Monday, August 30th, 2010

Why Is American Selfishness So Widespread Now?

JESUS H CHRISTI have been feeling a good amount of despair recently. Not on a personal level-I'm generally as happy-go-lucky as a leprechaun with a head injury. (It's weird!) But the constant reminder of the American lack of empathy is astounding. It's everywhere. (Do we need to drag in the case of the woman who attended the Glenn Beck rally in D.C. over the weekend and her point of view that Jesus would hate welfare?) And so it was with great wariness that I approached the comments section at the end of this first-person story by a man in Nevada who, driven into destitution by disability, family medical bills, the current lack of work and shady landlords, will find himself homeless at midnight tomorrow. These comments: well, they did disappoint. They went from awful to judgmental to trashing to witch hunt.

These comments include the following! Verbatim!

• Rodger sure has made some poor choices.

• In many parts of the world this man would be rich.

• Maybe he really is a victim, but so many on the street got there by their own hand.

• What a sob story. His girlfriend needs to get her butt out to Mcdonalds and find a job.

• Come on. Bad choices were made all along that got you to this point.

• I hate to see this but also agree with many regarding the largely self induced nature of their plight.

• What's going on now is called Economic Darwinism.

• Everyone wants help..but it has been said..If you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm…and if you search, you will find that you have two to help someone else..

• I don't mind working 40 hours/week, clipping coupons to buy my own groceries, being conservative with my purchases, keeping my utility bills low, and such … it's all worth it if I can pay extra taxes for others to not get a job and buy cigarettes and other small luxuries. Oh wait, yes I do mind. I suppose that makes me a bad person.

• When you look closely at most poor people it is apparent that they decided to be poor.

• Rodger is a bum.

• Seems the truth about this guy is coming to light now! Lets see what happens when the light is turned bright and he gets investigated for some of these scams we are now hearing about.

And that's when I stopped reading finally. This seems really outrageous. I feel pretty bad about people!

127 Comments / Post A Comment

Jibreel Riley (#6,498)

taxes taxes and taxes you gotta serve somebody

scroll_lock (#4,122)

Needs more bootstraps being pulled up. And where's the race card? They're just phoning it in.

scroll_lock (#4,122)

The best is when commenters rip some other commenter for stupidly misspelling a word and in doing so include misspellings of their own. YOU CANT EVUN SPEL YOU IDIOTT!

brent_cox (#40)

Maybe these comment threads should be meaner so we better fit in?

saythatscool (#101)

Go fuck yourself, Brent.

scroll_lock (#4,122)

Brent's a bum who made a lot of bad choices, which have gotten him to this point. His pants are also puckery and unflattering and you should see his parallel parking skills.

saythatscool (#101)

What's happening to brent now is called Commenting Darwinism.

brent_cox (#40)

You're welcome.

scroll_lock (#4,122)

Brent hasn't filed taxes in 12 years and is on the lam for kiting checks from here to Wichita. He was fired from McDonald's for being underqualfied. On the plus side, he also bears a striking resemblance to Kip Dynamite.

Love you guys.

scroll_lock (#4,122)

@Choire: NOT AS MUCH AS WE LOVE U!!!11!1

saythatscool (#101)

I didn't hear anybody say "thank you," coxsmoker.

How fvckin' brown is your nose, scrolly? Christ.

brent_cox (#40)

You know who said thank you, STC? Your mom, Adolph Hitler.

scroll_lock (#4,122)

@Captain, It's as shiny mocha as your Dad's ass, which I've seen because he keeps pressing it against my window from the outside of my house at 2am.

scroll_lock (#4,122)

I hope Brent's mouse-in-a-Coke-bottle scheme turns out better than his severed-finger-in-Wendy's-chili did.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

I'm gonna photoshop all of you on to goats' heads before I kill you and eat you with hummus, on a pita.

scroll_lock (#4,122)

@Art: Please to make sure mine is the cutest goat.

Art Yucko (#1,321)


scroll_lock (#4,122)

*slips you an IOU*

jolie (#16)

You know what will make us all feel better? An animated gif of Choire sporting a leprechaun outfit & head bandage.

Matt (#26)


DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Now I need a picture of Choire looking happy.

deepomega (#1,720)

Your wish is my command

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)


deepomega (#1,720)

(Now I finally understand what Tumblr is for!)

Art Yucko (#1,321)

deep, you want me to go sit on the mound and wait for the buzzards and coyotes now, or shall I hang around for a few more days while I'm still useful?

Matt (#26)



deepomega (#1,720)

@Art – I think there's an iceberg with your name on it, holmes.

