Friday, February 05, 2016

Evolution is Not Incompatible With Religion, Part 1 - Why Literalism Is Wrong

I'm getting really sick of Creationists. And the thing that especially bothers me is how they equate creationism with Christianity and evolution with Atheism.

Well, there are plenty of Christians who believe in evolution, my own parents included. You don't have to hide your head in the sand and ignore the overwhelming evidence in favour of evolution, just to keep your belief in God. You can instead see evolution as the tool that God used to make all life, including us.

A related idea is the idea of taking the Bible literally, thinking every bit of it is the literal word of God. Which is quite frankly ridiculous, given the history of the Bible and its' stories.

When I was a kid, at some sort of summer camp (might have been Girl Guides, I can't remember), one of the camp leaders led us in a game called 'telephone'. In that game, the kids sit in a row, and the teacher hands the first kid in line a note. The kid reads the note and whispers what it says, word for word, in the ear of the kid beside him or her. Each kid down the line then whispers the message to the next kid, doing their best to copy it precisely.

Of course, the message seldom comes through exactly the same. Every single time we played this game, the message was changed - sometimes it was almost unrecognisable. And the same must be true of the Bible.

Historians are not certain exactly when the books of the Old Testament were written. We do know that by the time they were first written down, most of the tales they contained were already very old. Before the Bible was written, these tales were passed down by oral tradition. And no matter how precisely people tried to maintain these stories, the game of telephone shows us what happens when a message is passed from person to person orally - it gets changed.

Even siblings can disagree on what happened during a memorable childhood event - neither of them lying, but instead simply remembering the same events differently. And this can be seen in the New Testament, which was written by a mix of the Apostles and some of the early Christians. Most, if not all, of the New Testament was written many years after Jesus' death. Even the parts written by the original twelve Apostles don't all agree, just as any story told by many people will not perfectly agree. And other parts were written by men who had joined the church later, such as the Apostle Paul (who was not one of the original twelve).

Furthermore, the Bible was not written in English. The Old Testament was written in Old Hebrew, the language of the Israelites at the time, and the New Testament was written in Koine Greek (an older form of Greek, which was used in the eastern half of the Roman Empire during the time of Jesus). Both testaments were translated into Latin in 400 AD (though Greek translations of the Old Testament were available, the Hebrew version was used, as it was felt to be more accurate).

This Latin version continued to be used throughout the Middle Ages, long past the death of Latin as a living language (which meant there were only second-language speakers of Latin). During that time, translation of the Bible was forbidden, for fear that a Bible that could be read by laypeople would be misinterpreted by them. Although a few translators broke this rule, it was not until 1604 that the most widely accepted English Bible, the King James Bible, was written, translating from the Latin version.

In 1604, of course, English was spoken differently than it is now. This was during the lifetime of Shakespeare, and just as many people today find Shakespeare's plays hard to understand, they have similar issues with the King James Bible. So many versions of the Bible today have been translated yet again, into a more modern form of English, using the King James Bible as a base.

So, the Bibles owned by most people today are either a translation of a translation, or a translation of a translation of a translation! This is important because translations are also a source of error. Many concepts don't map perfectly across languages. I'm French-English bilingual, and I can think of some examples where French concepts don't map perfectly to English - for example, there are certain verb tenses that are not shared across the two languages. (A more relevant example is that in the form of Greek used in the New Testament, homosexuality and pedophilia are both described by the same word, arsenokoitai, making it unclear whether the Apostle Paul condemned gays, pedophiles, or both.) The more distantly two languages are related, the worse this incomparability becomes. While Greek, Latin and English are all Indo-European languages, Hebrew is a Semitic language, so the Old Testament Hebrew->Latin translation must have been especially tricky. This makes any literal interpretation of the English Bible especially prone to error.

Besides that, from the quotes of Jesus' parables, it's clear that Jesus did not speak literally. When he talked about a man sowing seeds that either grew or failed to grow, he wasn't just giving farming advice - he was drawing an analogy between seeds and believers. Since Jesus' parables are so clearly intended to be interpreted rather than taken literally, why would we expect the rest of God's word to be literal? Why can't Old Testament tales be just as figurative as Jesus' parables?

