2012 January 09 Monday
Imagine Your Father As A Street Bum

An article about some serial killer who is stabbing street people in Orange County California has a rather poingnant comment from a woman whose father became a street person after his wife dumped him.

Paulus Cornelius “Dutch” Smit, 57, was described as “kind” and “sunny,” an “honest and sincere soul” who “seemed excited to be alive.” His bloody corpse was found at the bottom of a library stairwell in Yorba Linda, CA, on December 30. He reportedly had visited the library “almost daily” for a year, which a newspaper account noted was “a rarity for the homeless in the area.” Smit had spent time in Juvenile Hall during his teens for theft. Smit’s daughter Julia recalls that after her mother left him, he preferred living full-time on the streets to working a full-time job and found more “nobility” in referring to himself as a “wanderer” rather than a transient. Julia said it wasn’t until her teens that she accepted her father was what many people would call a bum: “Then I’d see him digging through Dumpsters and say, ‘That’s my father! That’s Papa!’” As with McGillivray, a small candleit memorial has been constructed at Smit’s murder scene.

Imagine being that daughter and seeing your dad digging thru dumpsters. He made life harder on her. Did he know that? Did he care?

So how many people become street people because they just give up on a normal life? Some are alcoholics, other schizophrenics. Okay, I can understand damaged brains and addictions turning people into street bums. But how many choose it? Why? Low motivation? It seems a hard life. I like a soft bed, nice chair, warm shower, and stocked kitchen.

The status fall: What do street people think of status? Who do they compare themselves to?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2012 January 09 09:35 PM  Human Nature Status

Bertie Wooster said at January 9, 2012 10:01 PM:

A lot are full-fledged psychos, but I'd wager that with a slight majority it's a combination of a low IQ and an unstable temperament, both made worse by drug or alcohol abuse. People who abuse drugs grow less and less able to distinguish reality from fantasy and hallucination. I think some people's brains may simply not be built to handle alcohol consumption at all - even if they never come close to being alcoholics.

eggwhite said at January 10, 2012 8:24 AM:

I must say, I have never known anyone who ever came close to be homeless. And have run with middle class and working class people, but not really poor for the most part. I think mental problems are most of it. Weren't a ton of these people let loose on the streets after the ACLU sued on their behalf back in the 80s?

bbartlog said at January 10, 2012 8:46 AM:

Hm, well. To me the main drawback of homelessness (aside from the fact that it likely means you are not doing your duty, as with this man) is that the constraints it places on you would make it boring. As for the creature comforts and the status, who cares? I expect that at least some of the homeless have motivations similar to those expressed by Kipling's Tramp-royal (http://www.daypoems.net/poems/1856.html). Of course that guy had to work or die, as he mentions... but in a modern setting someone of similar temperament could just as easily be a drifter.

AMac said at January 10, 2012 9:13 AM:

Through the mid-nineties, one fellow stood on a particular busy street corner outside the urban medical center where I worked, M-F. His line was "Can you spare a nickel?," though I don't recall he had any particular love for the 5-cent piece. He'd take his station before the lunchtime rush, and knock off some time around 5:00. A friend would swing by in a six- or seven- year old Volvo, well-maintained, and he'd climb in.

We talked briefly a few times; his affect was pretty detached on the whole. No sense of googly eyes, booziness, unwashed body parts, or crazy lurking just below the surface. It seemed like a job. Presumably the pay wasn't great, but hours were flexible and the taxes low.

This guy wasn't "homeless" as far as I could tell. More like a busker who couldn't carry a tune. He stands out for not being a typical street person. I suppose some small percentage of people come to this lifestyle as a choice, as he seemed to.

Black Death said at January 10, 2012 11:18 AM:

Sometimes begging and being a "street person" can yield a pretty good living. In "The Man with the Twisted Lip," ugly street beggar Hugh Boone did OK begging and quoting Shakespeare - until Sherlock Holmes found him out.

Mthson said at January 10, 2012 12:33 PM:

He was parasiting humankind for his personal hedonistic pleasure in wasting away his consciousness.