My God, is that amazing!

Art Yucko (#1,321)

deep, I'm going to be patient (I'm old, I can do that) and wait this one out. When I'm done wedgieing the IT department within an inch of their lives so they'll install a copy of Flash on this computer, I'm going to dispatch an army of prancing Michael Ceras to dispose of you in your sleep. (I don't sleep. Because I'm old.)

Using Flash is cheating. I do each frame by hand. [don't mind me, feeling a little bit threatened]

deepomega (#1,720)

Pfah! I did it in AFTER EFFECTS. And then saved a tif seq and brought it into Photoshop to save out a gif. How's THAT for workflow?

@Art – Then I will die as I lived. Surrounded by Michael Cera.

barnhouse (#1,326)

I love the perkiness of the jig SO MUCH. Thank you.

KarenUhOh (#19)

American dumpsters are buffets. wash windshields at stoplights.

Love it or leave it.

Did you notice how many of that dude's comments were deleted? LOTS of anger there, it looks like.

Rarian Rakista (#7,203)

It is time to make 'A Christmas Carol' with a Tea Party Scrooge, oh yes; it is!

Honestly, though. Who spells Roger with a d??

scroll_lock (#4,122)

It pained me too. If I knew him I'd purposely overemphasize the d every time until he changed his name. RoDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDger.

It all started with his parents.

iantenna (#5,160)

while i'm inclined to agree with you, i'm gonna give this guy a free pass.

Rodger Psczny (#3,912)

I do, because of my parents.

scrooge (#2,697)

Yeah, and who spells Bainer with an oeh?

Clio (#3,719)

Honestly I think it's like all the other blame-the-victim stuff: It's a distancing tactic based on fear. I'm not saying "Oh, no, these people are really nice!" They're jerks, but they're jerks because they're scared, and if they can say that this guy "made poor life choices" or whatever, that means that this could never happen to THEM. Empathy requires accepting the "there by the grace of God" or whatever, but times are too scary for that sort of thing. We'd rather think that we're too smart to fall that far.

Actually that is a very good empathetic reading!

nicole (#2,443)

this is very true.

Miles Klee (#3,657)

Yeah the constant denial-ridden screams of "THE RIGHT PEOPLE ALWAYS WIN" is a very dark cultural indicator in and of itself.

We (humans) have a remarkable ability to misjudge the impact of chance events (things outside our control) on our lives.

HiredGoons (#603)

Also, you know its easier to say terrible things on the internet.

Renate (#360)

Very true.

So, so true.

Clio (#3,719)

I was mugged a few months ago, and you'd be surprised how many people said similar things to me in person. Perhaps not as nasty, but you could see their disappointment when they found out it happened at 4pm on a Saturday in the lobby of my building by a perp I hadn't just let in the door. They were so ready to say, "you shouldn't have been out so late" etc but had to settle for "maybe your block sucks." Because "wow, I too could be walking out of my apartment to meet friends and suddenly have a gun to my head" is way too scary a thought to contemplate. As is "I too could lose my house if I get really sick because the social safety net is a joke."

So it's easier online, but people still say plenty of this shit in person, to the victim.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

[calculating] /Transmit1101010101101101100: BY ALL MEANS. PROCEED WITH THE ACT OF 'THINKING' THAT YOU ARE 'TOO SMART'. HA. HA. HA. /:End Transmission

Ronit (#1,557)

Empathizing is hard, let's go shopping!

Hirham (#1,709)

There's a long passage in The Right Stuff about that sort of thinking amongst test pilots, most of whom were happier to blame a pilot who had crashed than his machine or circumstances; it meant that they might still succeed where he had failed. Accepting bad luck might be in play meant accepting it could happen to you.

It's a newspaper comment section. I think it is against the laws of thermodynamics or something for them to not be devastatingly depressing.

Actually, it's the laws of soil mechanics that govern commenting threads.

Those are just theories

Miles Klee (#3,657)

Situation at NY Post most readily explainable as nitrogen deficiency.

Rarian Rakista (#7,203)

Maybe night soil mechanics.

HiredGoons (#603)

I would be curious to know the point of view of Mr. Economic Darwinism on, perhaps 'actual' Darwinism.

HiredGoons (#603)

also: I will now be having lamb for dinner tonight.

#mint sauce

petejayhawk (#1,249)

Can I come over for dinner?

HiredGoons (#603)

Do you enjoy martinis, turtles and Wendy Williams?

Art Yucko (#1,321)

Wendy O. Williams. (?!)

Miles Klee (#3,657)

How YOU doin??

