Monday, May 21, 2007

How Certain Is She?

Richard Mouw discusses an article which appears in The Chronicle of Higher Education in which the editors asked a number of academics to imagine what would be "the core of the message" they would give if asked to be the commencement speaker this year at Virginia Tech. The results, according to Mouw, were rather banal.

In my opinion, one of the silliest came from novelist Lionel Shriver. Mouw says this about her imaginary speech:

The most blatantly "postmodern" preachment comes from the novelist Lionel Shriver. She acknowledges that the graduates may come away from this experience with a "leeriness" about other people, especially a distrust of "the strange, the suspiciously quiet" types in their midst. That posture of suspicion, she insists, can serve them well in life. But it will be most productive, she urges, if it is directed, not primarily toward others, but instead is directed inward. "Question your certitudes," she proclaims. "Never forget that the more fiercely you believe a thing, the more likely it is that you are wrong."

Hmmm. I wonder how certain Ms. Shriver is of that.


Beating Poverty

As the election season bears upon us we're likely to hear increasing talk, especially from candidates such as John Edwards, about the responsibility government has to do more to help the poor. This sounds compassionate and right until one pauses to ask what more government can do to help people mired in poverty. Most who are poor in America are not poor for any reasons that government is suited to remedy. They remain stuck in the underclass because they lack certain virtues which most of the non-poor possess and which government is ill-qualified to instill.

Find 100 men who are living under the poverty line. My guess is that at least 90 of them will be uneducated, unmarried, and in possession of both poor work habits and probably a substance abuse problem.

Find 100 women living below the poverty line and at least 90 of them will be poorly educated, unmarried yet with children, and perhaps shackled to a substance abuse problem.

What can government do for such people? They have already been offered twelve years (or more) of free education which most of them squandered. Government can't keep them from indulging in drugs and alcohol, nor can it force them to wait until they're married before they have sex, nor can it force them to get married.

Yet these are the keys to the gates of the middle class.

Until the underclass in America develops the virtues of prizing education, getting married and staying married, and avoidance of self-destructive behaviors, they and their children will remain impoverished, economically and culturally.

The best thing government can do, probably the only thing it can do, is to be as insistent in communicating this message as it has been in communicating the evils of smoking, unprotected sex, racism, and sexism.

Beyond this it can do little. Expecting government to solve the problem of poverty is like expecting hospitals to solve the problem of obesity.