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Old 07-24-2008, 11:55 PM   #121
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I think you're putting the emphasis on the wrong syllable.

In Africa, poverty is a direct result of governmental corruption and exploitation. A lack of proper sex education is the result. People cannot afford condoms -- or are ignorant about them, but either way, this ignorance is a result of structural systems of corruption, exploitation, racism and violence which have created the system of poverty Africans face. A lack of sex education is a symptom, not the cause.

In the South, you're dealing with a culture whose economy has always been primarily agricultural. The end of the Civil War brought a dramatic reorganization of the economic systems of the South (cheap labor, mass-produced goods), as well as economic penalties that benefited the northern states, who increasingly moved towards industrialization in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This had a direct impact on Southern economies, as did the rise of globalization, the cost of growing and planting, etc. Additionally, the rise of crises of climate and supply and demand, as well as globalization throughout the late 1900s, created a system where Southern state economies were squeezed far more than their northern counterparts, creating a system where Southern flight was inevitable. Those who could afford to leave did, leaving those who could not afford to behind.

So in looking at the South, you're dealing with a history of a turbulent economy, the ravaging affects of industrialism which has led to substantial economic inequity, racism, and shifting market needs (as well as the inability to adjust to those needs), all of which -- I would argue -- has a far stronger impact on poverty than whether someone knows how to put on a condom or not.

One might also consider the great state of MA, which has one of the highest concentrations -- if not the highest concentration -- of Catholics in the country. As we all know, contraceptions and abortions are illegal in the Catholic church. Based on your logic, MA should be one of the poorest states in the country. Clearly, it is not.


i really don't find the African model applicable to the American South, where education through grade 12 is available to all and there hasn't been a civil war in 140 years or so.

as for MA, well, as any American Catholic will tell you, contraception is 100% acceptable and encouraged and used, and no one really takes their marching orders from Rome in the way that many, say, Baptists will take their marching orders from Pastor Tim down the street.

and, finally, i agree with your history lesson. i'd also say it has much to do with the adherence to what is a very, very different understanding of what religion is and how it functions in society than someone in MA. what i am saying, and what this book that i was referencing was saying, is that there are certain cultural attitudes that increase and/or maintain poverty. one of these is the resistance to contraception -- not in a philosophical, Catholic sense, but in the lack of it's use by teenagers either through ignorance or impulsiveness or something else altogether -- and the resistance to abortion, and the urge to get married sooner rather than later (some of which is economic, other is a certain romance around traditional gender roles that doesn't hold in other states). there's no judgment here. it's striking that the Blue Staters (for lack of a better word) seem both economically and *culturally* more able to deal with the consequences of pre- and extra-marital sex than the Red Staters (for lack of a better word).

so it's not that southern girls get knocked up at 19, then get married, then have another baby, and then get divorced, and that's why there's more poverty in the south. rather, it's that there are certain entrenched cultural attitudes that aren't helping one little bit.

and what's true in the South is also true in Africa -- the best way to combat poverty, on the micro level, is to empower women to choose when they do and do not get pregnant. lower fertility rates go hand in hand with higher education.
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Old 07-25-2008, 01:19 AM   #122
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As far as comparisons to developing countries go, I don't know of one where successful woman-focused programs to alleviate rural poverty by promoting delayed marriage and smaller families haven't gone hand-in-hand with simultaneous publically or (externally) privately funded economic incentives, like microcredit, handicrafts cooperatives, retooling of local agriculture to make it more market-responsive, etc. They don't just put in a family planning clinic and a school, then sit back and wait for new economic niches to appear; that simply doesn't happen.
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could you, then, delineate for me the various socio-economic factors in "the South" that lead to this particular generation (born post-1970) -- note, not the parents, they might have had babies at 19, but at least they were married -- being notably more prone to unwanted, early pregnancies. this is a cycle that urban black women are beginning to break (and have been improving on since 1990) but one that rural white women seem to be falling into more and more.