Thursday, January 28, 2016

How to Make Online Spending More (In)Accessible

Extra Credits recently released this video:



In it, they discuss how the EU has recently passed some laws trying to protect children from predatory free-to-play games, and how children really aren't the big target of these games. For those of you not well versed in the game industry, free-to-play games are games which cost absolutely nothing to acquire - but you can spend money to unlock various upgrades, such as cosmetic changes, increases in power or greater options.

While responsible free-to-play games expect most of their players to spend a small amount of money on those items of most interest to them, predatory free-to-play games attempt to get players to spend thousands of dollars on their game. As you might expect, most children aren't able to spend thousands on one game. Most parents don't allow kids free access to their credit cards. Children playing free-to-play games - or doing any other activity involving online purchases - usually have to clear their purchases with a parent, who is usually not invested in the game and therefore not likely to spend more than they can afford on it. Sure, there are exceptions, but this is not the real danger from free-to-play games.

The real danger is what free-to-play does to adults with weak executive functions. Maybe people using a game to cope with a mental health issue, and therefore not putting the game in its' proper perspective, or people who have trouble understanding the value of money, or maybe just people who are impulsive and/or compulsive with most things they do. In other words, people like me - or like I would be, if I didn't know myself so well.

And it's not just free-to-play. All electronic purchases carry this risk. Electronic money isn't tangible. It's hard to get a visceral sense of how much - or how little - you have. If it's getting harder and harder to find the bills in my pocket, I know I'm running out of cash. But how can I get the same feedback from a card? With my bank card, I only know I'm out when I try to buy something and fail, which is why I prefer to pay cash instead.

With a credit card, you don't even get that much feedback - instead of declining a purchase when you run out, it'll just send you into debt. And by the time a credit card refuses to buy what you're trying to buy, you'll be hundreds of dollars in debt.

So, how can we protect people who have trouble monitoring how much they spend? By making it more tangible and inconvenient to spend money. On my iPhone, I don't have a payment method programmed in for the app store. I do this deliberately, so that if I accidentally or mistakenly choose an option that costs money, it'll throw up an error. The one time I decided to spend money on the app store, I got a pre-paid card - it can be used in place of a credit card, but has only a very limited amount of money and can't have money added to it.

I programmed it in, and bought the apps I wanted, running myself broke. Then, I decided to surf the app store for some more free apps, and was horrified. The app store had stopped telling me the prices of the apps, or even whether they cost money or not. I'd try to download an app and the first sign I got that it cost money was when it popped up an error because it had tried to buy itself and my card was out. It was also unexpectedly difficult to make my iPhone forget about the card and revert to thinking I had no payment method.

To make online spending more accessible for people with poor executive functions, we need to (ironically) make it less accessible. Every purchase should be a deliberate decision, and one requiring several steps. It should require you to transition from your current activity to do something else in order to purchase. It should be an annoying process. Not difficult, but annoying. And most of all, you should always, always, know exactly what purchases you're making and how much they cost.

Most companies are never going to do this of their own free will, of course. They want us to lose control of our spending. They want us to spend more than we can afford, to spend money on their product that we'd have otherwise spent on necessities or on building a brighter future. The fundamental truth about capitalism is that they don't really care about us. All that matters to them is lining their own pockets.

And so the only way that companies will do what I propose is if they're forced to.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Race Problem In Canada

I have heard horrifying stories from Americans about how badly black Americans are treated. I have heard of blacks being killed by police and vigilantes, and parents having to teach their black sons to be wary of the police. These stories have horrified me, and I've told myself 'at least Canada isn't like that'.

I have since realized how silly it was for me to say that.

Oh, sure, we don't treat blacks like that. We have very few blacks, and those few get met with very little prejudice overall. The most I've encountered myself is a bit of complaining about hard-to-write/pronounce African names (most Canadian blacks I know were born in Africa or have parents born in Africa, though we do have a few American blacks and Caribbean blacks as well). Plus, a Zambian friend of mine once worked with a senile woman who said she didn't want 'that nigger looking after her', apparently oblivious both to my friend's very dark skin and her obviously African accent. My friend seems to have found that more amusing than hurtful. I wouldn't be surprised if there's some racism against blacks here, but most Canadians probably don't have very strong feelings about black people.

