Neil Tambe

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

Cacti are around

So, I bring this post from sunny Phoenix, AZ. I'm sitting at "Sky Harbor" International Airport, and I decided a post was in order. I was most recently in Seattle, WA moving my father there.

We drove.

Here is one of the pictures.

So, there is some ethical dillema that has been bothering me quite a lot recently. The homeless.

Actually, let me articulate more. How do you handle/help the homeless on the street? Do you "spare change for a good friend", or "have a nice day" (a shout-out to all my Ann Arbor people). How much do you give a homeless man on the street? Should you give cash, or your Starbucks Latte? What will they purchase with it? Does it help or exacerbate the problem of having homeless people in the first place?

This problem definitely existed in Washington D.C. as well as every other city/town that one goes to. Sometimes I can't even beleive the getups of people panhandling. I don't know who to believe or what to do. Also, my beliefs of the free-market economy come into conflict...bringing this issue to something of a political dillema instead of just a moral and ethical one.

So, from what I understand about free-markets, peoples work and value of work dictate how much they should be paid, which is why Doctors get paid more than people who work as airline baggage handlers. The amount of skills and demand for doctors is greater than that of baggage handlers, so they are paid more. That's simple. So, now look at the average homeless person. The value of their services is slim, if anything at all. So, when adhering to free market principles, it makes sense not to give them any money. Artifically adjusting their wage would lead to surpluses and shortages (however small).

1-strike against helping the homeless.

But, then there is the notion of welfare, noblesse oblige, and helping those who are less fortunate than ourselves. As a well off human being I should try to help others. This doesn't require me to empty my pockets though, I think. I think pure altruism is a bunch of baloney in the long run anyway. (I'll just leave it at that...from the philisophical standpoint that I studied in my philosophy class last year). But, even a nickel or a dime. Or a cup of coffee. Or a candy bar. Surely that isn't too much to spare. And I can still function without difference than before if I spare a bit of loose change. On top of it all, helping others has somewhat of a selfish feeling. So, it appeals to my ego as well as my moral sensibilities. Helping others, its something we learned in Kindergarten, right?

1-strike against balking at the homeless

Okay, then theres the issue of the greater good. This sort of falls in line with free-marketing, but I think its sufficiently different to highlight on its own. What about the greater good? What if the homeless person buys cigarettes, or booze, or drugs. What if giving them a handbill prevents them from getting a job, and keeps them on the track of just getting by. And, theres the issue of...personal safety. It seems like a small risk to mingle with people who could be dangerous in some way shape or form. (Gosh I should like a neo-con). Society is better off cutting the fat, and people have to be held responsible for their actions right?

2-strikes against helping the homeless

And, the final issue on my conscience, what if those homeless are incapable of helping themselves? What if they are disabled? Insane? In poor health? What if they can't get by, and a little leg up will help them? Then it would be in the interest of the greater good to help them. If they were able to rise with a boost, its better to boost them and have them be off the homelessness circuit, right?

2-strikes against balking at the homeless

So...I'm at a stalemate. At least in this discourse.

But...There's something that happend that I think needs some sunlight.

I was in this park in Seattle yesterday, and I was watching some people, virtually all kids playing by this large fountain. This man, comes by on a bike. I think he was selling homeless newspapers (Village Voice-esque perhaps?) to make money. He seemed to only have a bike, shoes, a little bit of clothing, and a duffel bag of supplies. If he had more, he didn't have much more than that.

He asked me to watch his stuff while he went nearby and enjoyed the fountain (this is a really large fountain by the way). And he went. And he was free. He enjoyed.

When he came back, he reminded me about how awesome it is, and now necessary it is to just feel free. And it made sense. He didn't have much, but he was free. He loved himself. He was infinite. He was capable of only loving other people. We had a pretty nice chat. He was interesting. Talking to him was inspiring, not because he was down-trodden, but because he was one of the free-est people I've ever met. (Melanie/Jessi--not that I think you've ever read my blog--, you would've enjoyed this quite a lot, I think). the end of it. I thought. I might not be giving this guy a dollar, and hes not asking for any. But what's important--for us both--is that were communicating. And regardless of your philosophy on how to help the poor or homeless, we should be comfortable with the issue. Our daily experiences should be at least a little bit more than brushing aside someone begging for change which pretending to listen to an MP3 players (I'm definitely guility of's hard not to do, because its so easy and innocent). Maybe its just our mentality. Maybe we should try to remember that the homeless/poor/eccentric/disadvantaged, regardless of whether we help them, are people too...and if we tried to help them, it would be better if we could look them in the eye and shake their hand.

That guy at the park, I don't know his name. But, he wished me a beautiful day, safe travels, and that he loved me. I cared for him too, i told him that i thought he was a beautiful person, and I meant it. He may not have asked me for help, and I may not have given him any...but after talking to him, as I walked out of the park, I sure wished he had enough to eat that night.

Perfect, it's boarding time. Adios Phoenix, Hello De-troit.

"All my gangstas and all my thugs..."