Bootstrapping, etc.

Everyone is talking about this letter, which has been making the rounds on the Facebook:

Buster Blonde at Persephone Magazine already has thoroughly debunked the shaky economics of this letter, while various commenters point out the absurdity of someone who attended a public university on a scholarship claiming that they did it all without handouts.

Now Ed over at ginandtacos chimes in with this cogent observation on the cognitive bias that underlies the entire letter:

If I am a success, my brain wants me to believe that I have succeeded because I am good – talented, hard working, and so on. The converse is that people who do not succeed must be lazy, talentless, or prone to making bad decisions. It’s a basic victim-blaming premise. A common example used with this bias is rape. If we blame the victim, it makes us feel safer. Rather than confronting the scary reality that it could happen to you at random, we believe that if we avoid the behaviors of the previous victims then we will remain safe.

Thus the overly simplistic worldview we see on display in the above photo. We start with our brain’s desire to bolster our self-image – You’re a big success, Timmy! You’ve earned all that you have! – and end with a worldview that requires us to assign the same level of responsibility to others. If we admit that external factors such as chance or social class influence others’ outcomes, then we would be admitting that the same things might have benefited us. But of course I didn’t just “get lucky”…I earned all of this. So don’t you whiners go blaming bad luck or forces beyond your control if you’re not happy. You’ve clearly made a lot of bad decisions, the same kind that I’m smart enough to avoid.

For my part, I am always baffled when people accept this equation at face value:

hard work = success

I’ve never seen a correlation between these two things, which is to say that some of the hardest working people I know are dirt poor or seriously struggling while many of the wealthy people I know did little or nothing to earn their riches. Hard work? You mean cleaning motel rooms, waiting tables, caring for the elderly?

Yes, yes, I get it, you worked hard and you are successful — don’t you ever allow the thought to enter your head that it could have gone otherwise? That you could have worked just as hard and failed?
Update: And don’t get me started on the “Jesus wants me to be rich” people. How can we take you seriously if you can’t be bothered to consult the most fundamental statements of your own guru?

Update 2: From the comments at ginandtacos, this sign could be shortened to: I am white.

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One Response to Bootstrapping, etc.

  1. eileen says:

    I liked the version of the statement that ended with an exclamation point! I never knew Jesus could be so dramatic!!!!

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