Similarly, we don't have much discrimination against Hispanic people here. The only person I've met who is openly anti-Hispanic is an American with dual citizenship. I've met very few Hispanic people, and haven't heard any complaints about Canadian racism from them. Doesn't mean it doesn't happen, of course, but I haven't heard of it. Some with strong accents might get annoyance from people who dislike or have trouble figuring out what they're saying, but even the anti-immigrant racism is mostly not directed at Hispanic immigrants (or African immigrants, or white immigrants). Our biggest immigrant population is Asian immigrants, and they're the ones I tend to heard anti-immigration complaints about. (You know, 'they're taking our jobs, they don't want to fit in, etc, etc').

Although they're rarer, Muslim and/or Arabic immigrants get treated even worse, because many people stereotype them as terrorists. Probably we do so less than in the US, because we didn't get any direct terrorist attacks, but there's been so much news coverage of 9/11 here that many people are pretty freaked out about it even now. Recently, we had our previous prime minister (Canadian version of president) try to win the election by pushing for banning hijabs in the civil service - despite no one actually working in the civil service who wore a hijab! Anti-hijab comments are pretty common, so my guess is women wearing hijabs get the worst of anti-Muslim attitudes, but I've also seen people treat people who look Arabic, have Arabic names or are speaking Arabic in a public place with fear. And, as an innocent kid curious about languages, I also saw a couple of Arabic speakers act apprehensive about telling me what language they'd just been speaking.

But the worst racism in Canada is directed at Aboriginal people. And here, we really see that Canada can be just as bad as the US.

In Saskatoon, we had what we called 'starlight tours'. Despite the innocent-sounding name, what this consisted of was police picking up Aboriginal people out late at night in the middle of winter and leaving them a few miles out of town, knowing that they had little chance of making it back before they froze to death. In some cases, they also stole clothing from the victims, such as shoes, greatly increasing the risk of freezing. When the bodies were found, of course, their deaths would be blamed on alcohol, but a few survivors and many people who'd last seen their loved ones being taken by police raised awareness. I don't know if these tours are still happening - the police insists they've stopped - but the fear is very much still alive.

There's also the 'stolen sisters', missing and/or murdered Aboriginal women whose deaths or disappearances have not gotten enough attention by investigators. Aboriginal women make up 10% of female homicide victims, but only 3% of Canadian women. One notorious case was the case of Robert Pickton in Vancouver, who murdered almost 50 women, mostly Aboriginal, while the police refused to investigate his farm. One of his victims even escaped and pressed charges, but the charges were dropped. There is probably another serial killer targeting Aboriginal women hitchhiking on what's been dubbed the 'highway of tears', a 720 kilometer stretch of Highway 16 in British Colombia. In addition, media coverage of missing Aboriginal women is generally much less than with missing White women.

I knew all of that. So why did I feel proud of Canada for 'not having the same issues' with racism as the US? It seems to be a form of Canadian denial. Rather than face what's wrong with our country, we just point to the US and say 'they're worse than us'. Granted, US is worse than Canada on many measures, such as education rates, infant mortality rates, and per capita violence, but that's not because Canada's a great country. It's because US does worse than pretty much every other 'developed' country on those measures, and even worse than some 'developing' countries on some measures.

Both Canada and US have higher infant mortality rates than Cuba, most of Europe, and large chunks of Asia. Between Canada and US on the rankings lie Greece (which has terrible debt), several Eastern European countries, and Guam. So both of us are rich countries whose standard of living is deplorable compared to similarly-prosperous countries. Just because we do better than the US doesn't mean we're doing well.

