Monday, June 29, 2015

Stop Shaming and Blaming the Poor

I found this recent article on Slate tremendously edifying: The Church of Self-Help, by Helaine Olen. She really hits the nail on its head in that many of us attribute our success to our hard work, with not an ounce of luck thrown in. Now, that is definitely delusional, but probably does not hurt anyone aside from ourselves.

However, many of us take it a step further, and assume that the poor are where they are not because of circumstances or luck or other factors beyond their control. Oh, no. Since anyone in the good ‘ol U.S. of A can pull him or herself up by their bootstraps, the poor must be lazy and morally deficient. It is their fault that they are in the situation they are in. Of course, the “great” thing about this conclusion is that we don’t really need to, nay shouldn’t help those down on their luck. They don’t deserve it. It will only exacerbate their moral and financial failure.

How any of us, especially following the economic crisis of 2008 can still hold on to this view is mind-boggling! Two good reads that clarify this in a really clear way are Hand to Mouth and the Wealth of the Poor.

By the way, here is an interesting aside for fans of the Hebrew Bible:

In a way this is analogous to the Book of Job. It is very human of us to want to explain away everything in way that lets us feel comfortable. Job’s friends tell him that if indeed he has suffered all of the tragedies that have beset him, it must be because he has sinned to God. Job, on the other hand, says he has not. Just because bad things have happened to him, does not mean he did anything wrong. After many days of arguing, so goes the biblical story, God appears, says Job is right (and says a bunch of other things too), and commands the friends to repent and ask for Job’s forgiveness. Just because bad stuff happened does not mean it was his fault. QED. No wonder the Talmudic Rabbis state that this book was written by Moses himself…

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