could you dispute -- not complicate, for it certainly can be complicated, but actually dispute or refute -- my central premise: resistance to comprehensive sex education combined with an anti-abortion cultural ethos leads to poverty.
I don't have the time to look at detailed data for every Southern state, but looking for example at the CDC's teen sexual activity and pregnancy data for Mississippi--which has the country's highest teen pregnancy rate--note that teen condom use rates there are actually higher than the national average (for both whites and blacks); that Pill use rates are about the same (though actually, the breakdowns for that one are confusingly contradictory--you'll see what I mean if you look at them); and that teen pregnancy rates (for all races) have dropped in Mississippi over the last decade, as they have elsewhere. Also note that there are pronounced differences in teen pregnancy rates by race (it's definitely not a predominantly "rural white" phenomenon; black teen pregnancy rates are about 70% higher, and if you look at county-by-county breakdowns, the highest rates are in the northwestern region where I grew up, which is both predominantly rural and predominantly black--it's also Mississippi's poorest region). Also, that white teenage mothers are considerably more likely to be married (33% vs. 2%). And finally, that teens in Mississippi (again, white and black) have considerably higher sexual activity rates than the national average, and start having sex sooner.

Now what neither of those documents show is that Mississippi's abortion rate is indeed only about a fourth of the national average (there are only two abortion providers in the entire state), and that Mississippi schools are indeed required to "stress" abstinence until marriage--should they offer sex education at all, which they aren't required to do. While the statistics don't in fact bear out that those constraints have left Mississippi teens in the dark about contraceptive use (and I'd be surprised if they did; I don't at all recall my classmates regarding contraception as taboo or mysterious, and condoms were as readily available there as anywhere), still, I'm sure it's a safe enough speculation that abortion rates would be higher if there were more abortion providers, and also that it would help increase consistency of condom use were it even more "normalized" by discussing it in sex ed classes. Which in turn would help bring down teen birthrates, which in turn would mean fewer obstacles to educational and economic advancement for those teenaged girls (and, where applicable, teenaged boys) who escape early parenthood as a result, thus leaving them that much more free to avail themselves of the...uh, utterly lousy opportunities for first-rate education and good-paying jobs they'll find in Mississippi, the poorest state with the worst test scores in the country.

That last bit is probably where I have the most problems with your analysis. nathan already gave a brief overview of how the South's distinct economic history plays into things--I would add, especially with reference to the Deep South, that industrialization largely bypassed the region until late in the 20th century (with a few exceptions, like Birmingham and Atlanta, which advanced far enough during Reconstruction to be off and running); that its arrival was intentionally obstructed well into the latter half of the 20th century by state laws catering to an aristocratic social structure, quite unlike that found elsewhere in the US, characterized by rule of an elite tier of 'old money' whites who kept poor whites and almost all blacks disenfranchised through poll taxes, 'literacy' tests and violence, with Jim Crow laws functioning as psychological 'compensation' for the former; that when and where industrialization did arrive, it was usually because manufacturers were attracted by the South's weak labor protections and low wages, meaning those jobs didn't offer the kind of leg-up that midcentury 'Rust Belt' factory jobs did; and that compulsory education was likewise intentionally delayed (Mississippi didn't have it until 1982). Now further north within the South, the picture wasn't quite so grim--most of those states were never quite as rigidly hierarchical socially, plus they benefited economically both from proximity to the North and from late-20th-century migrations of wealthier, better-educated Northerners to their region, but even in those states you still have areas that remain quite 'backwards.'

It takes decades to catch up from these kinds of regional disadvantages, and cultural changes, in my view, go inextricably hand-in-hand with that--teenagers will delay sexual activity and vigilantly use contraception when they see the evidence around them that it literally pays off, not the other way around. That requires reasonably socioeconomically integrated schools and a reasonable spread of local opportunities at the kinds of employment that can sustain a family. Sure there's always the approach (which was more or less what my parents took) of telling your kids in so many words that their aim should be to get the hell out, but that's obviously not a real solution nor will it adequately motivate more than a few. There were maybe about a dozen families in the town I grew up in who were 'well-to-do,' but those parents all sent their children to the so-called "Christian academies" (read: unofficially-whites-only private schools) so they could get a Proper Education, then they shipped them off to Duke or Vanderbilt for college, and those who did come back generally did so to continue their families' more or less dynastic lock on the small handful of local government, law enforcement, law, medicine and small business opportunities. That was just The Way Things Worked, and few people expected anything different. Things are changing; in 1996 the town finally got its first black (and female) mayor, the black college just outside town where my father taught has expanded, and Viking and an upholstery company have both opened plants in the area, supplementing the agricultural base. But it's still very much not a place for the upwardly mobile, and I don't see that changing anytime soon; the state still lacks a Birmingham or Atlanta, a solid economic engine from which industry can radiate outwards and diversify, and its record on rural investment is notoriously awful. Until more progress is made on that front, I don't personally see better sex-ed in schools and increased acceptance of abortion doing much to impove people's economic lot.
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Old 07-25-2008, 09:00 AM   #123
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As Irvine511 pointed out.....I am a American Catholic and I think contraceptives are fine. In fact, My husband and I, have used them. I had a high risk pregnancy and it was not recommended for me to have another for at least two years, after the birth of my son. I also, had to take birth control pills, for an ovarian cyst problem.

