Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Bad days

The initial adrenaline rush of making a film has definitely worn off and I think I'm now getting into the long, hard slog stage. I watched someone else's film about homeless people today (I don't want to say which one for reasons that will be clear shortly). It really took the wind out of my sails. The message of the film was basically that it's a hopelessly intractable problem, which is not what I needed to hear just now (even if it may be true). I need to believe that there's a solution out there somewhere. I need to have faith. Ironic, isn't it?

The belief that nothing can be done is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If there's no hope, why bother to try? And if you don't try, of course you won't succeed, which of course reinforces your belief that it really was hopeless after all. If ever there was a vicious cycle, this is it.

I have had two people cancel interviews with me so far. One said he didn't want to invest any more emotional energy on the homelessness issue, which I could certainly understand. The other didn't give a reason, which really annoyed me, and I'm finding that I'm having a really hard time letting that one go. This person -- I'll call her B -- is not homeless (by a long stretch), and the one sentiment she did express to me before deciding to cut off contact was that the homeless problem is the fault of the ACLU for challenging laws making it illegal to sleep in public places (or, as she put it, to "pick the homeless up out of their own urine"). And if by some chance B is reading this, please note the pains I am taking to conceal your identity. And if you think I am distorting your position, and you really have the courage of your convictions, then call me and talk to me and set me straight, damn it.

I suspect that the people who support vagrancy laws are afraid to come forward because in their heart of hearts they know that they too have given in to despair. If you can't solve the problem then you only have two choices: sweep it under the rug, or face it day in and day out. And that second option, as I am coming to understand, is very, very unpleasant.

I think supporters of vagrancy laws support those laws for the same people that Walter the bum drinks: because neither one has the inner strength to look their problems squarely in the eye and say: I am going to fix you. Whatever it takes. I will not succumb to despair. I will not accept the premise that the problem is intractable. I will have faith even against all evidence that there is a solution out there, and I will proceed on that premise.

I hope I manage to find the inner strength to do that. Right now I'm not so sure.


asdf said...

Hahaha... me again.

I don't know if I mentioned this to you explicitly, but the reason why I grew up in Manila is because my father works with street kids there as a protestant missionary. If you think that seeing bums here in the US is difficult, I'm sure that you can imagine how difficult it is to see the kind of poverty in 3rd world countries. I don't mean to minimize the problem here in the US, but as a global problem, the US is not representative of what the rest of the world sees.

I realize that this is mostly unrelated to what you've been witnessing in Santa Monica, but if you're interested, here's some info on what does my dad does. Since it's a different problem than what you would see here in the US the solutions are different. And obviously, as a Christian organization, Action sees solutions that are probably unappealing to non-Christians.
Here is the international organization's website:
And the Philippine website:
And here's a "manual" developed on how to work with street kids:

I guess to wax eloquent on the Christian perspective of the issues a little bit... I think it's important to mention a couple Bible verses. First, we have Jesus on record as saying that we will always have the poor with us (Matthew 26:11, Deuteronomy 15:11). I think that Jesus meant something more profound than the obvious "given a distribution of wealth, someone will always be on the bottom". Second, I think it's interesting that the Old Testament law was full of provisions designed to provide for the poor. For example, it was illegal to harvest 100% of your crops -- you were required to leave pickings for the poor people (Leviticus 19:9-10, 23:22). The Old Testament law had a system for canceling debts (Deuteronomy 15:1-18)-- one of the major causes of poverty. Actually, that same passage mentions one of the causes for poverty (verse 5). Basically, all I want to show was that from the books of the Law, it was obvious that God was making provisions for the poor to be able to exist in society.

One of the major condemnations of Israel by the Prophets was their lack of concern and injustice towards the poor. For example my namesake (Amos 2:7). All of the condemnation in Amos 8 was a result of their treatment of the poor. Isaiah also talks a lot about the poor.

Lastly, I think it's important to mention Jesus' response to the question "Are you the one or shall we look for another?" in Luke 7:18-23. In response, Jesus healed people of a variety of different problems, and then the very last thing that Jesus considered on par with his miracles was that the "poor have good news preached to them". I dunno... somehow that seems profound to me.

So in summary... I just want to emphasize a few things. I think that from the Bible's perspective, the existence of poverty is at least indirectly the result of sin in the world. Not necessarily sin on the part of the poor, but in addition sin on the part of the rich for failing to help the misfortunate. However, because of the provisions laid out in the Law as well as God's condemnation of Israel for it's treatment of the poor, I think it's obvious that God demands that we do something for them. As Jesus demonstrated -- not out of condemnation for them, but out of compassion. The truly difficult part is as Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 13:3 is that you gain nothing if you don't have love in your actions. A huge challenge.

Practically, for the individual... I think there's a "parable" that I've heard mentioned. It's the one about the kid throwing beached sanddollars back into the ocean and the grandpa saying "you're not making a difference; look at how many there are!". To this the kid responded "but it makes a difference to this one!".

Hmm... this comment certainly ended up being longer than I intended. Sorry if I'm being boring...

asdf said...

This is a fascinating webpage:


denis bider said...

Well, I guess I found an issue where our opinions are radically different.

I believe in treating people well, but there's necessarily always a threshold in who we're willing to consider a person.

Everyone has a threshold, it's just that most people aren't aware of it.

Most people think that animals don't count as persons - as in, entities deserving the right to live without being imprisoned, tortured and eaten.

I don't think this is so obvious. Vegans, for example, do not find it obvious either.

On the other hand, most people think that all people, no matter what they've done in the past or how genetically unfortunate they are, deserve to be treated as people with all accompanying rights.

Again, I don't think this is so obvious.

I think the worth of any creature and its eligibility for rights depends on two things - (1) its future potential, and (2) if there is no future potential, the value of its past contributions to the world.

Homeless people, sadly, have little potential and, I would presume, usually no big past contributions to speak of.

You don't think it's necessary to keep everyone alive and well for as long as possible, whatever the cost, regardless of the value of the person, do you?

If you do, I suggest camping out in front of animal shelters in addition to the homeless cause.

There is a gauss curve of capability, and some creatures will necessarily find themselves on the lower end of it. That's how it's ever been. Idealistic man tries to go against this, but it's pointless. It's a law of nature. The sick anthelope gets eaten; sad for the anthelope, but in the best interest of the herd.

Ron said...

Homeless people, sadly, have little potential and, I would presume, usually no big past contributions to speak of.

You are more wrong about that than you can possibly imagine.