And in both countries, standard of living is strongly linked to ethnic background. My Zambian friend, who I mentioned earlier, once visited a reservation (reservations are all-Aboriginal community created by the government and given a special legal status) and said it reminded her of a Zambian village. Zambia is not a prosperous country - it's one of the many desperately poor African countries. This is not a flattering comparison. I have also visited a reservation once (I think my Dad was buying car parts from someone there), and the comparison was apt. It's like Port-au-Prince without the earthquake damage.

I also saw the link between race and poverty firsthand, in Saskatoon, Regina and Vancouver. In Saskatoon and Regina, the beggars in the street are almost all Aboriginal, and are clustered in neighborhoods where many Aboriginal people live. In Vancouver, walking along a single street, you can go through the poorest neighborhood in Vancouver (which appeared to be over 90% Aboriginal), through a Chinatown, and then into one of the richest neighborhoods in Vancouver (where I did not see a single non-white person). These are just the towns where I've personally seen race-poverty linkage - to my knowledge, it's a cross-Canada phenomenon.

And in both Canada and US, the statistics match these observations. Looking at infant mortality again, in the US, around 5 out of every 1,000 white, Hispanic and Asian infants die before their first birthdays, while 11 out of ever 1,000 black infants die, and 8 out of every 1,000 Aboriginal infants die. A black baby is therefore over twice as likely to die as a white baby. Even the white/Hispanic/Asian rates are higher than most developed countries (in Finland, for example, only 3 out of every 1,000 babies die).

In Canada, meanwhile, 6.4 out of every 1,000 Aboriginal babies die before their first year, compared to a national average of 5 out of 1,000 Canadian infants dying. While this is not nearly as dramatic as in the US, on average, 22% of Aboriginal babies who die would have survived if they were white. That study also confirms the comparison between reserves and 3rd world villages - 98% of houses in reserves lack adequate running water.

So let's not be too smug. We may be doing better than the US, but we're certainly not doing well.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

I Just Want to be a Mother, So Why Is That Breaking So Many 'Rules'?

I really don't think my desire to be a mother is so unusual. I kind of feel that what I'm feeling is basically what many women feel when they decide to stop taking birth control pills and start looking to have sex at that special time between two periods. I just want to have a little kid of my own, someone I can raise and be responsible for and feel that deep love and bond with. Someone who will carry something of who I am in their heart after I'm gone.

But somehow, to fulfil this simple desire, I keep finding myself breaking all the rules.

I'm a disabled woman. For some people, that in itself means I shouldn't be a parent. Worse yet, I'm autistic - a disability supposedly inherently linked to bad parenting. Even worse, I currently can't live independently or hold down a job, which means others (my parents) will have to pay the costs for me having a kid. For many people, the nature of my disability suggests I shouldn't be a parent.

To add to that, my disability is genetic. My biological child could very well inherit my autism, and some people feel that this should prevent me from having a biological child at all. Worse yet, the prospect of having an autistic child doesn't bother me in the slightest - in fact, I'd prefer that outcome, and would like to increase my chances of an autistic child. The idea of some parents preferring and seeking to produce disabled children is another thing many people condemn. And that's with deafness, a condition that, under the best circumstances, has much less impact on your abilities than autism does.

I'm also planning on being a single parent. Single motherhood is still seen as a suboptimal parenting arrangement, and to decide to do it willingly? Well, that's labelled 'irresponsible'. What's even more shocking, though I have no idea why, is the fact that I will be a virgin when I have my child. And the reason why? Not only am I asexual, but I'm also afraid of sex, which some people think means I can't form a proper bond with my child.

Furthermore, since I'm planning on artificial means to have a child, many people probably think that if I have a child it should be through adoption. The idea that, while I'd love to adopt, I also want a child with my genes, and that the desire to produce a biological child doesn't mean I think adopted children are any less valuable, doesn't make sense to many people. And unlike many infertile couples, unless they lift the ban on human cloning, my child will have a genetic connection to an absent parent, which some people thinks will doom them to identity problems. I am planning on finding a donor myself rather than going through a clinic (because sperm banks don't let openly autistic guys donate sperm), which some people think is a terrible idea. And if they did allow human cloning, then going that route would be considered highly narcissistic by certain people. So my only option for having a kid who won't grow up with genes from an absent parent is also 'breaking the rules'.

