I was reminded of this truism again yesterday after a trip on a New York City bus.
I needed to get to the Staten Island Ferry yesterday to keep an appointment in Manhattan. The fastest way, actually the ONLY way that doesn't involve calling a taxi, from my home is to take the S61 bus down Victory Boulevard to Bay Street, and thus, to the Ferry. During rush hour, this can take upwards of 40 minutes, but since it was 10:30 a.m. the trip should have been significantly faster for the lighter traffic and relative lack of commuters.
It was not to be...
For a start, whoever laid out the system of bus stops for the MTA on Staten Island should be taken out and have a red-hot steel rod jammed up his ass. Twice. The buses stop on just about every corner, because God forbid someone should have to walk a block in either direction to the nearest bus stop. Additionally, I get the idea the bus stops are placed politically; whichever restaurant, shopping center, doctor's office, etc., can manage to scrape up enough campaign cash, gets a bus stop right in front of their building.
So that's the first problem: too many stops. That can easily be fixed, I think, but it's the second problem which requires a more drastic approach. And because no one in this city, state or country has the guts to say it out loud, I guess it's left to me to do so. Consider it a public service.
This problem is the so-called "poor" people.
It is not unusual in these parts, once you hit the bad neighborhoods, to see people get on the bus and then refuse to pay the fare. In fact, I saw this three times yesterday morning, and once again in the afternoon on the way home. People will simply board the bus, pay the driver no mind, and find themselves a seat. A few, perhaps the ones with a smidgen of conscience, will put whatever change they have (but still short of the full fare) in the farebox, and a few will go through the pantomime of pretending to look through a purse for enough change, but the bottom line is that the fare does not get paid.
Some will be brazen about it, complaining if the driver should rebuke them that they "need" to be on this bus, and who gives a fuck about the $2.50? Some will threaten violence, often with the most obnoxious, and racist language. Some just pretend as if the rest of the world does not exist and as if they own the bus, and if they don't feel like paying the fare, they simply won't.
And it usually isn't just a single individual, but groups who have gotten on the bus together. The worst offenders are the small knots of single mothers who board with eleven children in tow, with strollers to boot, who first hold up the bus by taking their own sweet time to get their brood and impedimenta on board, and then refuse or simply don't care about paying the fare. The second-next worst group are the small gangs of teenagers (usually boys) who will either brazenly walk right past the driver, or wait by the back door for someone to get off the bus and then enter through that open door, practically daring someone to either say something or stop them.
I don't know, precisely, how big a problem fare beating on New York City buses is, but my general experience is that it's a pretty big one. After all, we're paying $2.50 for a ride, and you just know that whoever came up with that fare figured in that a certain segment of the population would feel it's entitled to steal and worked that fact into the final number crunching.
In any case, it is a time-consuming process while the driver waits for someone to produce a fare before giving up, or has to stand around waiting for Shaniqua and seventeen kids and four strollers to all be folded up and herded and brought aboard before she, too, refuses to pay the fare. Suffice to say, I missed my ferry, and was lucky enough to still be on time for my appointment. And this is a common problem; trips everywhere take twice as long, mostly because of the combination of poorly-laid out stops and farebeating poor people.
And I'm noticing a great deal about our fare-beating "poor", too. I'll give you some general observations here.
I would like to take this opportunity to say that it is apparent that when we use the term "poverty" in Modern America, we're not talking about a lack of material resources. You need only see the "poor" walking around in their Air Jordans, sporting cell-phones, designer headphones, playing their GameBoys, and pushing their very-well-dressed (Old Navy, Kids "R" Us and Gap seem to be the most popular attire) and badly-behaved rugrats around in top-of-the-line Graco strollers to see it. One need only stroll through my local housing project to see all the obese children and well-fed pit bulls (the weapon of choice for the local drug dealer, seeing as how up until recently Stop-and-Frisk was the law of the land) which indicates that not only do "the poor" have enough taxpayer-provided food to put an extra 50, 60, or 100 pounds on their children, but enough left over to feed an 80-pound dog.
No, America's Poor lack for very little, unlike, say, the worst denizens of the Mumbai slums, or the Dogpatch, tin-shack "townships" of South Africa. If anything, our poor are decisively Middle Class in terms of what they eat, wear, and waste other people's money on. No, our "poor" suffer from an entirely different deficit -- or I should say from "deficits"?
The first deficit is an incredibly irritating, to those who see it, sort of uncivilized, irrational attitude.
There is a sanctimonious, self-righteous, belief system on display. "The Poor" are allowed, mystically, to behave badly, or at least they believe they are. Rules do not apply to them. Standards, if there are any, don't attach to their behavior and if you insist that they do, then you're a racist. They believe they are "owed" everything, and therefore, permitted to behave in the most egregious manner. Usually loudly and in a criminal way.