HiredGoons (#603)

*my O face*

petejayhawk (#1,249)

re: the earlier question, I will gladly put up with the third if it gets me the first.

roboloki (#1,724)

jesus loves a sinner, unless that sinner is getting welfare. in that case jesus hates you as much as he hates the mets.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

In fairness, though, fuck the Mets.

HiredGoons (#603)

#things which seem unjust but which are, in fact, just

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Hey now.

The previous 4 posts should be bronzed and exhibited as The Canonical Awl Comment Thread.

iantenna (#5,160)

on a related note, if another friend of mine likes "If I have to pass a drug test to work my a** off, you should have to pass one to get welfare!!!" on facebook, i'm gonna crawl in a hole with a case of bourbon and a shotgun.

Hey, this hole's filled. Dig your own.

On a good note, the wife and I, and a few other neighbors spent Saturday and Sunday cleaning out and organizing another neighbor's house. He's 93 years old, recently broke his leg, is coming home from rehab tomorrow, and has no kids or family left nearby. Tons of stuff to "keep, throw away, or garage sale." (We found a .357 Magnum!, among a score of guns and ammo.) Also, we put in a handheld showerhead, fixed the dishwasher, and replaced the smoke detectors. He comes home tomorrow, on this birthday! So, this is sort of empathetic, right? Does it make-up at all for newspaper comment sections? Don't give me credit, though, my wife made me help. It was actually a pretty shitty way to spend the weekend.

scroll_lock (#4,122)

Now to help him rewrite that codicil to his will…

blueprint (#2,019)

I manage factories, and also (choose) to live in an area that has great quantities of public housing. On no fewer than thirty occasions, I've offered jobs to people who are currently collecting welfare and have expressed interest in working. I've made myself available to give rides to those who would need it (I'm going there anyway). I've offered to personally walk them into HR. I've offered to help them with any paperwork, and help them get copies of their Social Security cards. Essentially, all I've asked is that they show up for work.

Not once has anyone ever taken me up on my offer(s). The general consensus is that the entry-level manufacturing work ($8.50hr/full benefits/NE Ohio) isn't worth their time. Instead, they're looking for something that pays ~$500/wk and requires two or three five hour shifts. Otherwise, they'd far prefer to collect welfare, or sponge off of a single mother who collects.

I'm not suggesting that Americans aren't selfish assholes, but it's intellectually dishonest to pretend that the (admittedly, assholes) commenters don't have a legitimate basis for at least some of their disdain for their fellow man.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Crime and entitlement don't discriminate by class, son. But! The lack of empathy feeds straight into the divide and conquer.

Get up already, e pluribus unum. We need you.

There are no doubt people that abuse the system, but what gets lost in these conversations are how many people welfare has helped. The US has some of the highest productivity with some of the least off-time of any developed nation, a health-care system that can ruin an entire family with one (freak) illness, all of which leads to a highly-stressed (which, is unhealthy) workforce. It is my own opinion that there will always be people that cheat (and it isn't just the jobless, how many white collar criminals cheat thousands out of much more based on their position?), but the cost is justified for the benefits it provides to the rest of society. Having a safety net does more than just pay out money to deadbeats including not being locked in to a job and the ability to take a risk on education (which is not cheap). These things are just hardly ever brought up in the welfare discussion.

KarenUhOh (#19)

I don't see anything "legitimate" about taking apparent pleasure in someone's misery.

HiredGoons (#603)

unless we're talking about Julia Allison.

My disdain for my fellow man is more of an a priori axiomatic disdain than a developed-through-observation type disdain.

Happily, sustained observation has done nothing to disprove the initial assumption.

scrooge (#2,697)

It's always interesting to hear the other side of the story, at least when it's not just a stream of invective.
On the other hand, presumably the reason the unemployment rate shot up in the past couple of years isn't that everybody suddenly decided welfare was an attractive option.

Rarian Rakista (#7,203)

State laws on welfare often require you to reapply for your welfare benefits if you get get fired/leave/laid off even after a single day of work. Applying for welfare in most states can take months, so smart people do not look for work until it is about to run out. Same thing with unemployment benefits and the states that do encourage people with welfare to work programs are shuttering them, like California did last week.

Stop punishing people who are looking for work and you will have less people on benefits.

Moff (#28)

"Everyone wants help..but it has been said..If you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm…and if you search, you will find that you have two to help someone else.."

But, uh, apparently you don't have one, sir or madam?

Rodger Psczny (#3,912)

I do. Because of my parents.

Heehee! I like the random addition of this comment in unexpected places. More, more!

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

I find it particularly amusing how these "get a job!" philosophers move one to some other page to scream "they are stealing our jobs!" Make up your mind, fuckers.

