Trickle-Down Justice

A friend of mine and I ate breakfast together today at our favorite cafe, as we do every week.  Our part of the neighborhood is seeing an influx of young, urban professionals — “climbing the professional ladder,” as my friend put it.  Broadly speaking, these folks are well-educated and left-leaning, with entrepreneurial personalities.  They know how to have a good time, and local shindigs — beer dinners, meet-and-greets, and other social events — are frequent.

There seems to be a disconnect, though, in the lip service paid to acts of justice / social action and the direct work they do with their hands. (the mentoring, the tutoring, the serving)  I could be missing it altogether, but I haven’t seen it.  Lack of time seems to be a major factor here.

But almost unanimously, these folks will vote on Tuesday for Obama, whom they believe has the best policies to help the poor.  But with the apparent lack of direct service with the disenfranchised, you might call their social philosophy “trickle-down justice.”  This is ironic, given the ideological differences between these neighbors and the Reagonomics (trickle-down economics) now espoused by conservatives in America.  “If I vote for Obama, he’ll set the policies into motion that will help my neighbors.”  I’m certain that in most cases, this isn’t intentional or malicious (and many of them would resent my accusations), but it is something I’ve noticed.

Trickle-down anything is not enough.  We, ourselves, must touch … serve … interact with the “least of these.”


15 responses to this post.

  1. I’m actually voting for Obama myself but isn’t that one of the complaints about Liberalism, it counts on the government to be our brother’s keeper?
    One could look at Obama himself, his policies will be better for the poor, but he himself has a poor aunt living in the projects right here in Southie and has some very poor relatives back in Kenya. He hasn’t given that much to charity relative to the amount of money he makes (the amount he does give increased when he started to run for president). So even he is counting on the government to help the least of these.
    I think it’s important for an extremely wealthy country like ours to help its’ poor. But just as important is, as you say, to reach out ourselves.
    Good Post


  2. Posted by Cody on November 1, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    A good point, Mike. I’m not sure how much I think the Government should do for the poor. However, what you seem to be talking about here is giving money. Giving money is necessary, but when the money is given someone has to actually do the work.

    It just seems like there are never enough people willing to give time and effort. I think that is why we have to rely on the government to help the poor; too many people willing to throw money at a problem and not enough willing to actually engage the problem.


  3. excellent post. had to link it.


  4. i know folks like this in here in the bay area of california. i kind of get the impression that it is hip to be into social justice. or at least talk the talk. i think that is all this is. people going with what is trendy. that is kind of what this crowd is about.


  5. Mike (#1) –
    I’d be careful about throwing around accusations about Obama himself, especially relating to his family. (and especially relating to the family member living in Boston) There’s a lot you don’t know.

    Sorry if that came off harsh, but I happen to have a little peek into that situation, and it’s not as it seems, or as the local NBC affiliate reported it.
    As a post-script to my post, I should say that as is the case in many of my cultural critiques, I am blogging about myself here. I am quick to speak up for the need for justice, even suggesting specific action, but rarely picking up a finger to actually do anything.

    It really is much easier to sit back on my comfy couch with my sleek MacBook and play pundit on issues of justice.


  6. man i get the point. great blog. it seems as if i’m in a generation that wants big brother taking care of everything. thing is someone has to answer the call and it’s hard with normal worldly pressures to volunteer and still avoid the burn out. life was never said to be easy, but i’m a less government person and can’t bring myself to vote for Obama and his lack of experience and the knowledge of love thy neighboor speaks volumes.


  7. Posted by Mitch on November 4, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    You said you have a peek into Obama’s family. Care to share? If you don’t want to post it on here, can you email it to me?

    To everyone else,
    I’m learning to not pay attention to much of what is reported in mainstream media. They are helpful for coverage of certain things, but the major downfall of broadcast media is that the entire idea is a conflict of interest. Their first priority is ratings, not the most relevant or truthful news, because of commercials, advertisements, quotas, etc.

    So just know that while there may be some truth to what is reported, the first priority often isn’t even the news itself, it’s ratings.

    PBS has really solid news coverage. As objective as broadcast news can get, and no commercials.


  8. Posted by miller on November 5, 2008 at 12:10 am

    pot smoking hippies and rastas, homeless wanderers and vagrants, alcoholics and druggies are the most beneficent people i’ve ever been around… they’re also the most loving and accepting. they’re more down to earth and real than any other people group i’ve seen…

    poor people of all stripes seem to be more generous… i once got hit up by a pan-handler and turned the tables on him. i told him i was down on my luck and needed help…

    he immediately put his hand in his pocket, looked me in the eye, and through alcohol scented breath asked how much i needed.

    it seems there is much to learn about justice and mercy from those who appear to need it the most.

    i wonder if that’s what Jesus meant by “blessed are the poor in spirit! for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.”

    i wonder whether we’ve correctly assigned the title of “wealthy” to those with the most money.