Some of this is the result of the political indoctrination large segments of the American minority communities are subjected to, and a good deal of it is simply crass stupidity. They simply don't know any better. But it has become a common thing with me lately that whenever I see a small group of minorities behaving as usual (talking over each other, cursing freely, spitting everywhere, failing to pay bus fares, obviously trying to intimidate others in the general vicinity) I get the instant mental image of a group of chimpanzees in the rain forest screeching wildly at the approach of a cheetah. I don't want to think this way, but I can't help it. The only things missing from this zoo-like display are the public copulation and the flinging of crap.
There's a pervasive sub-culture active which believes that anything goes, particularly if you're "Poor". Some apologists would say they are simply mimicking the behavioral standards of the prevailing culture, but I would disagree strongly. If anything, one could make the argument that it was the creation of the sub-culture that caused the overall general lowering of standards of behavior outside of it.
The second deficit is one of morals.
There is no longer any stigma attached to being a thief, a thug, a baby-making machine, a welfare recipient, a fare beater, a deadbeat, an idiot. Once upon a time, it was considered the duty of the Middle and Upper Classes in America to demand that the poor conform to simple standards of behavior. One was not to steal; one was to comport oneself in public in a certain manner; cursing in the presence of women and children was considered a shocking offense. One was supposed to be embarrassed by their lack of manners, culture, intelligence, by the obvious wrongness of their behavior. Apparently, this is no longer true.
Some will complain about me having made this statement. They will say that it is extremely unfair (and racist) of me, the White Guy, to dare to apply what are certainly White-European-culture-Judeo-Christian-based standards of morality to people who are not a) White, b) European, c) Judeo-Christian (if they profess any sort of belief system at all) to people who fall decidedly outside the realm of all three. To this I respond: this is America. It was founded by White, European, Judeo-Christian people. Therefore, the society and culture bear all the hallmarks of the White, European, Judeo-Christian people who built it. If you don't like it, go someplace else.
And, for the most part, we're not talking about foreigners. Even if I hate illegal aliens and Muslims with a passion bordering on mania, I can at least say this about them: they're at least well-mannered. No, I'm talking about the human sludge we've created in this country, people born into the same society and culture which has somehow managed to give them everything, and still be considered "racist" for having done it. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, or get the hell out. It's only fair:
The third major deficit is a complete lack of respect for all the things that make civilized society possible.
Law and civility are terms that have no value to these people. For if they did, one would not see people boarding buses and refusing to pay, and being completely unembarrassed about it, or insistent that this was, indeed, their birthright. Had any of the former standards by which society hummed along some 50 years ago still been prevalent, the bus driver, upon being presented with a farebeater, would have called a cop. Fifty years ago, anyone on board that bus who had witnessed such an incident would have demanded that the offender be kicked from the bus, and the full penalty of law been brought to bear upon the criminal.
No longer. For it has become the sorry state of things in this country that we are, by-and-large, ruled by our "Poor", who have become, for all intents and purposes, the new ruling elite, with the power of the Pharaohs and Emperors of old to inflict their mental diarrhea upon the rest of us and then demand that we pay for it, one way or another.
And we do pay for it. Taxes rise to keep "The Poor" in the Middle Class lifestyle to which they have become accustomed -- it is the price we pay to avoid social unrest and riots. The Health Care Industry is slowly being nationalized, complete with an entire propaganda campaign that purports to be about "fairness", when really all it is about is appearances: we're giving "The Poor" (who are already entitled to the best medical care in the history of the World in the Emergency Room, for free) the illusion that they will have the same sort of insurance as those who paid for it themselves, and thus, are somehow mystically "equal" to their economic and social betters. We pay for it in the growing prison population, in the declining schools, the general lowering of standards of all sorts so as to not hurt the precious feelings of "The Poor". "The Poor" have spawned an entire industry of government and charity which exists to suck resources out of the productive to cater to people who nothing this side of dynamite will ever change.
Poverty, no matter how much taxpayer money we throw at it, will never be erased because it is no longer about lack of wealth; it is a mindset, a way of life, a culture. And it is big business for those who know how to get themselves a piece of the anti-poverty pie.
The Poor, as Kathy Shaidle is fond of saying, have become the Rich that Jesus warned you about. And if they aren't rich in terms of portfolios of stocks and fleets of Bentleys in the driveway, then perhaps the standard by which we now determine who is "rich" must be judged according to the same sliding scale by which "poor" is measured, and that is mainly by behavior, circumstance and political affiliation. Today's "Poor" behave very much in the same manner (encouraged by a political system that uses factors such as the welfare system, wealth and race distinctions as the basic tools of electoral success), only with four-letter words, drug habits and herds of children they refuse to take care of, as the Victorian robber baron of old.
In the case of both, there were no rules, and the true measure of success was to what extent one could influence the habits of a civilized people through rapacious and selfish behavior. Ultimately, such behavior is destructive. and if you need proof of this maxim, I suggest you ride your local public transportation or walk through the local housing project and see it for yourself first-hand.
Tomorrow, in Poor People Suck, Part II -- Scenes from the Supermarket.