And he is right...we don't take our marching orders from Rome. Most Catholic women use a form of birth control, for family planning, medical reasons and etc. This issue is never discussed at mass, by our priest. They feel it is our choice. In fact, I know a priest who was stationed in a third world country and he thought birth control would solve some of the problems. Too many children and not enough food or resources.
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Old 07-25-2008, 09:55 AM   #124
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But it's still very much not a place for the upwardly mobile, and I don't see that changing anytime soon; the state still lacks a Birmingham or Atlanta, a solid economic engine from which industry can radiate outwards and diversify, and its record on rural investment is notoriously awful. Until more progress is made on that front, I don't personally see better sex-ed in schools and increased acceptance of abortion doing much to impove people's economic lot.


thank you for hte very thoughtful analysis, but i wonder how much MS itself isn't quite an outlier and probably not the best state by which to gauge "the South" as a whole -- my frame of reference continues to be TN (literally, a stone's throw from the MS border) and TN certainly has several cities that offer a wealth of opportunity for getting-the-hell out (Memphis, especially Nashville, etc.). granted, the wordview within this small town is likewise small, and the biggest non-city opportunities seem to lie in working for FedEx, and it's quite true that the generation that survived by farming now faces a stocking-the-shelves-at-Wal-Mart future. however, what i'm looking towards, and what this book is looking towards (Grand New Party) and what i hear about anecdotally from Memphis, is that there are problems that exist today that plague his generation that his parents never had to deal with. the rates of illegitimacy, drug use, arrests (for a wide variety of crimes), etc., are skyrocketing if we are to use his very large family as a microcosm, and it does seem to me as if the general thesis of the book is correct -- and you and i are actually a lot more sensitive to these socio-economic conditions than Memphis himself would be. perhaps being gay helped him out tremendously, because he never felt a part of this social system, but he's quite clear about how he looked around and decided he wanted more, and so he left. he had a girlfriend in college, and he never got her pregnant (and he says that he was the more vigilant one), though if he had, they would have had to have gotten married. he was the first male in his family to go to college, he paid for the damn thing himself, and he even worked long enough hours (yes, at Wal-Mart) to be able to afford a semester abroad (which was his first time on an airplane). he will speak to the fact that it's far, far more of a shameful thing to be gay in his family than to be pregnant at 18 or 19, or to be divorced, or, heck, to be in jail. the family stands by those family members. and it strikes him as strange that they've all gotten a whole lot more religious in the past 10 years. correlation?

we can take an attitudes like that and trace it back to the church and to the smaller worldview, and we can trace adherence to the church and to the smaller worldview to socio-economics, but at the end of the day, they also have 300+ channels on their Comcast and the internet. people aren't *that* isolated and they aren't *that* much a victim of their present surroundings. so i think it does come down to these so-called "cultural values," these "Red State values," that are inculcated by larger power structures -- local and regional politicians, highly politicized TV preachers, local preachers following orders, said "Christian Academies" (Memphis went to one, but it wasn't for rich folk) -- all of which, in my view, aren't at all concerned with actually improving the lives of their constituents. they're improved with maintaining th sense of a culture war, of blaming "hollywood" or whatever for the reason why people have sex or whatever other social ill.
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Old 07-25-2008, 02:03 PM   #125
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what i'm looking towards, and what this book is looking towards (Grand New Party) and what i hear about anecdotally from Memphis, is that there are problems that exist today that plague his generation that his parents never had to deal with.
But the point is, how many problems today are the results of problems 50 years ago? Practical applications of economic and social policies may change, but the fundamental principles usually remain the same, and to overlook those for the sake of blaming "religion" or "values" misses the fact that the causes of poverty are much more complex and dynamic than the picture you are painting. It's a surprisingly conservative argument that you're actually espousing -- putting the blame for poverty on the poor, as opposed to realizing that there are macro and micro socio-economic forces at work which need to be addressed.