Astigmatism (#1,950)

Whenever I see this, I get running through my head what David Foster Wallace said about "Kmart People":

"Kmart People tend to be overweight, polyestered, grim-faced, toting glazed unhappy children… They are sharp-voiced and snap at their families. They're the type you see slapping their kids in supermarket checkouts. They are people who work at like Champaign's Kraft and Decatur's A. E. Staley and think pro wrestling is real. I'm sorry, but this is all true. I went to high school with Kmart People. I know them. They own firearms and do not hunt. The aspire to own mobile homes. They read the Star without even a pretense of contempt and have toilet paper with little off-color jokes printed on it…. And Gov. Edgar's a closet pinko: they heard it on Rush. They plod up and down, looking put out and intensely puzzzled, as if they're sure what they've come for's got to be here someplace."

Except, in the happier time that was 1993 (!!), DFW got it wrong: "these people who ask of life only a Republican in the White House and a black velvet Elvis on the wood-grain mantel of their mobile home" are, in fact, thank to the Internet and to their collective numbers and votes, hurting people. They're hurting families who get torn apart by immigration bureaucracy. They're hurting couples who can't get married because of their gender. They're hurting Muslims in Tennessee who are worried about arson and getting shot. Hell, I'm a well-paid married heterosexual WASP male, and they're still hurting me because I have to breathe the air and drink the water that they want the unimpeded right to pollute, and because my kids are never going to see a polar bear because these people will have watched them die off rather than believe in science and accept that their choices do, in fact, have consequences.

I try to be understanding of life choices, but that only applies as long as they keep their noses out of my business and their externalities out of my hemisphere, and they're willing to do neither – and are sanctimonious asshats to boot. Seriously, fuck everyone.

[Side note: I do, in fact, occasionally shop at Kmart.]

Niko Bellic (#1,312)


KarenUhOh (#19)

I grew up a half mile from the Champaign Kraft. They opened the first K-Mart in 1962 or so, a quarter mile the other way.

But I never have a gun or wanted to hunt, and the one time I was in a mobile home I had an anxiety attack from what I think it was claustrophobia, although it could have been fire ants in the mattress.

So, I've failed my people. Because I hate these assholes.

heroofthebeach (#2,280)

Thank you for voicing exactly how I feel today. They should go have a tea party on the sun.

Carnage Hall (#5,633)

I am a bit puzzled as to why the classicism of this quote is not evident.

I believe the people who are doing the most damage to our society, economy and way of life are those who never go near a K-mart and openly refer to people who do as "white trash," etc.

roboloki (#1,724)

as a counterpoint, i must share with you something that just came across my desk. i received an e-mail from a client (we neutered her dog a few months ago) informing me that her husband passed away this weekend and she has requested that he be cremated and in lieu of flowers she would prefer donations be sent to our organization. so, yes, there are a great many people that are unsympathetic to the plight of their fellow man, but there are also people that, even in their darkest hour, reach out to make the world a better place.

HiredGoons (#603)

oh wow that made my day.

roboloki (#1,724)

my whole staff (me included) are in tears.

garge (#736)

Even if it were just a case of someone somehow being able to function through the awful soul crushing cluckerfuck of grief and have the agency to organize something good for somebody else I would have teared up. But bring animals into the picture, and I am wallowing soup. Thank you for sharing.

Forgive me, but until all the children go to bed with full tummies, I won't be donating to animal organizations.

HiredGoons (#603)

hey now, kids are animals too!

@dinosaur_senior: I suppose we could feed the adorable animals to the adorable children.

I'm on board if it works like this. HMMM, do you think puppies are tender?

david h. (#5,700)

If you know anyone in a situation similar to Rodger Jacobs, you might point them here:

The Writers' Emergency Fund gives grants of up to $2,000 to professional writers in acute financial crisis. Deadline for this year's grants is September 15. (And that page has links to some other helpful sites as well.)

Smitros (#5,315)

We are getting selfish because we feel like we are fighting for slices of a shrinking (or lowering) pie.

On the other hand, user "gayle" left this comment on the article (I can't figure out how to link to comments directly) :

Rodger and Lela, I apologize for the mean spirited People that have reponded to your article. We only have a 2/2 apartment in Spring Valley but you can stay with us this month (September} free. I figure you could save enough in that time to go back to California if that is what you wanted to do. We used to smoke and understand about your need to do so. You would have to smoke outside. Also, we are Black, retired (55-59) Federal Employees. Our home State is Illinois. We have been here for one year and it is not a very friendly or compassionate place.