I fall into a dizzying variety of categories of 'people who shouldn't be having kids'. But despite all this, I know I can be a good mother, as long as I get the right kind of help. And yes, my desire to have a child is selfish, but really, has anyone ever conceived a child for non-selfish reasons?

I'll just ignore the nay-sayers and do what's right for me and the family I dream of having. And who knows? Maybe all of this will be good preparation for when I am a parent, and someone inevitably decides that my parenting isn't good enough. I'm sure my transgressions won't end once I get that positive pregnancy test - in fact, they'll only be beginning.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Social Domain Theory and Behaviour Therapy in Autism

Neurodiversity advocates often criticize ABA by claiming that it is harmful to train an autistic child to act normal. However, curebies often seem to miss the fact that most neurodiversity advocates aren't against teaching an autistic child anything - rather, the concern is over the specific focus and goal of treatment.

I recently realized that a particular child development theory pretty much ideally sums up what behaviour neurodiversity advocates are fine with changing and what we believe should not be changed.

Social domain theory, which really doesn't get the attention it deserves, suggests that both children and adults implicitly feel that behaviour falls into several different domains, with different responses considered appropriate for each domain. In particular, the rules placed on individuals by authority figures are judged very differently based on what domain they fall into.

The first domain is the moral domain (ordering is arbitrary, by the way). These are behaviours seen as inherently morally wrong, and authority figures are not only allowed but generally required to forbid these behaviours. Even if a authority figure were to explicitly allow a behaviour in this domain, it would still be considered wrong. Most behaviours make it into the moral domain because they are seen as harmful to other people - such as physical violence, emotional abuse, or damaging property valued by another person. There are also some behaviours placed in the moral domain because they elicit strong feelings of disgust, although these are less universal (an example in the literature was having sex with a dead chicken with no intention of anyone eating that chicken).

The second domain is the prudential domain. These are behaviours seen as risky or unwise, because they are likely to cause harm to the person engaging in them. In this domain, whether authority figures should make rules about this domain is seen as depending on the competency of the person the rules are being placed on. Young children and older people reasoning abut young children generally approve of prudential domain rules, but as children get older, they expect and want to take responsibility for their own safety, and adolescents and adults often resent prudential domain rules. (A certain subset of adults refer to prudential domain laws as the 'nanny state', implying that these laws treat them like children.)

On the other end of the spectrum is the personal domain. These are behaviours seen as important for self-expression and identity. Not only are authority figures not expected to put rules on these behaviours, it is generally seen as morally wrong to forbid these behaviours. It is seen as harmful to inhibit personal domain behaviours, because these are important for the person's happiness - and therefore interfering with another person's personal domain falls under the moral domain. Common examples of personal domain behaviours include choosing what clothing to wear, what toys to play with, or similar choices. Also note that the moral domain overrides the personal domain - even if it is important to your identity to do a harmful activity (for example, sexually abusing a child), it is still wrong and should be forbidden.

Lastly, there's the social conventional domain. This is where behaviours that don't fall under any other domain are placed. Authority figures are seen as having free rein to allow or forbid any of these behaviours as they see fit, and generally end up setting rules consistent with a standard societal norm. For example, raising your hand before speaking in class falls into the social conventional domain. Generally, violating social-conventional rules is seen as mildly wrong, more rude than actually harmful, and only mild punishments are expected for violating these rules. And unique among any domain, whether a behaviour is allowed or not in this domain is entirely decided by whether there are rules (explicit or unwritten) against it.

Neurodiversity advocates pretty much universally approve of eliminating behaviour that falls into the moral domain. I have never seen anyone argue that an autistic child should be allowed to harm other people. Disgust-based moral domain behaviours are more of a point of contention (as they are in other areas - for example, homophobic people are thought to mostly forbid gay sex out of disgust-based moral reasoning) but even so, I have seen neurodiversity advocates argue against disgusting behaviour, and have even done so myself. (I was trying to convince an autistic adult online not to pee on sidewalks to save on his water bill.)

