The artificial Horatio Alger

Here’s a socio-political Rorschach test for you. The Christian Science Monitor tells the story of a kid from a middle-class background in North Carolina who moved to Charleston and played homeless (if you’re from N.C., living in S.C. is probably as down-and-out as you can imagine) with $25 in his pocket and no prospects.

He wrote a book about it. It seems to be based on the premise that any poor person should be able to do this. Read it and see what you think.

And yeah, I know "Horatio Alger" is a stretch, since he was only trying to amass $2,500 in savings (and did twice that). But it was the best allusion I could think of.

6 thoughts on “The artificial Horatio Alger

  1. Doug Ross

    Not being on drugs, having an education, and
    the accumulated experience of working in the real world makes his experiment only mildly interesting.
    I’ve been doing a monthly Feed The Hungry meal down at First Baptist Church for the past year and a half. It’s truly an eye opening experience. Every person I talk to has a story — and that story typically revolves around drugs, alcoholism, physical
    abuse as a child, or some life altering event that they just couldn’t bounce back from.
    I talked to one guy last month who had MS, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc. He’s been trying for three years to get Social Security disability (he’s in a wheelchair). His latest attempt required using a local lawyer to work his case for a percentage of the funds.
    It definitely has given me greater insight into all types of people — like the ones who just need one small break to escape the cycle. Or the ones who will drive up in a car, stand in line talking on a cellphone and smoking cigarettes, grab a burger, eat it, and drive off. There is so much we take for granted — like just finding a place to go to the bathroom.
    Anyone who would like to assist this Saturday (or any 4th Saturday of the month), feel free to meet me in the parking lot at First Baptist Church Columbia at 10:00a.m.
    We normally feed 150-200 people. Or if you have items you’d like to donate, I usually lay out whatever I have collected on a table and let them take their pick. Coats, blankets, sleeping bags, backpacks, shoes, socks, you name it… it all goes every month.

  2. Brad Warthen

    My opinion? He’s right that it’s largely, although not entirely, a matter of attitude.
    I also know that attitude is not simply a matter of choice. A kid who knows he’s doing this to write a book, who has a credit card in his pocket if things ever get too bad, is one heck of a lot more likely to have an upbeat attitude than someone without an escape clause. Being the sort of person with enough self-confidence even to undertake this stunt sort of predestines you to succeed.
    If it’s all you’ve ever known, if you’re clinically depressed (and how could you not be?), having the attitude to get out of it would not be a matter of just deciding to feel more upbeat — it would be a gift from God.
    My gift from God is having a tendency toward depression myself. I know that while I might soldier on through bouts when I feel like I can’t accomplish ANYthing, when it feels like walls are closing in on me, I cannot make myself feel more confident by wanting to. I just have to get through it. And what would I do if I thought the depression was permanent; what if I didn’t know that at some point I’ll feel better, which always ends up happening? I look at people who can’t get it together, and I think, there but for the grace of God. I don’t think, “Oh, they just have an attitude problem.”

  3. weldon VII

    “(if you’re from N.C., living in S.C. is probably as down-and-out as you can imagine)”
    If that’s what you think, Brad, why don’t you see if Charlotte needs you or Winston-Salem or (ha) Fayettevill?
    North Carolina should be so lucky as to have a Charleston, much less a Myrtle Beach. Plenty of people from North Carolina vacation on our Grand Strand.
    I’ve from South Carolina, but I’ve lived in North Carolina, too. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. If they think we’re their yard-dog cousins, I never heard it in eight years, and I certainly never felt that way.

  4. Lee Muller

    When an upper class white woman works some low paying service jobs for a few weeks, and writes an “expose” called, “Nickled and Dimed”, the liberal reviewers thought it was so insightful. Not that any of them would want to actually do any manual labor…

  5. Gordon Hirsch

    Nothing about this kid’s story approaches the horrors of life in a shelter, but there is a nugget of truth in his observations about attitude. Like Doug, I work with people who’ve hit bottom, mostly through addiction and depression. Their struggle to start over is like a boxing match. They go down, get up, go down again. Round after round, often bloody and beaten (literally), sometimes over years, or a lifetime.
    The only constant I see among those who succeed is attitude. You can tell someone a thousand times, “You can do it.” But until they believe it, nothing can happen. Some get it right away. Some figure it out in an “aha” moment that’s so obscure they can’t even explain it themselves. And some never get it, never will, no matter what we or they do.
    This kid already had that belief in himself. If we could bottle that same sense of self and pass it out on the streets, we wouldn’t need homeless shelters. Hopeless is helpless.

  6. Karen McLeod

    You are right to an extent, Gordon; hopeless leads straight to helpless, or at least unable to get out of the mess. But while people can argue back and forth about whether people who use drugs are attempting a form of self medication from demons they can’t even recognize, or whether these folks just have poor self control, there can be no argument that those who are schizophrenic, or suffering from PTSD, or have other debilitating illness have no way up/out unless we find a way to help them. I think it’s disgusting that so many homeless are vets, whom we have basically abandoned.

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