So, there's that.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

Yeah, but they are black and we know this country is going back.

LondonLee (#922)

I want to give "gayle" a hug.

HiredGoons (#603)

Welfare, baby.


dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

That explains why we heard the word "welfare" in every episode of season two…

heroofthebeach (#2,280)

I just realized your avatar is a goat.

Jesus, I just waded into that comment thread and it's even worse than I expected.

I thought Choire just cherry-picked the worst comments, but they're almost ALL like that. For every one sympathetic comment, there are 20 hateful ones. It's sickening.

myfanwy (#1,124)

On the plus side, you no longer have to wonder what lurks in the darkness of men's souls; now you know.

Smitros (#5,315)

Then learn from my mistakes and spare yourself the horrors of reading comments on Yahoo! news stories, which reveal trolls of every persuasion.

Bittersweet (#765)

Spare yourself the horrors of reading comments on just about every other site out there besides The Awl. *shiver*

Rarian Rakista (#7,203)

People over the age of 65 were the last to get on the Internet, they now constitute the single largest demographic of new users on Facebook in the past year.

Be nice to our AARP members, they may wake up one day extra early and vote away our rights, oh wait, they are already doing that.

sf_sorrow (#7,177)

What you're despairing over seems to be the fact that Americans like those commenting on this story are free to speak their minds even though you don't agree with them.
America has always been among the most generous nations on Earth, and currently leads the way in charitable giving as a percent of GDP:
Whether through voluntary donations to aid organizations and churches, or by proxy via aid given abroad secured by tax contributions, we are in fact the most generous country that civilization has ever produced.
The situation of the couple in the Las Vegas story is lamentable, but the real question your article raises is why you would come to the conclusion that Americans, as a whole, are uniquely and excessively selfish when this is demonstrably not the case.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Your reading of the post and your scolding interpretation of freedom of speech are both well meaning and asinine. So, welcome. You'll fit in fine here.

cherrispryte (#444)

Did you even read what you linked to? While yes, the US government contributes more developmental aid worldwide than any other nation in absolute terms, the very wikipedia page you link to lists the US as 19th – between Portugal and Greece, those bastions of global wealth and charity – when you rank developmental aid as a percentage of GNI (GDP and loan income – a much more accurate measure than GDP alone.) Development aid is not purely charity – it is frequently given to curry favor, placate allies, etc.

We are far from the most generous country ever produced. Look at the rate of private donations, look at the uproar over tax increases that might – perish the thought – give more people access to health care. Not to mention the incredibly complicated and rigourous hoops the US government forces organizations receiving aid to jump through just to get funding.

You want charitable nations? Look at the Scandinavian countries. Look at how they treat their own citizens, and the donations they give (with far fewer strings attached!), the studies they fund, the organizations they run worldwide. They put USAID and the rest of us to shame.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

"why you would come to the conclusion that Americans, as a whole, are uniquely and excessively selfish"

Because there are assholes like you are everywhere you go.

Personally I find it a lot more entertaining how dumb you are, showing us links to prove that this nation takes care of it's next door neighbors better than any other, as if we have never been to countries that have no homeless people, no people without access to health-care, no children without access to good education, etc.

I guess your point is that this country has all those problems because people here are just dumber than they are in norther Europe, so they need a lot more help? Or is it that it's because we've given so much charity to Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel that we don;t have enough for Michigan or New Orleans. Aren't we so nice? Why, the nicest in the world, for sure! That's why everyone loves us so much.

sf_sorrow (#7,177)

@Niko Bellic Ugh…you're an idiot. When you get a coherent thought together, give me a call.

KarenUhOh (#19)

You know, I'm happy to be part of a humane, insightful, inspired commentariat.

These other folks really should quickly eat shit and die.

barnhouse (#1,326)

On the Internet one cruel person gives license to all the rest. We take this little flock to mean that there are many others, but maybe there aren't.

@Clio's comment above totally spot-on too, of course.

Scum (#1,847)

I think I can outdo sf's links of rage:

That is a link to THOMAS SOWELL in the NATIONAL REVIEW providing us with a summary of Arthur Brooks 'Who really cares?'. A book which reveals that conservatives give 30% more to charity than liberals as well donate more blood and engage in more volunteer work ect. ect.

I know you mad now.

musicmope (#428)

Is the NRA considered a charity now?

There are a lot of mean blog posts out there so it's just karma circling the drain (or something).

Regina Small (#2,468)

Whenever I read something like "[I just don't give a shit about other people]; I guess that makes me a bad person," I always kind of hope that the person, deep down, knows s/he is speaking the truth.

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