walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

QOTD: "there are certain boys in many city..."

"There are certain boys in many city neighborhoods who form themselves into little gangs with leaders somewhat more intrepid than the rest. Their favorite performance is to break into an untenanted house, to knock off the faucets and cut the lead pipe, which they sell to the nearest junk dealer. With the money thus procured they buy beer, which they drink in little freebooters' groups sitting in an alley."

I pulled part of it out of _Cash for Your Trash_, but when I saw the source, I wondered if the whole article might be available online. It is, here:


_Cash for Your Trash_ is about recycling and therefore, about the scrap/waste trades. This particular quote was drawn attention to as a way of highlighting the concerns that drove the scrap/waste trades out of residential neighborhoods and to African-American neighborhoods, the industrialized edges of the city and so forth. I glommed onto it, because it's so characteristic of the foreclosure crisis today, that vacant homes are stripped of their copper pipes and wires which are then sold to scrap dealers. Where the money goes next, of course, is perhaps a little different -- maybe to meth, instead of beer?

But the article as a whole is (I mean, come on, it's _Jane Addams_) absolutely as worth reading today as it was when the Atlantic first published it. In 1899.

It's long. There are some oddities that I suspect are scan errors not caught by a copy-editor. But absolutely worth it.

More gems from the piece:

"The charity visitor has broken through the natural rule of giving, which, in a primitive society, is bounded only by the need of the recipient and the resources of the giver; and she gets herself into untold trouble when she is judged by the ethics of that primitive society." See, when you call poverty ethics communal or communistic, you just don't get the same sense, now, do you? But Addams lays it right out there for you, complete with why the lack of generally-expected gratitude.

Of course not all of what she discusses could be readily found in the US today, no matter how poor the town. But it does seem that it isn't that hard to find parallels in developing nations to what she describes in terms of child labor.

It is through reading the whole piece in order, that we realize the young pirates quoted by Zimring in _Cash for your Trash_ are immediately preceded by this:

"The poor family which receives beans and coal from the county, and pays for a bicycle on the installment place, is not unknown to any of us. But as the growth of juvenile crime becomes gradually understood, and as the danger of giving no legitimate and organized pleasure to the child becomes clearer, we remember that primitive man had games long before he cared for a house or for regular meals."

So let that be a lesson to me. When I'm thinking about all the crazy spending of the HELOC on fun and games, leading to foreclosure and stripping of empty houses, I should take that little step back urged by Addams, and see that these things are, indeed, all connected -- and not just in a way deserving of condemnation. Reading on, Addams notes that the impulse to theft (in this situation, like the drinking and drugging parties going on in foreclosed houses now) and other minor misbehavior in the city has a less damaging parallel in the countryside (well, I guess _that_ could be disputed), and problems arise when juveniles are treated harshly by the justice system and/or led into much worse activities by older folk.

ETA: Substantially later in the article, there's this (I'm hoping I don't have to worry too much about Addams use of the term "race development"):

"Let us take the example of a timid child, who cries when he is put to bed, because he is afraid of the dark. The "soft-hearted" parent stays with him simply because he is sorry for him and wants to comfort him. The scientifically trained permit stays with him because he realizes that the child is passing through a phase of race development, in which his imagination has the best of him. It is impossible to reason him out of demonology because his logical faculties are not developed. After all, these two parents, wide apart in point of view, act much this same, and very differently from the pseudo-scientific parent, who acts from dogmatic conviction and is sure he is right. He talks of developing his child's self-respect and good sense, and leaves him to cry himself to sleep, demanding powers of self-control and development which the child does not possess. There is no doubt that our development of charity methods has reached this pseudo-scientific and stilted stage. We have learned to condemn unthinking, ill-regulated kind-heartedness, and we take great pride in mere repression, much as the stern parent tells the visitor below how admirably he is rearing the child who is hysterically crying upstairs, and laying the foundation for future nervous disorders. The pseudo-scientific spirit, or rather the undeveloped stage of our philanthropy, is, perhaps, most clearly revealed in this tendency to lay stress on negative action. "Don't give," "don't break down self-respect," we are constantly told. We distrust the human impulse, and in its stead substitute dogmatic rules for conduct. In spite of the proof that the philanthropic Lord Shaftesbury secured the passage of English factory laws, that the charitable Octavia Hill has brought about the reform of the London tenement houses, and of much similar concurrent testimony, we do not yet really believe that pity and sympathy, even, in point of fact quite as often precede the effort toward social amelioration us does the acceptance of a social dogma; we forget that the accumulation of knowledge and the holding of convictions must finally result in the application of that knowledge and those convictions to life itself, and that the course which begins by activity, and an appeal to the sympathies so severe that all the knowledge in the possession of the visitor is continually applied, has reasonably a greater chance for an ultimate comprehension."

Holy cow. Sleep training, and how Cry It Out is like refusing to provide assistance to those in need. I mean, who would _write_ a paragraph like that now, much less _have it published_? The ending is even good:

"which may mean to walk for many dreary miles beside the lowliest of his creatures, not even in peace of mind, that this companionship of the humble is popularly supposed to give, but rather with the pangs and misgivings to which the poor human understanding is subjected whenever it attempts to comprehend the meaning of life."
  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.