Rethinking Victimhood

A heartbreaking social statistic is that children on welfare have only about half as many words per day directed at them as the children of working-class families— and less than one-third as many words as children whose parents are professionals. This is especially painful in view of the fact that scientists have found that the actual physical development of the brain is affected by how much interaction young children receive.

Even if every child entered the world with equal innate ability, by the time they were grown they would nevertheless have very different mental capabilities. Innate ability is the ability that exists at the moment of conception, but nobody applies for a job or for college admission at the moment of conception. Even between conception and birth, other influences affect the development of the brain, as well as the rest of the body.

The mother’s diet and her intake of alcohol or drugs affects the unborn child. Differences in the amount of nutrition received in the womb create differences even between identical twins. Where one of these identical twins is born significantly heavier than the other, and the lighter one falls below some critical weight, the heavier one tends to have a higher IQ in later years. They may be the same weight when they become adults, but they didn’t get the same nutrition back when their brains were first developing.

Inequalities have so many sources that this fact undermines the simple dichotomy between believing that some people are innately inferior and believing that discrimination or other social injustices account for economic and social differences. Yet people who are afraid of being considered racists, or believers that the lower classes are born inferior, often buy the notion that only the sins of “society” can explain why some people end up so much better off than others.

Decades ago, Edward Banfield pointed out how the different ways that children from different classes are raised helps or hinders them in their later life. Yet he was demonized by the intelligentsia for saying what most people would consider only common sense.

While it is heartbreaking to think of the large differences in ability and behavior that can be created by the way different parents raise their children, it is no less heartbreaking to think of other social differences that go back to the way kids are brought up.

For example, anyone who watches the television program “Cops” will see an endless succession of real losers who wreck their lives and the lives of others through sheer irresponsibility and lack of self-control.

When one of these losers is being chased on the highway by a couple of police cars, and with a police helicopter overhead, you wonder why he doesn’t just stop and give it up before his crazy driving kills himself or someone else. But you also have to wonder what his parents were doing while he was growing up that they couldn’t raise him to become a rational adult.

A majority of the men in prison came from fatherless families. In some cosmic sense, it may not be entirely their fault that they took the wrong road. But that doesn’t change the fact that it was the wrong road— or make it any less dangerous to turn them loose.

No doubt such concerns are behind efforts to “rehabilitate” prisoners or substitute “crime prevention” programs instead of incarceration. But magic words do not create magic realities. Innocent people have been killed by “rehabilitated” criminals who had been set free. And “prevention” programs do not prevent anything other than putting dangerous people behind bars.

The pretense of having solutions can be more dangerous than the problem. Yet there are whole armies of shrinks and social workers, whose jobs depend on pretending that they have answers, even when no one has answers.

In terms of broader social policy, we need to make a sharp distinction between saying that some people are victims of a tragic fate and saying that they are victims of discrimination by employers, bias in the courts or the sins of other individuals they encounter. Scapegoating other people is not likely to help— and it can distract attention from the real problems, which are too serious to misdiagnose.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/The_Inquisitor The_Inquisitor

    Very interesting and informative. Thank you.

  • Samurai Hit Woman

    And yet unfit parents turn out some of our most productive citizens. In fact society couldn’t so without unfit parents because the same forces that produce our worst also produce the exceptional. As long as children get love and guidance from somewhere at least a modicum, that is.

  • USMCSniper

    "Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, suicide, poor educational performance, teen pregnancy, and criminality."
    Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics, Survey on Child Health, Washington, DC, 1993.

    "Teenagers living in single-parent households are more likely to abuse alcohol and at an earlier age compared to children reared in two-parent households." Source: Terry E. Duncan, Susan C. Duncan and Hyman Hops, "The Effects of Family Cohesiveness and Peer Encouragement on the Development of Adolescent Alcohol Use: A Cohort-Sequential Approach to the Analysis of Longitudinal Data", Journal of Studies on Alcohol 55 (1994).

    "…the absence of the father in the home affects significantly the behavior of adolescents and results in the greater use of alcohol and marijuana." Source: Deane Scott Berman "Risk Factors Leading to Adolescent Substance Abuse", Adolescence 30 (1995)

  • Carolina Don

    "Scapegoating other people is not likely to help-and it can distract attention from the real problems which are too serious to misdiagnose." And it is all Bushes fault! lol

    • USMCSniper

      Yassah, It awl beez dah white man fault, yassah!!!

  • Syd Barrett

    Thomas Sowell always says incredibly smart things.

    Can we kick Obama out and replace him with Thomas Sowell?

    • TLH

      I wd. wish the same, but he is too smart and too wise to play in the mud.

  • Downie

    What about the people who aren't poor who sell and use drugs?
    What about the poor people who don't use drugs?
    What such a concerted effort to identify the poor with crime.
    Why the racist comments from the sniper?
    Was this about non whites?
    What is the purpose of these dead end articles?