Gosh, Irvine, next thing I know you'll be in the tank for McCain!
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Old 07-25-2008, 03:00 PM   #126
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But the point is, how many problems today are the results of problems 50 years ago? Practical applications of economic and social policies may change, but the fundamental principles usually remain the same, and to overlook those for the sake of blaming "religion" or "values" misses the fact that the causes of poverty are much more complex and dynamic than the picture you are painting. It's a surprisingly conservative argument that you're actually espousing -- putting the blame for poverty on the poor, as opposed to realizing that there are macro and micro socio-economic forces at work which need to be addressed.

Gosh, Irvine, next thing I know you'll be in the tank for McCain!


i've said, over and over, that of course i know it's more complex than the thesis essentially laid out in Grand New Party.

the point that i'm agreeing with is not blaming the poor, per se, for getting pregnant at 19 and divorced at 27 and left with three kids under the age of 8. what i am saying is that there are certain regional, entrenched, "values" that aid and abet poverty (just like, yes, in Africa), and many of these "values" are rooted towards antiquated notions of gender roles (which certainly do have an economic component). Memphis was probably able to free himself from the consequences of this stuff because he was never caught up in these heterosexual expectations (and because he managed not to impregnate anyone). it's his line of thought that actually is somewhat conservative, and it's one that he makes with maximum understanding and sympathy: some people actually do know better. case in point -- not just Memphis, but several gay men i know who come from religiously conservative backgrounds spend years being accepted by their family, and then it comes, but then so do the inevitable letters and cards (written at the prompting of a friend or pastor) beseeching said gay man to counsel with said pastor or to just take the time to read the Bible because, you know, "you weren't raised this way, you were raised with the book."

how we got onto this from the New Yorker cartoon baffles me.
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Old 07-25-2008, 05:57 PM   #127
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what i am saying is that there are certain regional, entrenched, "values" that aid and abet poverty (just like, yes, in Africa), and many of these "values" are rooted towards antiquated notions of gender roles (which certainly do have an economic component).
So I'm confused. Now you're arguing that people are poor not because of "abstinence-only sex education and an anti-abortion cultural ethos," but because of "antiquated notions of gender roles"? In order for you to prove whatever point you're trying to make, you'd have to define your terms -- what are "antiquated notions of gender roles"? Who counts? Then you'd have to show that couples who hold to such roles have a much lower earning threshhold than those who don't, while taking into account mitigating economic factors -- cost-of-living, salary, industry, tax situation (do these couples have children, for example? own a mortgage?). It's still a much more complicated situation than you describe...

And yes, I agree, we're pretty far off the mark of whether McCain's fist bump is offensive....
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Old 07-26-2008, 10:48 AM   #128
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So I'm confused. Now you're arguing that people are poor not because of "abstinence-only sex education and an anti-abortion cultural ethos," but because of "antiquated notions of gender roles"? In order for you to prove whatever point you're trying to make, you'd have to define your terms -- what are "antiquated notions of gender roles"? Who counts? Then you'd have to show that couples who hold to such roles have a much lower earning threshhold than those who don't, while taking into account mitigating economic factors -- cost-of-living, salary, industry, tax situation (do these couples have children, for example? own a mortgage?). It's still a much more complicated situation than you describe...

yes, nathan, of course it's more complex than the single line of thought i've offered that describes perhaps one contributing factor in rural-ish, Red State near-poverty.

firstly, and again, it's not a direct "people are poor because ..." it's that the thesis of a new book about how the GOP can remake itself after the Bush debacle is about how people who are already poor aren't equipped to handle the consequences of extra- and pre-marital sex. some contributing factors are certain cultural values -- that are rooted in antiquated notions of gender roles -- that work to increase poverty. resistance to contraception, lack of information about contraception, and a resistance to abortion, are all, yes, rooted in antiquated gender roles where virginity is prized, a woman's highest calling is to be a mother, boys will be boys, get married young, have kids young, etc. there is of course an economic component to said values, but i maintain that much of it is still cultural and perpetuated by various state and local institutions. this is my slight take on the book's central thesis, which states that the "cultural liberalism" of the 1960/70s is inherently hostile to poor people.

this is *all* i've been putting forth as a line of thought.
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