I was re-reading Sheri S. Tepper’s “The Fresco” t’other day, a book I rather like, because despite a few bits that are maybe a bit too preachy (I’m a feminist, but I have learned the benefit of not being scary about it, because all it does is drive people t’other way. Still, I can enjoy Rush Limbaugh being impregnated by aliens who assume that he meant the bit about life being sacred, as much as the next guy.) it’s still one of the only books out there where the day is ultimately saved by an illustration, so it gets a thumbs up in my book.

One of the premises of a lot of Tepper’s work–not a major premise, but one that reoccurs, is that some people are just no damn good.

Not that they’re bad, per se, so much as simply, due to whatever factors of birth or upbringing or fate, useless. Given the most tender care by the most utilitarian utopian society, one devoted to giving every person a job that they could do and be good at and enjoy doing, some small percentage of people would still simply sit on the couch all day watching soap operas or sleeping or whining about how life has screwed ’em over.

This provided food for thought, and the usual philosophical debate during dinner preperation with my husband. Are some people simply useless?

It’s a scary thing to say, because once you say it, you’re leaning over the slope wherein all men are not created equal, and nobody wants to go down there, so let me say right off that I do not believe uselessness is defined by any race, religion, culture, gender or creed, nor am I advocating rounding up the terminally lazy and having them mistreated (or worse, shot.) I’m not talking the insane or the handicapped–Stephen Hawking just does fine, and I’ve known plenty of hardworking people in wheelchairs. If you’re wearing tinfoil hats to keep the puce kangaroos from breaking in your brain to reveal the place you’ve hidden Jesus so that they can kill him and bring about Armageddon, then you get a free exemption, and I hope that someday medicine will advance far enough to negate the need for tinfoil hats. Nor do I think it has anything neccesarily to do with intelligence–I’ve been in jobs that brought me in contact with people that are mentally retarded (I’ve lost track of the current PC term, so cut me some slack on this–I mean no harm) and they tended to be incredibly hard workers, who derived a great deal of satisfaction from having a job that they could do well, and being told they did it well. I’d gladly trade a lot of the disaffected whiners I met in corporate America for ’em, believe me! But a lot of people I met in corp jobs simply could not do the job that they were given, and even given time and care that a kindergartner might find remedial, they continued not to be able to do it, and then sued the company when they weren’t promoted.

Probably they would have been happy and productive in other jobs. Some of ’em might have been excellent construction workers or brain surgeons or concert pianists. I believe that our society should spend far more time and energy helping people figure out what they want to do, what they CAN do, and then giving them all the tools neccessary to learn to do it, rather than the completely craptacular “You can be anything you want to be. You wanna be a what? Fine, sounds good, next,” handling that I got from my guidance counselor in high school.

But even in our unlikely hypothetical utopian society where everyone earns a living wage doing what they’re good at, I can’t shake a nagging feeling that we’d still have some people who were pretty much useless. Who had no desire to learn, no desire to work at anything, and just sat around sulking that life was unfair. Not many, probably. A lot of people can prove to be good at things, given time and effort and support. Maybe a very small fraction of the population. Many people in our current society who are stigmatized that way could be helped simply through time and opportunity and education, god knows–or could have been helped once. By no means should we stop helping as many people as possibly, but I think maybe some people simply cannot be helped. This goes wildly against the belief that everyone is a special snowflake, but I dunno. Maybe some of ’em are just drips.

So what do you think? Are there people who, perhaps through no fault of their own, are just plain useless, and attempting to help them is an exercise in diminishing returns? And if so, what do you do with ’em? Try to make them happy? Force them to work and be unhappy? Allow them to mooch on society? Dump ’em all on a tropical island where they can eat fruit and be slovenly and eventually be eaten by a shark? Norplant ’em so they don’t raise kids badly and produce more of the same? Never give up on them and keep trying to get them to be productive members of society, expense be damned?

Or, as Issa the poet also said (Two poems in one day! Fear it!)

Even among the insects
some sing
some can’t.

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