Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Parallel Dualisms: Understanding America's Apathy for the Homeless through the Sociological Imagination

Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Parallel Dualisms: Understanding America's Apathy for the Homeless through the Sociological Imagination

Article excerpt

When the professor spoke about how dualism has become ingrained in much of our thinking and personalities, I initially shrugged off the idea as merely rhetoric. I knew that distinct dualisms existed in people, responsible for their inner fragmentation, such as in the case of people with Multiple Personality Disorder and perhaps with Manic Depression. Everyone would recognize the profound dualisms and fragmentations in people diagnosed with these disorders. Yet, we rarely acknowledge the subtle dualisms and fragmentations we all carry within ourselves. These dualisms may also be observed in society at large, in this case, the American culture and social policy. One dualism that pervades our lives in modern urban America is that of the dualism in our attitude toward the homeless: how we think about them vs. what actions we take on those feelings.

A quick look at one dualism experienced in my own life can be a good window for understanding the dualisms populating the American culture. My experience throughout grade school and high school was fairly consistent. Much of it revolved around the "potential" I showed, which I was constantly reminded of by my parents and teachers, and one which I rarely fully achieved. However, in college, the structure in my life was pulled out from under me, and suddenly the only one reminding me of my potential was me, and needless to say I was not achieving it. I think "potential" is one of the most important, and somewhat abstract, concepts in life. The disconnect between who I was and who I knew that I could be was shocking, and it sent me into a deep depression. I knew I could be getting A's, I wasn't. I knew I could work out in the gym and it would boost my confidence, I didn't. I knew that I should go to class and not just sleep all day, I didn't. It was not what I was doing; it was the fact that I knew what I was doing wrong and I simply continued to do it. I also knew that turning my life around and lining up my inner desires to achieve with my outward actions would make me a very content person; but I didn't.

I feel my situation is analogous to the United States and its stance on homelessness. For over 50 years, the problem of hunger and homelessness in America has not been a problem of resources, but a problem of inaction. It is an established fact that we have the resources to feed everyone in this country. And I'm also fairly sure that if I asked 100 people on the street whether or not they would want America to eliminate hunger and homelessness in our own country, nearly 100 people would respond with "yes." It's basically a no-brainer. So if we have the resources, and we definitely have the desire, why does it not happen? I would submit that it doesn't happen mainly for the same reason that I do not work out and I don't necessarily do all of my homework. It simply needs to be a priority, and yet it is certainly not. This contrast in what we do and what we ought to do is a dualism that pervades not only much of our everyday lives, but also the social structures and institutions with which we identify ourselves.

I would submit that one's initial reaction to the sight of a homeless person or persons is one of sympathy, and this initial reaction cannot simply be discarded because that sympathy is not acted upon. Rather, we must look at the profound disconnect between that initial reaction and the subsequent reflection. Oliver Sacks popularized this dualistic conception of perception/reflection when he wrote about the experience of his catatonic patients which was subsequently turned into a motion picture called Awakenings Robin Williams played his role in the film. Sacks's patients looked like stone statues, with little to offer in the way of interaction, and thus were overlooked by other doctors, but Sacks did not judge solely based on his initial perception. He reasoned that there must be some way to cure these people of their ailment, and he would have never been able to help them had he not continued to reflect past the stage of initial perception. …

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