Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Poor Mindset or Wrong Mindset? Plus, Credentialism!

Poverty isn't caused by the "Wrong Mindset" but is perpetuated by a Poor Mindset.   There is a difference between the two!

Poor Ben Carson.   He is under attack again by the New York Times for saying that poor people have the "Wrong Mindset."  The Times, whose editors know all about poverty, argue that he has it backwards - Poverty causes one to have the wrong mindset.

Both the Times and Carson are wrong.

But first let me address Credentialism.  A reader writes that I am being "unfair" in mocking Ben Carson, as, after all, he is a neurosurgeon, and thus must be a smart guy!   This is a Credentialist Argument and is based on false logic.

The argument breaks down to this:
1.  To be a Neurosurgeon, you have to be a smart guy.

2.  Ben Carson is a Neurosurgeon.

3.  Ergo, Ben Carson is a Smart Guy.

4.  By extension, anything he says is right, because smart guys are never wrong.
The first three steps at least follow a logical pattern - even if the assumption in step #1 is not necessarily true.   Complete blithering idiots, at least in some areas of their lives, are capable of obtaining professional degrees and accreditation.  For example, they let me be a lawyer.   So you see, the bar is set pretty low.

But it is the last step that makes it a Credentialist argument.   People "shut down" discussion by saying, "well, so-and-so is an expert, and he says...." and you can't refute that argument other than to say one of two things.  Either you attack the credentials of the "expert" (and are drawn in to a credentialist debate, negating the inherit merits of the arguments) or you correctly point out that just because an "expert" says something doesn't mean it is necessarily correct - particularly as in this instance, where their field of expertise lies somewhere else.

It is like when Penn & Teller argue that a Physicist says that secondhand smoke isn't dangerous.   I guess they thought we would confuse Physicist with Physician.   And who cares if secondhand smokes is dangerous or not?  It just stinks, period, and your "right" to smoke ends when it intersects with my right not to have my clothes smell like an ashtray.

But getting back to the argument, both the Times and Carson are wrong.   The term "wrong mindset" is an example of Carson's poor communication skills.  It is not "right" or "wrong" but it just is.   I would use the term "poor mindset" instead, as it reflects the double-meaning of that word.   But it is an inevitable mindset as well.  There will always be people in any society with a poor mindset and you can't change their mind.  It is neither "right" or "wrong" but just is.

And Carson is right - you can throw money at someone with a poor mindset and they will remain poor.   Nothing you can do about that.   And in our country, poverty is equivalent to wealth in most of the rest of the world.   So we should stop wringing our hands about the "poor" here in the USA but instead maybe think about the poor elsewhere, for whom poverty is often a death sentence.   Being poor in America means having a shitty car.   That's not poverty, on a worldwide scale.

But the Times is also wrong in that their "experts" they consult suggest that poverty causes a poor mindset and that Carson has it backwards.   To be fair, the Times suggests that perhaps both are a little of the truth, but they seem to favor their own explanation more.  And I disagree about this.

You might be born into poverty, but what will keep you there is a poor mindset.  And granted, it is easier to develop a poor mindset if you are born into poverty.  This is true.   When you are raised with poor normative cues (in both senses of the word "poor") you will have a much harder time of getting out of poverty.   On the other hand, you can come from wealth and develop a poor mindset (usually drug use causes this) and slide down the economic scale.  Marijuana is a particularly easy way to develop a poor mindset, if you are starting out the middle and upper classes.   Other drugs are even faster-acting.

But - and this is important - it is possible to change your mind, or at least for some people to change their minds - and mindsets.  The problem is, often the poverty mindset becomes a religion, just as drug use does.   I recounted before about the family I met in a rural campground.  The son said, "Mommy, and I a redneck?" and the Mom replied, "Yes son, and you should be proud to be a Redneck!"

There ain't no rich rednecks in the world.   Those that appear to be so (entertainers and the like) are usually just posing as rednecks to make money.  The "Duck Dynasty" people, for example, have been shown with their beards shorn, in tennis togs.   Hardly redneck material.

Or, it is like the fellow I saw at the Dollar Tree in rural Georgia recently.  He tears into the parking lot at 45 miles an hour in an early 1980's S-10 pickup truck.  Each panel on the truck is dented and a different color than its mates.   Long after he screeches to a halt, the cloud of oil smoke catches up with the truck and blankets the front of the store.   On the front of this wreck is a novelty airbrushed license plate with a rebel flag on it and the words, "You're Damn  Right I'm a Rebel!"   You can imagine the collection of tats for yourself.

Point is, do you think he'll change his mindset any time in the near future?   I doubt it.   Myself, I wouldn't have bothered putting gasoline into a 1982 Chevy S10, much less a novelty license plate.   Different priorities, I guess.   But you say that and people accuse you of snobbishness, class warfare, or whatever.

The point is, he's happy with his life the way it is.  Sure, he'd like to have more and better consumer goods, if possible.  But he's not about to change his mindset to obtain them.   And obtaining wealth is something that, if it ever did occur to him, would only be by fantasizing about winning the lottery.

So what's the point of all of this?  Well, a number of things:

1.  Credentialism sucks.

2.  We should be able to discuss ideas without people shaming ideas themselves.  "How dare you blame the poor for their own plight!" isn't engendering discussion.

3.  Carson is right - your mindset has a lot to do with how well you do in life.

4.  Carson is wrong, the terms "right mindset" and "wrong mindset" are not accurate.  "Poor mindset" and "wealth mindset" might be better terms.

5.  The Times is wrong that the poor mindset is caused by poverty but right in that poverty makes it a helluva lot easier to obtain the poor mindset - and makes it very hard to shake it.

6.  I am skeptical that education or throwing money at people can improve their mindset.   Poor mindset attitudes are imprinted early on in life and obtained from parents and peers.   Even first grade is far too late to instill a different mindset in a child - and you'd have to have the same mindset instilled in the parents and peers as well (which is why moving to a wealthier neighborhood is such a good idea mentally).

When people are proud of poverty or the poor mindset, it is hard to change their minds.   And I know this because I nearly fell into this trap, or more precisely fell into it for a decade or so of drug use.  When you hang out with drug users, your expectations in life plummet.  Suddenly, you accept as normal, the idea of living on the edges of society and eking out a living, and view wealth in terms of what is parked in your driveway. 

But eventually, I cried "Bullshit on this!" and changed my mindset and within a decade, I went from scratching a living, to being solidly in the middle-class.   It certainly helped that I grew up in a household that did not have a poverty mindset.   But my family was only one or two generations removed from that mindset.   And my siblings, well, they had the same upbringing as I did, but actually eschewed wealth as bourgeois, due to the political styling of the time (the 1960's).

And I have to wonder if that whole "wealth is evil" mentality in the 1960's - or even today - was promulgated and nursed along by outside forces with interests opposed to ours.  Say, for example, Russians.   They never try to influence public opinion in the United States, right?

Mental attitude has a lot to do with your station in life.   If you have the investor or wealth mindset, you see a junked car as $200 that could be earning dividends for you.  If you have the poor mindset, you see an attractive yard ornament.   That right there sums up how mindset is indeed important.  And we should discuss this, not shout it down.