“Let them eat code.”

Dear Patrick McConlogue,

I will be blunt: This is your “let them eat cake” moment.

Your article, “Finding the unjustly homeless, and teaching them to code”, despite your charitable intentions, betrays an arrogance, cluelessness, and level of privilege that is to the point of offensiveness.

I know that my phrasing is not persuasive and would make anyone defensive, but these issues are too important. I won’t mince words.

Here are the parts of your post that are problematic.

The Title

By saying “unjustly homeless”, you immediately call others living on the streets “justly” homeless. This wording is atrocious. It goes beyond saying that the homeless are the authors of their own poverty; it claims that their desperate situation is justice. That if they weren’t homeless, it would be an injustice. It also positions yourself as the judge of the courtroom, who has the authority to sentence poverty and grant affluence.

Might want to change that wording, bro.

Part 1

Don’t say “wage” for the money people get panhandling. It makes it sound like you accuse them of doing this instead of getting a real job. You make it sound like their begging for change (a frustrating, tedious task filled with daily petty humiliations) is a choice, rather than what they are doing out of immediate need.

“However, I like to think I can see the few times when it’s a wayward puzzle piece…”

Just get rid of this entire paragraph. My god, it makes it look like you are giving yourself far too much credit.

“He is young, maybe 28, I will call him “The Journeyman Hacker” until I discover his true name.”

Cut this paragraph too. You don’t even know his name, which means you haven’t even talked to him. And yet you have made this young man the Chosen One who is “unjustly” homeless, which you know because you saw him lifting weights.

You can see how this can be called your personal selection bias and prejudice.

“…you can just tell when he looks at you that he lost a series of battles.”

YOU CAN SEE HOW THIS CAN BE CALLED YOUR PERSONAL SELECTION BIAS AND PREJUDICE.

All people living on the streets have lost a series of battles. But the rest of them don’t seem to be deserving of your benefit of the doubt.

Please don’t tell me this guy is white. I would burst a blood vessel.

Step one. Drive.

“It was movie poster worthy.”

Poverty in the real-world doesn’t look like movies. If you are looking for someone with the heart-of-gold, the in-the-face-of-adversity-grit, you will be looking for a long time because that is a fictional character, not a human being.

I suck at empathy but…

No comment.

Step two. Patience.

“I am going to head over and talk to the guy with a puzzle.”

Homeless people need involvement. They need the commitment of people and organizations who won’t abandon them when it becomes inconvenient or unglamorous. The need to see obtainable goals and a stable environment that will reward their efforts. Otherwise those efforts would be a waste: another discouraging example that reinforces why they gave up in the first place.

They don’t need your cute little puzzles.

“1. I will come back tomorrow and give you $100 in cash.”

Given the premise of your post at providing him with career skills, it’s odd that you even put this “puzzle” out there to begin with. Why not just offer to teach him unconditionally?

Of course, the reason is that the $100 choice is the “sucker’s choice”. It is bait. (Which is sickening, if you think about it.) If he takes the $100 instead of your help, then this lets you put him in your “justly homeless” mental category. After all, he chose the short-term benefit. He chose the easy way out.

That $100 isn’t your gift. It’s the price you are paying to buy an excuse.

That isn’t charity, it’s a cruel taunt. You are in a privileged situation to see it as a choice, he isn’t. He doesn’t know if you’ll stick to helping him learn programming, or that a software company will take a chance on a former street person (“culture fit” is the nebulous term they’ll use after the interview), or a multitude of other uncertain factors. His world is not a stable environment. On the other hand, $100 now is a $100 now.

“What do you think he will take? And do you have any other suggestions/gear he would need?”

You want to know which one he’ll take? WHY NOT ACTUALLY MAKE THIS OFFER TO HIM AND FIND OUT. Actions speak louder than blog posts. (But my guess is he’ll be pissed if you don’t have the $100 in cash on you at the time you talked to him.)

Step three. Execute.

You can easily retort, “Why are you being so critical? I’m just trying to help.” And I will point out that you haven’t helped anyone yet. You haven’t given anyone $100. You’ve written a blog post. You’ve made a public statement of your noble intent and asked for feedback. (Have you cleared leaving an hour early every day with you boss? Will that work with this guy’s schedule? Does he even want to be a software developer?)

On a national scale, this was the same as the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions: America dropped in, toppled the bad guy, and had no plan for a country of millions after that, and then left. It was arrogant, it was expensive, it was worse than unhelpful. They didn’t greet us as liberators like we expected.

Poverty is a hard problem to solve. It’s great that you want to help. The world needs you to care. But wanting to help means that you are also willing to understand who needs help and what will help. Your “puzzle”, your three beginner-intermediate-advanced JavaScript books (seriously, you can save money by using a library or pirating some eBooks on that cheap laptop instead), your “unjustly homeless” attitude all show that you have some serious misconceptions that you need to first unlearn.

Otherwise, you’re intentions aren’t to help; you just want praise for your generosity and the comfortable reinforcement that luck wasn’t a factor for your own affluence, it was “just”.

Best,
Al Sweigart

One Response to ““Let them eat code.””

  1. theabroma Says:

    Whoa! You articulated beautifully the random and unorganized thought pinging around my brain as I read the article. What a self-adoring twit. I think less of this type than members of the aristocracy: the latter were born into it, and it can be more difficult to see that what you are surrounded by is a nano-bubble of what’s going on out there, whereas Mr. Aren’t-I-Da-Bomb? here has oodles of real world, real time experience with what is out there, and still acts like he’s got wrinkles in his bespoke silk gotkes. I am looking forward to reading up on your posts.

    Thanks!

    Thea

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