William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Researchers Invent Exciting New Disease: Poverty Blindness

Test yourself today!

Test yourself today!

There must soon come a day at The Onion, the satirical newspaper, when the editors will gather in bewilderment and say to each other, “Fellas, there’s no use. The real headlines are more preposterous than any we can write. Time to close up shop, sit back, and watch civilization crumble from a safe distance.”

If the new peer-reviewed paper by William Ventres and Geoff Gusoff entitled “Poverty Blindness: Exploring the Diagnosis and Treatment of an Epidemic Condition“, published in that notable organ the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, is any indication that day is coming soon, soon.

Now these gentlemen, as near as I can tell, appear to be great, big-hearted guys. I mean this. They are from El Salvador, a country which knows genuine, heart-breaking poverty, not the kind we have here where many of “the poor” have houses, cars, cell phones, enormous televisions, and much else. No, Ventres and Gusoff are concerned, as they should be, as we should all be, as we must be, about grinding, life-threatening, despair-inducing, lifetime poverty.

It is true and sickening that poverty, as they say, is “one of the central dramas of human history.” But is it also so that “Poverty is pervasive yet little noticed due to the marginalization of those who endure it”? This is doubtful; no, false. “The poor” are constantly in the public eye. (What’s missing are poor people.) But not in El Salvador, a place where evasion of the truly poor “is virtually impossible.”

Since this is so—since everybody sees poor people—but poverty is still present, there must be a reason for its continuance. Why? Because one of the central myths of the Enlightenment is that once somebody’s “awareness” of some problem is “raised”, i.e. once they are educated, the problem is supposed to evaporate as if by magic. If not, if the problem persists, it can only be because evil forces block the magic.

In this case, the evil is disease: “Poverty Blindness”. It, and the “closely related condition of Poverty Acuity Disorder (PAD)”. “People with Poverty Acuity Disorder see that poverty exists, but are unable to focus on its presence.”

Now “Absolute [Poverty Blindness] is rare”. Unfortunately “PAD in its various gradations exists in epidemic proportions.” What is a cause of PB? Money: “with significant monetary wealth are most often affected by PB, and the incidence of PB declines as accumulated net worth declines.”

What’s most worrisome is that this disease attacks not only individuals, but “Institutions and entire collective entities”, too. That finding alone is worthy of a Nobel prize, because no other known disease infects any but people one by one.

Poverty Blindness causes “lack of compassion”, leading to symptoms which include “lacking generosity, displaying distrust, being disobliged to help, exhibiting unethical behavior, and using common exculpatory mechanisms (including outright falsehoods).”

Is it catching? Yes. “Hereditary PB” exists, as does “Structural PB” (when entire societies are infected). And get ready for this. There is such a thing as “Academic PB“! And it come in two types.

Type I afflicts primarily scholars who work only with statistics disembodied from the people they purport to represent. Type II exists when financially well-endowed institutions of higher education, despite hosting poverty eradication initiatives among students, have overall cultures that ignore poverty.

This must be the reason so many statistical studies go off the rails!

There are other forms, but the worst and most intransigent manifestation is Malignant PB, which has two forms. “Gated MPB”, where the suffering isolate themselves, and “Savagely Capitalistic MPB” which applies to all those corporations whcih aren’t making really cool toys.

Our authors are developing a clinical test of PB, but they note that PB is associated with the maladies of “classism, racism, sexism…, and elitism.” Be on the lookout.

Treatment? Shock. No, really. “Exposure to catastrophic unforeseen events may be therapeutic.” If you suspect your patient suffers from PB, ship him off to Syria or decamp him to the side of an active volcano. Unfortunately, “the effects of these moments, however, rapidly fade from consciousness; such events are frequently considered temporary oddities of nature irrelevant to day-to-day life.”

That means the only true cure is—wait for it, wait for it—revolution. “Revolutionary efforts to restructure society…rapidly and unexpectedly bring poverty into one’s field of vision.”

What else can one say but ¡Viva la Revolución!

