May 1, 2006

Homes & Shelter

While I made an early morning run to the super market the other day, I noticed a "homeless" encampment out in front of it.

Our time living in the EU was generally pleasant, and only on a rare ocassion did we encounter accusations (mostly mild, sometimes not) against the inhumanity of savage capitalism. My general view is that we are all on the same team: modern citizens who believe in freedom and private possessions and a more or less open marketplace. Democracies can exist on a spectrum from parlimentary with highly regulated markets to our tripartite variety (the USA's executive/judicial/legislative) with some vague intention towards a free market. Red shift light frequencies don't make war on blue shifters, and up is not a foe of down necessarily, so I see no need for one side of the Atlantic to demonise the other. My message is simple: we are one, we are in the same family of free democracies. We are brothers. If you want to apply more friction to the marketplace than we do, knock yourselves out.

But still, we feel the bite as when hurricane Katrina hit last year and the European media couldn't resist a dig at a nation who couldn't evvacuate all of the people stranded in the path of the storm. When I was confronted by this fact, my response was to postulate that there were three kinds of people trapped in that dangerous situation:

Category One: Los Pobrecitos.

People who are genuinely in trouble and need our help. For Liberals, it is our mandate to empower the government to help the helpless. I remember when the sea change in our nation's mental health system happened back in the early 80's. All of a sudden, there was surge of homeless people on the streets. It was the Reagan era, and given the president's reputation, this seemed all of a piece, the stark fact of savage capitalism, to be sure. Later, I read that there was another dynamic that discredited the nation's mental health system: the effect of movies like "One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest" in changing public attitudes towards mental sickness. I didn't know what to make of it all at the time.

Later, when my father succumbed to clinical depression, I got a first hand view of the world of mental health... and I realised that we as a civilization barely understand what is going on there. Terra incognito, completely. Our scientific sophistication when it comes to such matters is similar to the old world of the flat earth before the time of Columbus. It is easy to get a big head over what we think we know.... but I remember when the shifting of continental plates was a new revelation, (-yes, I'm that old, but still-) it wasn't that long ago.

As a civilazation, we are still babies.

Category Two: Criminals.

The worst kind: criminals who prey on the pobrecitos. In nature, it is.... natural... for predators to eat the weak and infirm. They're an easy catch, a ready meal. In a larger Darwinian frame, this is the dynamic of evolution, the betterment of a species. But then, as inheritors of the Judeo-Christian world, man and animals are decisively separate categories (unless we are speaking of the Spanish Grupo Socialista's effort to give monkeys the same rights status as human beings*... but that's another hot topic).

Free human beings don't predate on one another... they negotiate instead. Criminals are humans who imagine themselves to be animals. Naturally, they must be checked.

Category Three: The Stubborn.

They will always be amongst us, G-d bless them. I tend to like this type, radical freedom seekers. They go their way and take their lumps regardless. Choice and consequence are theirs, all theirs. I remember one particular homeless guy when we once lived in downtown Los Angeles near Pershing Square. He shaved his head in interesting patterns, different every day. He dressed similarly. And he used to cook chicken on the sidewalk on an improvised campfire. The police didn't mind, they had bigger fish to fry. This guy was free to the extreme.

Or crazy.

Or crriminal.

I couldn't really tell. This would be my mandate to our lapsed and fallen Democratic Party ( bereft of ideas as we are at the moment, it's appalling... I want to rebuild it anew... ) here in the States: to attempt to devise a way to make a distinction between the three... to help the helpless and not waste it on the criminals or force it on the stubborn.

So a morning's run for breakfast groceries brought me these fotos and now this blogpost.

What did you eat today?

Here are some other shots:


Here is his neighbor:

These guys are smart in that they have camped out in our neighborhood in Echo Park, far from the maddening (!) crowds in the core of downtown Los Angeles. There, hundred if not thousands have gravitated to the concentration of the many homeless services made available there by the city government. An ambient "outlaw" society has formed there in parallel to our "in-law" regular society, a seemingly permanent presence. This is a repellant for downtown business, and local leaders don't know how to deal with the problem.

A friend visiting from Spain once took issue with us Yanks for such savage conditions, but I had to remind him of the homeless in and around Barcelona's old city. I remember seeing homeless in Tokyo. Only in utopia do they not exist, and utopia is a dream after all. Like Zeno's paradox, the arrow never gets to the target.

This guy has skills. Notice how he's more buttoned up, waterproofed. Nice couch cushions and a sleeping bag make for comfortable nights. And he's stylling with a Weber grill. No trash in sight, very clean.

I'd say he's a stubborn one.

*via No Pasaran

Posted by Dennis at May 1, 2006 1:03 PM

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