Problems for Any Future Progress: The Crutch Problem

Anything you rely on too much gets called a crutch. Do you use subsidies as a crutch? Do you use drugs as a crutch? Do you use mental illness as a crutch? (These lazily-googled links are not interesting, they’re just there to establish usage in tindexhe corpus.) Always the implication is that crutches are bad. You should probably get rid of that crutch!

Except that some people really need crutches. Tiny Tim cannot walk without a crutch. This is no joke! I’ve been on crutches, and maybe you have, too. My foot healed and I got off them, but some people’s feet aren’t going to let them toss their crutches away, Lourdes-style.

Everyone knows that five minutes of reading tumblr can make you lose all faith in humanity. Here’s a tumblr post (taken from this aggregator):


If someone says “I reserve the right to throw temper tantrums and you must endure it patiently” — well, it’s certainly possible that tumbler-YCCMGT has a painful mental disorder and we should all just be patient around him or her. But what will happen to society if we proclaim: “Anyone is allowed to pitch fits with zero repercussions”? Will an honor code prevent spoiled brats from pitching fits willy-nilly?

YCCMGT is using an alleged mental illness as a crutch. This is like, par for the course on tumblr. And not just on tumblr. Erik Erikson wrote back in 1958 that therapy was supposed to be a cure for the few, and it ended up being a disease for the many.

But I’m not here to make fun of mental illnesses or therapy. Erikson’s “few” still need to be cured! maxresdefaultThere are people who are not faking it! They’re not on tumblr, of course, but they’re everywhere else.

And I chose mental illness as illustrative of crutches almost at random. Crutches are everywhere, and they hold people back while justifying bad or slack behavior.

Except if you need a crutch, in which case they’re a big help.

No one has found a reliable Voigt-Kampff test to determine who needs a crutch and who doesn’t. People who need crutches tend to say, “I need this crutch.” People who do not need crutches tend to say, “I need this crutch.”

Telling them apart is always a problem. They call this the crutch problem.

(I know these problems are all wicked obvious, but I keep running into situations where I want to talk about them, and I have hitherto had nowhere to point.)


  1. I once heard a wise ma–, sorry, a common wag say that ‘crutches make cripples.’ Does that still hold true?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ” A road is made by walking on it.” -Chuang Tzu


  2. I think there may two issues being conflated. 1. People using something as a crutch and 2) People expecting others to provide them with a crutch. In neither case do I think it matters if the use of the crutch is justified.

    In the first case, it is somebody else’s life and it doesn’t affect me (or presumably others). What do I care if the person could walk without a crutch, it’s not my life and he can wreck it if he likes.

    In the second place, we’ll look at your mental illness example, where the crutch is tolerance for what would be considered unacceptable behavior. Maybe the behavior somehow isn’t that person’s fault (I’m skeptical, but I guess it is possible and ultimately it doesn’t matter), but I am 100% certain it isn’t my fault. Other people’s problems aren’t my problem. If they can’t live without my help, then let them die off.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. But surely there are situations where other people’s problems are also your problems. If your child uses something as a crutch, for example. Or if Coleridge uses mesmerism imagery as a crutch when writing.

      I have recently been informed, under no uncertain terms, that we are not allowed to say that if our children can’t live without our help, let them die. (The jury’s out on Coleridge, who, to be fair, ruined his life and doped himself to death, because we did nothing.)


      1. Oh right, kids. Fine, I guess if my kid has a problem, I am less than certain that it isn’t my fault.

        Liked by 1 person

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