Similarly, in the prudential domain, neurodiversity advocates generally hold the same opinions as everyone else does. Young children should not be allowed to harm themselves - either by direct self-injury or by engaging in dangerous behaviour. Older children and adults will generally take over responsibility of their own safety and should decide for themselves what risks to place themselves under. However, there is sometimes a point of contention with disabled adults, especially more visibly disabled adults, because of a disagreement about how competent these individuals are to ensure their own safety. Specifically, neurodiversity advocates generally feel that competence is being underestimated for visibly disabled people, such as lower functioning autistic people.

There is also the question of what to do if the person understands the risks but can't ensure their safety. This is most often seen in the discussion of lack of independent living services for adult autistics, especially higher functioning autistics. I am lucky to have a family who is still caring for and supporting me, but others are homeless or living in terrible home situations because they can't care for themselves and no one else is giving them help. Meanwhile, since many autistics who need self-care help are still competent to judge risks and make good decisions, it's important that when we get the help we need, it's in a form we can control. That way, we can decide for ourselves what kind of help we need and how we want to receive it. Unfortunately, getting help, if help is available, usually means giving up control over your life to some inflexible agency.

The last two domains are where curebies and neurodiversity advocates generally disagree. The thing is that many typically autistic behaviours, such as intense interests, stimming, atypical play, etc are felt by autistic people to be important to our identity, and therefore fall under the personal domain. Meanwhile other people don't realize the importance of these behaviours (or are willfully blind to it, in some cases) and see them as being in the social-conventional domain.

Given the inverse relationship between the personal and moral domains, seeing certain behaviours as personal domain inherently leads to seeing attempts to stop those behaviour as moral domain violations. This is one of the big reasons why neurodiversity advocates are opposed to treatments like ABA, which often list reducing typically-autistic personal domain behaviours as explicit goals of therapy.

But there's another wrinkle, too. Many autistic behaviours that curebies see as social-conventional actually fall into the prudential domain, as self-protective behaviours used to protect the child from things that are harmful to them but not to others. Avoiding eye contact, resisting being touched, refusing certain foods, and some forms of stimming serve the role of reducing or preventing sensory discomfort. In my experience, most therapists working with autistic kids have no idea what sensory processing issues are - a pretty terrible oversight, given that these issues are near-universal in autistic people. (To give an idea how bad this is, it would be like someone dedicated to treating psychosis who had no idea what hallucinations were.) When even the experts are so ill-informed, it's understandable that many parents would be even more clueless about this issue. However, whatever the reason, prohibiting self-protective behaviours causes harm, which means such rules violate the moral domain.

So, really, our disagreement is not as great as curebies make out. We don't see a problem with telling a child not to hurt others or themselves. We also don't have an issue with teaching practical living and communication skills - both of which fall under prudential domain as self-protective skills. Where we disagree is in the idea of teaching autistic kids to stop doing self-protective and personal domain behaviours, simply because they go against social norms. Go ahead and teach your child to speak and write and dress themselves, that's no big deal. And if they don't mind, you can teach them some social conventional behaviours too, like saying please and thank you, or saying hello when someone else initiates conversation. But don't tell them how to play, don't stop them from stimming, and don't make them touch people, eat certain foods, or make eye contact if they strongly object to doing those things.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Why I Use a Pseudonym

Someone recently asked why I use a pseudonym. I can tell you, it's not because I'm ashamed to put my name to my opinions or to reveal that I'm autistic and an abuse survivor in everyday life. I talk quite openly about autism, abuse and neurodiversity issues in everyday life, and have even spoken at NDP meetings about disability rights.

When I first started going by 'Ettina' online, I was in my early teens, and my Dad forbade me from using my real name on the Internet. Why? Because of child predators. He did not want anyone I met online being able to track me down and try to exploit me. Which is a very real issue, and I completely agreed with that rule.

