Thursday, February 02, 2012

"Dude I hate poor people"

Ian Parker has a riveting article in the current issue of The New Yorker (seriously, is there any pub on this earth better than this magazine?) about Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers freshman who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate had cyber-spied on him and tweeted "I saw him making out with a dude. Yay." The article could be a textbook example of how poorly informed we generally are about real world events, and yet how we rarely let that stop us from projecting all our fears and anger onto people unfortunate enough to get caught in the public limelight.

None of which is to say the roommate doesn't have some accounting to do for his spying, mind you. Just that the public hatred directed at him was clearly misdirected. As his trial approaches, the best anyone can say about how justice should be meted out here was perhaps best summarized as such:
Paula Dow, then New Jersey’s Attorney General, said, “Sometimes the laws don’t always adequately address the situation. That may come to pass here.”
What Parker manages to do in his article is flesh out the personalities and motivations of both roommates and make you like and dislike them both more than possible with the information about them that came out on the heels of the tragedy. I have a very hard time feeling bad for the roommate who spied, but it's really not clear at all that his actions were directly responsible for Clementi's suicide. What is clear is that the roommate, Dharun Ravi, was not a monster, but more or less an average teenager with an obnoxious streak and very poor judgement about other people's rights to privacy.

More than that, though (and the central brilliance of Parker's article), is how it exposes so much about a culture with a moral compass that's completely on the fritz. There's a slightly Orton-esque theme running throughout the piece, confirming that the harder we work to conceal our meaning, the more our words generally reveal our true selves. More than that, though, the behind the scene chats of both roommates reveal young adults with very little certitude about right or wrong.
Take for example Ravi's response to perceiving that his new roommate wasn't wealthy:
Once Ravi understood that he would be living with Clementi, not Picone, he felt that he knew these essential facts: his roommate was gay, profoundly uncool, and not well off. If the first attribute presented both a complication and a happy chance to gossip, the second and third were perceived as failings. “I was fucking hoping for someone with a gmail but no,” Ravi wrote to Tam. Clementi’s Yahoo e-mail address symbolized a grim, dorky world, half seen, of fish tanks and violins. Ravi’s I.M.s about Tyler’s presumed poverty were far more blunt than those about sexual orientation. At one point during his exchanges with Tam that weekend, Ravi wrote, “Dude I hate poor people.”
Side note: can't let it pass without mentioning that Ravi is passing judgement on Clementi's "coolness" even though he himself played hours of Ultimate Frisbee and logged an astonishing number of tweets. Clearly, coolness is relative.

But compassion isn't.

Disdain for the poor is perhaps the single clearest indication of a dangerous degree of narcissism in my opinion. Anyone who "hates" the poor is clearly too dim to understand "there, but for the grace of God, go I" and that makes them a threat to everyone else.

Ambivalence about the poor is no better. While it's only fair to assume his words didn't come out as intended, Mitt Romney's recent declaration that "I’m not concerned about the very poor," is perhaps another Ortonesque uttering. Despite himself, his words revealed the true Mitt. I know that sounds harsh, but given his track record of consistently putting profits over the needs of working class people, while heading Bain, I'll stand behind that assessment until prove otherwise (and his easy ability to donate millions to charities, mostly within his Church, doesn't exactly make him Mother Teresa in my book).

Sincere concern for the very poor is one of the hallmarks of most major religions, including Romney's (although, granted, the LDS church
only added “to care for the poor and needy” to its longstanding “threefold mission,” in 2009...maybe Mitt missed that memo). His stated ambivalence (suggesting the safety net we know his party is hellbent on dismantling frees him from needing to focus on their plight) must rank among the most cynical and uncharitable of statements any politician running for President has ever made.

Our national moral compass needs a good whack.

Labels: politics


Anonymous Charles Browning said...

Dude, watch what you say about Ultimate Frisbee. There's a reason it's called ULTIMATE!
otherwise another fine post - carry on.

2/02/2012 06:57:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


knew that would bring out the enthusiasts!

2/02/2012 06:58:00 PM  
Blogger nathaniel said...

2/03/2012 07:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Destroy All Monsters.

2/03/2012 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

define "monsters"

2/03/2012 09:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That New Yorker piece is very well done, but I do disagree about the outcome. The key to this is what happened in that last hour that Tyler and Dharun spent together. Whatever Dharun did is what pushed Tyler over the edge as he left immediately thereafter to kill himself. We will never get the truth out of Dharun, he and his family don't believe he did anything wrong and are trying to make this all go away. He needs a wake-up call that this jury can certainly provide.

It would be great if he got a few years in the can and then gets to spend the rest of his life in India since he will be deported after. With his criminal record he won't be in the elite of that country, he'll be a part of some massive poverty and I think that is where Dharun might have his true rehabilitation.

-----ondine nyc

2/03/2012 09:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, Edward. I'm afraid I can't do that.

2/03/2012 10:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Disdain for the poor is perhaps the single clearest indication of a dangerous degree of narcissism in my opinion. Anyone who 'hates' the poor is clearly too dim to understand 'there, but for the grace of God, go I' and that makes them a threat to everyone else."

Bravo! An excellent summary of the problem at hand.

2/03/2012 04:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All religions preach kindness to the poor precisely because no one does so willingly. "There but for the grace of god" also explains shunning, as if poverty is contagious.

2/04/2012 10:53:00 AM  
Blogger findingfabulous said...

"Disdain for the poor.... makes them a threat to everyone else."Cuts straight to the core of the most immediate and horrifying danger in our society. I am always so saddened at how disadvantaged people are more inclined to apologize and feel embarrassed for their lack of means, than those that are rude or dishonest

2/14/2012 10:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Ajlounyinjurylaw said...

Shunning in general is a hatred that is not acceptable. Especially for the unfortunate, disabled and poor.

4/03/2012 05:45:00 PM  

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