May 4th, 2016
|01:10 pm - Thoughts on a year of food assistance|
Well, I wanted to write an entry about political correctness, and how no one is in fact in favor of political correctness, but rather it's a hugely successful lie perpetrated by the people at the top of the food chain (democracy is pretty cool because it takes a bit of effort to subvert), so regular people can take the most obvious side of an issue because they're led to believe that the other side opposes this obviousness, and the people on the side of social justice are doing a terrible job of making it clear that they do not in fact favor censorship, because winning a short battle is much more satisfying and results-oriented than winning the larger war; and I also wanted to mention that it's sickening that the Internet is full of people who use "social justice warrior" as an epithet without realizing they're mocking the very idea of fighting for social justice, because they're too small-minded to have even the most basic understanding of what the fuck it is that they're saying... but then I realized I've written all that in here before and it didn't matter, so I'll write about something else.
I will write about the time I was on food assistance for a year.
It started in December of 2014 when I accidentally said I had AIDS. I'd been "donating" blood plasma for years in exchange for money. This has a reputation for being very shady but in fact it's extremely well lit and they have an almost fanatical devotion to
the Pope clean blood plasma. Every time you go there you have to answer the same series of questions (no, I haven't had sex with anyone from central Africa recently; no, I haven't had sex with a man since 1977; no, I'm not pregnant) to be absolutely sure that they don't miss anything when they test your blood, or at least that if they do they're not liable. For a while it was done verbally, but then they installed kiosks with touch screen computers where you had to tap little radio buttons. One time I got through this process and then the guy who screened me informed me that I'd selected "yes" when it asked me if I had AIDS. "What?!" I exclaimed loudly. My stupidity is pretty shocking sometimes. He was supposed to check on that with me but he didn't see it in time and it went through with me saying I had AIDS. This meant that I couldn't donate until someone from the main office called me to discuss it, which would take... about a month. Bureaucracy!
I waited around for the call and then it was February and I hadn't heard anything. I knew I should have contacted them myself but I realized I just didn't want to deal with it anymore, to keep being awake at normal human being times and ride the crowded bus and be poked and prodded and pricked and fail at small talk. It was almost as unpleasant as having a job! Plus there were probably health effects they weren't telling me about. So long to doing this thing that wasn't as bad as everyone thought it was but still wasn't that good.
I discovered that it's actually pretty easy to keep yourself fed on $1.25 a day. It's boring, but you can do it... assuming you have access to a refrigerator and a stove and some sort of oven. Pancakes, potatoes, macaroni & cheese, ramen... these are very cheap in the city. $1.25 a day is apparently the international poverty line, although I'm also leeching off someone who's paying for the apartment and the electricity and stuff. (To be clear: when I say "leeching" I'm being self-deprecating, not pretending it's a good thing.)
I decided I should just apply for SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It's often referred to as food stamps, but I find it very strange to call it stamps since I didn't get actual stamps but rather a debit card. Most people do not worry about this sort of thing. Anyway, they gave me $192 a month, which was kind of amazing. I gather it's much lower in other states. I figured I would continue eating cheaply and then buy canned goods and donate them, but of course I didn't do that.
After a year of suckling the government teat, I received notice that their policies were changing. Apparently the federal government had lowered requirements for SNAP in certain states that were having economic trouble, but they were restoring things back to normal now that the economy is doing better. (At least, this is the claim. Supposedly Oregon's economy is doing better than it has since before I moved here, but these sorts of statistics are easily muddied about so I have no reason to trust them.) Now you have to work at least 20 hours a week in order to get this extra food money, unless you can prove you're not able to, and I have no idea how I'd prove that. I could probably do that much work online, but again, I don't know how I'd be able to prove it. I guess I should have just figured out if I could, but I'm tired of dealing with the government anyway. That's one good thing about never making enough money to pay taxes.
I think these requirements are pretty stupid. It means that more people are fighting for less jobs, and that they'll be spending less money. It seems to me that this would slow down economic recovery. However, it counts if you do volunteer work so at least jobs won't be quite as scarce. This all comes from the silly notion that people should only get help if they deserve it, which requires a very flawed understanding of capitalism. Your value under capitalism has little to do with what you deserve. Instead, it's based on how many people want you to do what you do divided by how many people can do it. If that matched up with what people deserve, it would be a hell of a coincidence. Do you think that someone who's on their feet for hours at a restaurant deserves to be paid less than someone who sits in a cubicle goofing around on the Internet instead of working? If so, please, stop thinking that.
It's a miracle of modern propaganda that most people in this country mistake capitalism for fairness. I don't think we should overhaul the whole system, but we shouldn't pretend a bad thing is a good thing, because that just makes it worse. (This is also my argument against having a positive outlook on life. Be realistic, damn you!) It's all rigged. The lower class fights for the chance to be a different kind of miserable, while the shrinking middle class mostly ignores it but occasionally remembers it's there and assumes that since life is fair anyone who's not making enough money must not deserve to. I find that idea infuriating after watching my mother work very hard for the reward of being in the upper regions of the lower class, at least until she was laid off.
Prominent economists insist that we should keep unemployment at 5%. If it goes lower, employers have to keep raising their wages, resulting in inflation, and that's, like, bad or something. I don't have a great understanding of economics but 5% sounds a whole lot worse than inflation, at least if you care about human misery. (Of course, I'm not made miserable by my unemployment, but that's because, as I mentioned, I'm a leech. This doesn't mean I'm happy about it though.) If unemployment is built into the system, or at least if some of the gods of finance want it to be, does that mean there will always be people who don't "deserve" to eat? If so, "deserve" must not mean what I think it does.
I think everyone should just automatically be given food benefits, but then most of us would pay it back in taxes. This is probably a crazy idea that would never work.
Now I'm doing work on Amazon Mechanical Turk. As reflected in the ratio above, I get paid hilariously little. Mostly I've been doing transcriptions, where I see about 20 seconds of a video (college lectures, state senate hearings, TV shows about golf, phone calls with people who would probably not be giving out their credit card numbers if they knew this was going to happen) and write down what's being said. If I'm completely focused on it I can earn $2.50 an hour. I've heard people claim they've made $12 an hour on this and I don't know how that's possible. Maybe they're lying but I don't see the motivation in that. I treat it as more evidence of my stupidity that I'm not able to make more money at this, and also that I keep doing this work for so little pay. I should look harder for something else, but it's so much easier to keep doing what I'm doing. If I were able to sleep and think adequately I'd probably be trapped for years in the same crappy job, in a cubicle, goofing around on the Internet instead of working, barely ahead of the new hires, until I got downsized.
Current Music: the theme from The Late Late Show is running through my head and that's weird