I started this blog when I was 17, and still under the 'no real name' rule (I was allowed to make my own choice at 18). By then, I had already seen another reason not to blog under my real name - anti-vaxxers. On the EOHarm listserv, at the age of 15, I was viciously flamed for saying that I thought calling autistic people 'walking biohazards' was disrespectful. Not only that, but they went so far as to Google my handle and drag up stuff I'd posted on other forums (badly misinterpreted, by the way), in order to call my claim of being a 15 year old kid into doubt. I was honestly quite shaken by this. I have also heard of anti-vaxxers sending death threats (although that link claims it is 'new', it was going on 10 years ago) and have no desire to have people sending me or my family threats over my beliefs. No one I know in person would do this, even if they disagree with me.

Plus, I plan on becoming a mother someday. For all that these people claim they're trying to protect children, they have shown themselves willing to bully and frighten children, and threaten children with violence. I don't want that for my child. I went into advocacy to give my future child a better life, not to put them at risk from the worst of the anti-vaccination and anti-neurodiversity movements.

Furthermore, I have gone by this name in communication with self-described psychopaths, even linking to a psychopathic blogger because I find his blog interesting. As far as I know, I have given them no reason to want to hurt me, but psychopaths do sometimes attack others unprovoked. If one of the psychopaths I've met online decided it would be amusing to hunt me down, I want to make sure it's not easy for them.

And lastly, I don't like my real name. I don't like how it sounds, and some of the letters in it are ones I have a dislike for (yes, I dislike certain letters of the alphabet). Not enough to change it, when I'm used to it, people know me by it and my parents chose it for me. But when given the chance to pick a different name to be called by, I'll do it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Why I Give Money To Beggars

This is inspired by David Hingsburger's post Cider, about giving a bottle of cider to a beggar who said he wanted a drink to celebrate Thanksgiving.

I give money to beggars.

Not every time they ask for it, because I don't always carry enough spare change for that, and I don't think I'm obligated to give. But often, when someone asks, I will give them money.

I have been told this is a bad idea. The argument goes that many beggars have addictions, and while you might be wanting to help them get food or a place to stay, what they might actually spend the money on is whatever they're addicted to. I've been told I should give food or these coupon-thingies that can be redeemed at homeless shelters for a meal and a bed for the night, not money. That way, I can make sure my gift is used in the 'proper way'.

Well, long before I knew I had executive dysfunction, I knew I couldn't do that consistently. I carry change a lot more often than I carry food, especially shareable food. And I have no idea where to get those coupon-thingies, and doubt I could remember to keep up a regular supply. So, in many circumstances, my options are to give money or give nothing at all.

And so, I asked myself - what if they do spend my money on an addiction? Well, if that's what they were going to do, they'd have spent money from others for the same purpose. Or if they couldn't get any money begging, they might have hooked or stole to earn their drugs. And it's not like an addict doesn't also need food and a warm place to sleep. If enough people give them money, they could get those needs met as well as satisfying their addiction.

Plus, would an addict seriously decide to quit just because I disapproved of their lifestyle? When even family members or an inpatient stay at an addiction ward generally can't convince an addict to quit, what chance does some random stranger have? If they're going to quit, they need to decide to quit for their own reasons, and not because someone tries to force them to quit.

And what about the beggars who aren't addicts? You can't always tell who is or is not an addict. And you can't entirely anticipate what their needs are, either. Maybe they want food or a place to stay, sure. Or maybe they want to get some Advil for their aches and pains, or a bus ticket to another town, or some new clothes, or a pool pass so they can get cleaned up in the changing room showers. Or maybe they want to get something nice for themselves or someone else - something that isn't technically needed, but would brighten up their day and help them forget their troubles. How could I possibly carry enough coupons to guess all of those possibilities? And what if they don't want to explain themselves to a complete stranger?

But most of all, it was the thought of looking someone in the eye and them realizing that you assumed they'd spend any money they got on drugs, and that you felt you had the right to tell them what they should do with your gift to them. I'm not going to ask if you kept my Christmas present or regifted it, or what you spent that gift card or $20 on. So, if I give a gift out of empathy instead of as a social convention, shouldn't I offer the same respect along with my gift? Help should not come with strings attached.

So, I give money to beggars. Some of them might spend it on addictions. It's none of my business if they do.