Mthson said at January 10, 2012 1:05 PM:

I mean that the more we embrace accountability, the simpler and more enjoyable life is, and it's good to criticize unaccountability.

bbartlog said at January 10, 2012 2:36 PM:

@Mthson: not much of a parasite, really, if he got his food from dumpsters and his clothes from the Salvation Army, etc... the really dangerous parasites are far higher up in society, people who get paid large sums of money while adding no value to society.

Mthson said at January 10, 2012 4:26 PM:


Yeah, parasitism is common and comes in many forms.

In the case of a homeless person, there are at least a couple categories of costs:

• Healthcare: Some transients just die on their own, but others receive exorbitant healthcare, either now or once they're older and illness-prone.
• Wasted time & facilities: Transients waste the expensive time and facilities of law enforcement, administrators, public transportation, and everybody in general who interacts with them. As well, many local governments are very generous in deliberate public spending on programs for the homeless.
• Philanthropy: They drain money and resources via receiving charity.
• Crime: Transients have a significant crime rate. Things like smart phone theft and "hugger muggers" (transients who try to happily randomly hug you on the street, and take your wallet without you noticing) are obnoxious.

aandrews said at January 10, 2012 8:56 PM:

"Imagine being that daughter and seeing your dad digging thru dumpsters. He made life harder on her. Did he know that? Did he care?"

From the introduction to "The Sociopath Next Door":

"Or let us imagine the opposite extreme: You have no interest in power. To the contrary, you are the sort of person who really does not want much of anything. Your only real ambition is not to have to exert yourself to get by. You do not want to work like everyone else does. Without a conscience, you can nap or pursue your hobbies or watch television or just hang out somewhere all day long. Living a bit on the fringes, and with some handouts from relatives and friends, you can do this indefinitely. People may whisper to one another that you are an underachiever, or that you are depressed, a sad case, or, in contrast, if they get angry, they may grumble that you are lazy. When they get to know you better, and get really angry, they may scream at you and call you a loser, a bum. But it will never occur to them that you literally do not have a conscience, that in such a fundamental way, your very mind is not the same as theirs.

"The panicked feeling of a guilty conscience never squeezes at your heart or wakes you in the middle of the night. Despite your lifestyle, you never feel irresponsible, neglectful, or so much as embarrassed, although for the sake of appearances, sometimes you pretend that you do. For example, if you are a decent observer of people and what they react to, you may adopt a lifeless facial expression, say how ashamed of your life you are, and talk about how rotten you feel. This you do only because it is more convenient to have people think you are depressed than it is to have them shouting at you all the time, or insisting that you get a job.

"You notice that people who do have a conscience feel guilty when they harangue someone they believe to be 'depressed' or 'troubled.' As a matter of fact, to your further advantage, they often feel obliged to take care of such a person. If, despite your relative poverty, you can manage to get yourself into a sexual relationship with someone, this person—who does not suspect what you are really like—may feel particularly obligated. And since all you want is not to have to work, your financier does not have to be especially rich, just reliably conscience-bound."

Big Bill said at January 11, 2012 12:20 PM:

Sounds like my wife. She figures that since we are married she can quit work do a few minutes of housework a day and deserve half of everything I make. I explained to her that cleaning up the detritus of her own personal life does not constitute a "job" or a "contribution" to the family any more than spending my money is. If it were so, every wino would be deemed "a fully employed contributing member of society".

Lono said at January 12, 2012 8:23 AM:

Imagine your father as a sociopathic serial CFO.

I think I would have had more respect for the street bum.

Brian said at January 12, 2012 4:22 PM:

Who knows. Maybe being a street bum is a sane way to procede, though it may not be very comfrtable.
Being so well adapted to a sick society is not a good sign.

dorian said at January 12, 2012 8:12 PM:

They'll be way better prepared than the middle/upper and even working classes if there is a societal collapse due to natural disaster or such. Which begs the question: is there implicit fitness associated with homelessness and if so, has there been selective pressure in the past to establish their persistence in virtually all societies across the world?

bjk said at January 13, 2012 2:01 AM:

There lived a wise man in ancient Greece whose name was Diogenes. Men came from all parts of the land to see him and talk to him.