  9. Posted by Mitch on November 5, 2008 at 4:11 am

    Good point, Miller.

    Being down-and-out (financially, socially, etc.) sucks, but it definitely puts things into perspective. It allows the veil of finances to be nonexistent, placing importance on other things — people, places, life, community.

    I hope, no matter how little or how much money I have, there is never a veil of finances over my eyes keeping me from truly reaching out to those in need.


  10. Posted by jrsypoet1776 on November 5, 2008 at 10:28 pm

    Whatever happened to helping ourselves? I don’t want the governments help, I don’t need it (in the sense of giving me money). I’m not impoverished, but I am in debt & a whole lot of it. I’m not looking for hand-outs. I guess I’m one of the smart ones who understands that her debt is a direct result of her own irresponsibility. I have decades to prepare for my retirement, so I believe it’s up to me to make sure I can feed myself and have a roof over my head when I get to be of retirement age. If kids are the reason you need government assistance, don’t have them if you can’t feed them & certainly don’t have more just to dip into the honey pot; there’s options, one sure one – abstinence. If you don’t file and pay your taxes every year, then don’t expect your government to pay you. And if you don’t think you’re getting a big enough piece of the government pie, then open your mouth and make your voice heard to your local government. Don’t gripe about what the US is and isn’t doing to help you. It’s got to start with you first. Hasn’t America done enough? Hasn’t there been enough blood shed and death on the battlefields to guarantee you the freedom you now have to speak up and call your government to change?

    Yes, I believe government has responsibilities to us, but I don’t believe that it’s to be our Sugar Daddy because we don’t want to lift a finger to help ourselves.

    There’s a difference between being poor and unwilling.


  11. Posted by jrsypoet1776 on November 5, 2008 at 10:32 pm

    By the way, my GOD is still enthroned in heaven above. He is, and will always be, the SOVEREIGN AUTHORITY in my life, no matter who the president is.

    I thought this would be a better way to sign off.


  12. Posted by miller on November 6, 2008 at 4:03 am

    If kids are the reason you need government assistance, don’t have them if you can’t feed them & certainly don’t have more just to dip into the honey pot; there’s options, one sure one – abstinence.

    what stunning reasoning! certainly you are the author of all wisdom!

    i guess your form of irresponsibility is better than everyone else’s???

    i’ll bet you were born with a bit more privilege than your average welfare recipient, and this certainly qualifies you to condemn them as lazy bastards.

    i guess laziness is OK if it’s called retirement…



  13. Posted by miller on November 6, 2008 at 4:08 am

    By the way, my GOD is still enthroned in heaven above. He is, and will always be, the SOVEREIGN AUTHORITY in my life, no matter who the president is.

    seems like i remember this God you reference actually had some pretty harsh things to say to people who judged and condemned the poor…


  14. Posted by Mitch on November 6, 2008 at 6:45 am

    While you may have decades to prepare for retirement, not need handouts from the government, and file your taxes on time every year, there are those who…

    A.) …have not been raised in an environment that taught them to do those things.
    B.) …live their lives day to day not knowing where their next meal is going to come from, basically living in survival mode.
    C.) …can’t work because of work-related injury or for a zillion other reasons.
    D.) …inherited poverty from their parents and grandparents and are convinced that’s where they’ll stay.
    D.) …didn’t consult you about abstinence, so they had kids.

    I don’t know how such a non-political post turned into all of that. I think Steve’s and Miller’s point was simply to say that the government SHOULDN’T be doing all the work. We have a duty as humans to watch out for each other.

    That is all!


  15. Mitch – I’d rather not share what I know about Obama’s aunt. It would betray a trust.

    But I will agree with Miller and others and repeat that we must resist the temptation to pass judgment on people and situations about which we know very little or nothing.

    A couple of the comments above about those in poverty are careless and, frankly, untrue. Jrsypoet, I’d encourage you to get your hands dirty in the cause of Americans in poverty. Listen to their stories. Serve alongside them. Allow them to inconvenience your life.

    Then come back and talk about unwillingness to work, when and when not to have kids, paying taxes, food provision, and whether “America has done enough.”

    Oh, and in my experience, I’ve NEVER ONCE heard someone in poverty “gripe about what the US is and isn’t doing to help” them. That comment reveals a considerable amount about your understanding of our society’s marginalized.

    (I hope you’ll keep reading and commenting … like Campbell Brown’s new show, this tends to be a “no bull” blog, where people challenge and confront and encourage and sharpen …)


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