks

To close this post for today; I leave you with two thoughts. One, I shall leave unanswered, and the other, is a story. The thought that I want you to have is: why are people on the streets? Think hard, and answer this. I don’t think I am able to answer this definitively and rigorously, I’ve given up my commitment to social science for Sophie.

The second thought; Father Thomas told me of a priest at a parish who turned down a beggar who knocked on his door, asking for money. The priest said “you will only spend it on drugs, I am not going to help you!!”, and slammed the door on this homeless man, who was amputated and using a pair of crutches to aid movement with a single leg. Something is seriously wrong with this image; it is this problem in my Church that makes me Sinistre, the anonymous.

What does it say about a man, nay, a Christian, nay, a Priest, to turn down a desperate man on his own doorstep, where the mandate of his duties as a priest is to look after his fellow man; but instead, turns him down and tells him to leave his premises. Is this abhorrent? This seems intuitively the right answer; or perhaps, is he trying to find a savvy tactical way out, like I am, by considering that the real change needs to be done on the macrosocial level.

I’m not going to justify what I do. I ignore the homeless, and I will continue to do so. I am a horrible person; but there is just too much suffering in the world that I can ever relieve. I try to do my bit, but there is only so much I can do. It seesm their plight, and the plight of others in the world proper, is a desperate one. I pray for the homeless this night, and I pray for Destre; who is in a time of great need.

Sinistre

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2 thoughts on “On the Homeless

  1. I am guessing then, that you are not a Christian, since Jesus’s commandment to sell everything, give to the poor, and follow him has no hold on you.

    You can ask why the homeless are homeless. Let’s take a look at that.

    About 90% of the chronically homeless are homeless because of mental health issues. Unfortunately, many states don’t provide medicaid, finacial aide, or food stamps to single males, so any single male who is mentally ill darn well better be in good enough mind to (a) apply for Social Security and survive for the 3-4 years it takes most people to recieve their first disability payment. (b) be well enough to be able to keep a home (c) be responsive immediately to medication (d) never relapse on medication.

    As far as transient homeless, many of them are battered women and children.

    Of course, I suppose you can tell just by looking who is ill, who is abused, who is temporarily impoverished by loss of job, and who is a drug and alcohol abuser.

    I’m guessing that assuming that the homeless are all bums who are looking only to score your quarters so they can buy pounders and coke is a good way for you to excuse your behaviors, and that you don’t think you have any responsibility to your fellow humans what-so-ever. Personally, I think you must be very poor indeed if you can do nothing for the homeless… that you can’t donate food, old clothing, or your time at a shelter.

    It’s all very well and good to talk about change on the macro-social level, but all change starts with one person… whether that person is Jesus Christ, the individual who decides not to be a hypocrite in his faith and actually FOLLOWS Christ, or any individual who isn’t too squeemish to stand up for what’s right and serve as an example to his fellow man and a catylist for change.

  2. Wow, that’s quite an interesting reply you have D.

    Please don’t assume anything about my identity. I am Sinistre because I hide a secret shame; I am tarred with the guilt of the past so I must evade my true name. I want to start off by making an irrelevant ad hominem point.

    (i) You sound like a Christian, and you do indeed appropriate Jesus’ view very well. I am very surprised (in fact, pleasantly surprised) that you say on your blog that you are a ‘godless liberal’. My friend, Michael, works with a lot of atheists, and although is not necessarily an atheist himself, he is broadly a liberal (in the classical sense). Anyway, that’s not relevant to the issue…

    (ii) Lets start off with the more serious points. I resisited addressing the question of ‘why’ people turn out to be homeless. You suggest that many vitims of abuse, such as women and children, and those who experience the stigma of being mentally ill, end up homeless. I resist this issue because I am not familiar with any academic literature on the homeless. We are philosophers by trade, and not, unfortunately, social scientists. I’m a complete lay-idiot on the facts of this issue.

    (iii) Whatever your beliefs are, you should agree that it is harder to enter the ranks of nobility and virtue; kindness and sympathy, than not. There is that line in the gospel (Matthew 19:24) “It is easier for a Camel to go through the eye of a needle, than a Rich man to enter the Kingdom of God”. Being a genuine Christian (if there ever is one) is a very difficult endeavour. I’m a weak person, I will try to improve my hurrendous moral character. Thank you for your criticism.

    (iv) You say:

    “I’m guessing that assuming that the homeless are all bums who are looking only to score your quarters so they can buy pounders and coke is a good way for you to excuse your behaviors, and that you don’t think you have any responsibility to your fellow humans what-so-ever. ”

    I am suspending judgement in one sense about the character or biography of the homeless, as a good Humean would. On the other hand, I am employing a methodological tool in my writing that exposes the common lay intuition about something, in order to reach the truth of the matter, AND to address the contemporamous or pre-theoretic intuitions that people have. This methodological bent is inspired by Aristotle, who does a very similar thing in his treatise on Ethics, and, I hear, his other works. I try to be approachable sometimes in addressing a discourse; and I am a firm believer of Aristotelian (ie. systematic) philosophy. I shall assume you are unfamiliar with my blog; as there are (as Michael has told me), various stylistic eccentricities, but where some may see ‘eccentric’. I see the underlying beauty in form, like the II7b-V7-I cadence at the end of a Bach chorale. My masters taught me to do everything in good form and beauty; for truth, beauty and goodness aspire all to be as one in their most perfect instantiation.

    (iv) You say:

    “Personally, I think you must be very poor indeed if you can do nothing for the homeless… that you can’t donate food, old clothing, or your time at a shelter.”

    That’s very funny, because you use ‘poor’ equivocally to depict poverty and a lack of moral character. That’s very clever, and you too have style in defaming my character. I like you.

    (v) You say:

    “It’s all very well and good to talk about change on the macro-social level, but all change starts with one person… whether that person is Jesus Christ, the individual who decides not to be a hypocrite in his faith and actually FOLLOWS Christ, or any individual who isn’t too squeemish to stand up for what’s right and serve as an example to his fellow man and a catylist for change.”

    You are, to some extent, very correct. We cannot move mountains if we cannot even be bothered to pick up a pebble. Likewise, the macrosocial, or the whole, cannot change without the movement or change of its constitutents. I learned this lesson from the philosopher Hugh Mellor, a few weeks ago, when he visited my department to talk on ‘Micro-Composition’.

    Perhaps I am a hypocrite. I want to address all my hypocrisies and challenge them; but from my experience, and that of Michael’s too, I tell you that it is NOT easy at all, but it IS necessary to challenge our inconsistencies to be better people. I want real change to happen, I don’t just mean the homeless now; I mean the society where people treat each other like numbers in a league table. I’m not a statistic, I AM SINISTRE!

    I shall assume your lack of familiarity with my blog; cos, lets be honest, this is a shit blog!!

    I appreciate your criticism, and your informative reply to me. I sincerely hope you continue to follow my moral journey. Thank you.

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