16 Comments

  1. Why yes, “revolutionary effort to restructure society” do bring provery into one’s field of vision. And result in wars and new dictatorships. They also reduce everyone to the same level of poverty (thus, poverty is in everyones field of vision just like magic) while the leaders “those all-knowing compassionate types” live in luxery and congratulate them-selves on their accomplishments.

  2. I’m tempted to repeat the Heinlein quote but instead I will paraphrase something that I remember from Feynman. The merely ignorant can be educated, at least in principle, but add arrogance into the mix and there is no hope. This is not education in the Orwellian sense referred to by Briggs. I have left the above purposely ambiguous as a puzzle for the discerning reader.

  3. I was born in El Salvador. I haven’t been back since I was 13 years old. There were lots and lots and lots of impoverished people there. In the US, not so much. Relative to what would be called poverty in El Salvador, most of those who receive aid in the US are ‘not impoverished”– at least not if you include the aid they receive when assessing their status.

    Out of curiosity, what do they consider the right answer to what poverty looks like? Is there an objectively defined dividing point between “poverty” and “not poverty”? Do they say?

  4. Briggs

    February 14, 2014 at 11:29 am

    lucia,

    Nope, they don’t. Surprise.

  5. Failure to reveal what they consider to be the correct answer to “what poverty looks like” would make the “verification” step impossible. (On the other hand, if they told us what they considered correct, we could debate whether we agreed with them. But that’s different.)

  6. Leftists are obsessed with sex, race and money. It is psychotic.

  7. Matt Lewis (@_scarymatt_)

    February 14, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    I’m sure they’re on to something. I’ve been told (over and over and over…) that I have a related disorder, except instead of poverty I’m blind to things like dirty laundry and dishes.

  8. Matt Lewis: I see hundreds of studies coming forth! You have given academia years of obvious behaviours to quantify through scientific studies!

  9. I don’t like needles so I’m going to wait until the cure comes out in pill form. Or maybe corrective lenses? Waiting for IB(Inequality Blindness) to finally become a disorder. Oppressive taxation would be the cure, I guess.

  10. I would like to study the counterpart to PB… Oppression myopia. Once person learns to see the world through one lens (sexism, racism, colonialism, materialism, exploitation, etc.), that person will see their particular affliction everywhere they look, and all of the worlds problems can be traced to the single cause.

  11. My research says Poverty Blindness is a reaction to The-Boy-Who-Cried-Wolf Syndrome in those also afflicted with a Chicken Little Complex. It’s all interconnected. WeePee values say my theory is correct, btw.

  12. Poverty has an evil side that many do not see or experience. We are blind to the real effects that poverty has on our society because we don’t want to believe there is so much suffering. We have more gun deaths in America by our own citizens than deaths by all our wars combined. Instinctively I would have to say, and I don’t need a scientific double blind study to validate either but our society has some real ills and it’s time we take actions to protect our future by opening our eyes to what is really happening to America and that’s the dissolution of our middle class, the massive political corruption, and the wide disparity of the haves and the have not’s!

  13. Craig–Removing corrupt politians is a start and ending the belief that the government is your sugar-daddy mantra would go a long ways. Yes, we have problems, but much of it stems from a sense of entitlement and the dissolution of the family, neither of which is a popular thing for politicians to address. Politicians just want to be loved–being loved is better than being right, you know.

  14. Briggs

    February 14, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    Craig,

    No, brother, we do not have more gun deaths than all war deaths combined. It’s not even close. Take a look at the firearms statistics from my Classic Posts page. In fact, gun deaths have been on a decrease. Stabbings and poisonings are up, though.

    The “disparities” you note and rightly worry about are in fact caused and exacerbated by government. The more people call on (secular) government to cure its ills, the greater the ills.

  15. Re: Scotian

    I Like Heinlinian philosophy also, but My favorite quote regarding the division of the human race takes a four quadrant approach. A German General once said, “those who are intelligent and diligent are destined for high staff, those who are intelligent but lazy are destined for high command for they will find the efficient way, those who are stupid and lazy can be usefully employed in the front line, but those who are diligent and stupid must be eliminated immediately or they will create chaos.” In the later category is Al Gore and Mikey Mann.

  16. Joseph, the man too lazy to fail was always my role model.

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