Diogenes was a strange man. He said that no man needed much, and so he did not live in a house but slept in a barrel, which he rolled about from place to place. He spent his days sitting in the sun and saying wise things to those who were around him.

When Alexander the Great came to that town he went to see the wise man. He found Diogenes outside the town lying on the ground by his barrel. He was enjoying the sun.

When he saw the king he sat up and looked at Alexander. Alexander greeted him and said:

"Diogenes, I have heard a great deal about you. Is there anything I can do for you?"

"Yes," said Diogenes, "you can step aside a little so as not to keep the sunshine from me."

The king was very much surprised. But this answer did not make him angry. He turned to his officers with the following words:

"Say what you like, but if I were not Alexander, I should like to be Diogenes."

PK said at January 14, 2012 2:04 PM:

Diogenes also said, "Rich is not he who has more, but he who needs less"

Randall Parker said at January 16, 2012 2:35 PM:

Big Bill,

Sounds like you made a bad wife choice. I wonder what criteria one should use in selecting a wife. I know I've done poorly selecting girlfriends.


If you want to live a long time then being a street bum is a bad choice. They do not live long. If you want to pursue intellectual interests then, again, being a street bum is a bad choice. If you want to get laid by hot babes then, again, being a street bum is a bad choice.

Sick society: It is a reason to accumulate more skills, knowledge, and wealth. The ability insulate or remove yourself from a society becomes greater the sicker it becomes.

Over the last few years I've concluded that we can't stop the decay. Too much that is going wrong is baked in. Therefore I repeatedly advise here that people should save more, invest more, develop more useful skills. Take steps that make you better protected from criminals, deep economic downturns, the hungry Leviathan, and other developing problems. Really, you would be doing yourself a favor if you followed my advice.

I am following my own advice btw.


You can't really reduce your needs. For example, if you get cancer you need a cure. If you get TB you need a cure. If you get hungry you need food.

You can only partially reduce your wants. My pleasure from music, women, and chocolate is not about to end. So I act accordingly.

Check It Out said at January 16, 2012 7:05 PM:

I would say that it's better not having a lot of money, but not have cancer than being rich and having cancer. Even if you can pay for any treatment at the most expensive hospitals. And although you cannot reduce your real needs, you can greatly reduce all the needs you believe you have, just like the movie The Joneses.

The fact that somebody finds it hard to leave chocolate and many women talks about a soft and little-disciplined person. A little burgeois to my taste; but then again probably most of America's populations still have to get rid of all that weight in their lives. Times have changed said Tom Hanks.

I would have to dissagre in part with Randall on this one.

Brian said at January 25, 2012 10:50 AM:

"If you want to live a long time then being a street bum is a bad choice. They do not live long. If you want to pursue intellectual interests then, again, being a street bum is a bad choice. If you want to get laid by hot babes then, again, being a street bum is a bad choice."

Yes, sure, but I'm sorry Randall, I never said or even implied anything that led you to the above comment. Please read what I posted more carefully; ONLY what is typed. Whatever implications you imagine inside your head are your private matter only.

By the way and just before this solaris troll comes out denouncing my typo, let me aknowledge my mistake and shout that I meant to spell comfortable not "comftable" as I typed.

Read my comment again Randall.

Brian said at January 25, 2012 11:08 AM:

I posted that being so well adapted to a sick society is not a good sign. As you can see Randall, that doesn't imply that being a bum is a good idea.

bjk and PK commented on Diogene's point of view about how it is better to need less, and neither one of them implied that it would be desirable to become bums.

Check it out calls you a "soft" man for not being able to give up chocolate. I wonder if the same happens to many street bums who are not able to give up alcohol.

Well, have another chocolate; that doesn't mean that you are about to become a bum, right?

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