I write letters, lots and lots of letters. My letter to the Public Editor of The New York Times presenting a logical quandary is below. If you need the context, it follows directly after. Finally:
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears
No, that comes at the very end.
First, my letter to the Public Editor of The New York Times:
Subject: Letters In Response To Brooks Mean Something
I am a paid digital subscriber to the NYT.
Reading through the letters to the editor responding to David Brooks' opinion piece on the "social psychological causes of poverty" leads to a logical puzzle:
1. A journalist seeks out knowledgable sources to report facts.
2. An opinion journalist uses journalistic facts and argument to persuade.
3.The letters to the editor demonstrate that no knowledgable source agrees with the "facts" claimed by David Brooks.
4.Therefore, the New York Times does not employ David Brooks as an opinion journalist.
And yet... they do.
How can this be?
David Brooks's May 1st tragicomic epic, "The Nature of Poverty":
But the real barriers to mobility are matters of social psychology, the quality of relationships in a home and a neighborhood that either encourage or discourage responsibility, future-oriented thinking, and practical ambition.
The Letters To The Editor all disagree. Who are the authors of those pieces?
The writer is an associate professor of anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center.
The writer is a research scientist at the National Center for Children and Families, Teachers College, Columbia University.
The writer is vice president of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress.
And two other citizens who don't give a professional designation.
Do they speculate? Do they argue? No. They simply list the following facts which any user of the Internet (a set of people that presumably includes Mr Brooks) can ascertain in approximately 10 minutes (unless you are still using dial-up, in which case, you already know these facts because you are living in a poor community that the benevolent market has determined does not deserve high speed service):
First is the fact that mobility is almost nonexistent in the United States today. Second is that racial discrimination in labor and housing markets, and in the criminal justice system, makes mobility even less likely for residents living in neighborhoods such as the one where Freddie Gray, the man killed in Baltimore, lived.
To be complete, such an analysis would have to examine why so many wealthier Americans seem determined to punish the poor.
At least 12 states require public aid recipients to submit to drug testing or screening. A bill introduced in the Missouri Legislature would prevent food stamp recipients from using benefits to buy steak or seafood. Kansas has enacted a law that could effectively deny recipients — many of them children — the pleasure of a swim or a movie. All of this seems designed to make the poor as miserable as possible. None of it promotes upward mobility.
“Ambition” requires hope, and hope requires opportunity. The real lack of social norms can be found in a politics that fiddles while Baltimore burns.
Neighborhood segregation produces educational segregation as well, and a new report from the Century Foundation and the Poverty and Race Research Action Council, “A Better Start: Why Classroom Diversity Matters in Early Education” (of which I am a co-author), describes how this educational segregation starts in preschool.
In my city, Oakland, Calif., if you happen to be born to a family living in the Fruitvale District, you are likely to attend Fremont High, a school that has police cars permanently parked outside and during the summer looks like an abandoned ruin from Beirut. If you happen to live a few miles away, you attend Piedmont High, a lovely school where graduates attend prestigious universities. The difference is money, how we spend it and how we apportion it.
We want our children to get the best education, so we move to expensive neighborhoods that have good schools. Those who cannot move endure the leftovers.
As two of the letter writers make the point that there is an interesting topic of social psychology to be examined here: why do rich people hate the poor and why do they imagine that invisible abstract forces are the actual causes of the physical reality of poverty? Especially when the physical, existing concrete factors are reported, even in such bastions of white elite privilege such as the New York Times. In other words, is there a social cause of the psychosis which Brooks suffers under, where he perceives things that don't exist while looking past physical objects that clearly do.
The Time For Your Tears
Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now’s the time for your tears
Because all along, all we had to do was stop putting lead in our gasoline and our paint. Think of the lives ruined. It would have been so easy. But we didn't know. Now, indeed, Mr. Journalist, now is the time for your tears. But I won't hold my breath waiting for you to figure it out.
America's Real Criminal Element: Lead, by Kevin Drum in Mother Jones, January/February 2013.
The Toxic Legacy Of Lead Paint and The Life of Freddie Gray, by Jean Marbella in The Baltimore Sun, April 23, 2015.