to emphasize and highlight the cause of poverty, particularly when it can be considered to be the fault of the individual. While getting old per se is certainly not one's "fault," growing old "poorly" can be construed as your fault. Being poor, however, may well be in the view of many respondents their fault or, for those in poverty, my fault. If the causes of your condition are thought to be within your control and you did not take appropriate action to forestall the result, then Americans appear quite unsympathetic to providing assistance.
A subdominant theme, however, stresses the condition. While cause does not go away, it drops lower in thought. Conditions of need which require help should get help. Whether one's actions were or were not the cause of the condition appears to become a secondary consideration.
One way to think about this tension is how parents might answer the phone when their teenager calls and says, "Mom, Dad, there has been an accident with the car!" What is the first thing that comes to the parents' minds as a response? One response could be, "Whose fault was it? Was anyone hurt?" A second response could be, "Was anyone hurt? Whose fault was it?"
In this little example cause and condition, and their various orders of precedence, become crystal clear. American society, I argue, opts for the first response. We are not insensitive to condition, especially when effort is involved. We applaud the blind selling brooms, troubled youth selling candy (even if we do not want candy), and the products of sheltered workshops and junior achievement.
As a fault-oriented society, we tend to select, where possible, variables over which people have control as explainers of conditions, both good ones and bad. In thinking about the lowest class and the next-to-the-lowest class, cause seems to be an important distinguishing feature. Respondents did not pick conditions such as race or gender as explainers of lowest-class status; rather, they picked ones over which it might appear people had more control, such as education and having a job. Similarly, an important feature of the way people think about the old is that the negatives overwhelm the positives, even though those situations of negativism do not seem to actually exist.
Why do we do this? Why are cause and fault so prominent in our thinking? If you know what caused something to occur (poverty) then you know what to avoid. It is the magical connection of magic, science, and religion. Follow the procedures, do not step on the crack, and then you won't break your grandmother's back. Fault leads to resentment; resentment leads to hate. Hate soothes us, and neutralizes the scary thoughts.
The poor are a big problem in American society--a sociological problem. Social welfare experts, social workers, and many run-of-the-mill Americans think the problem of the poor is that they are poor or old. So we have to