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Thread: The Poor are Degenerate

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    Kanto Kanrei Member Marshal Murat's Avatar
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    Default The Poor are Degenerate

    Unskilled and semi-skilled jobs in the US have been exported to sweatshops in the third world. Many of the jobs which are left are being performed by underpaid non-citizens. Unemployment levels in the developed world are near historic lows, and GDP has been rising steadily, but in addition to the effect of globalization, the gap between rich and poor has widened steadily as a result of rising property values, urbanization, and especially the prevalence of neo-liberal economic policies. Low minimum wages and expensive healthcare and education combine to produce a situation in which there is a significant underclass with little chance of social mobility.

    So why is there a persistent belief that the poor are poor because of some moral failing - laziness or addiction, or sexual promiscuity leading to unsupportably large families? Take everyone's favourite right wing pundit Bill O'Reilly:

    ... you gotta look people in the eye and tell 'em they're irresponsible and lazy. And who's gonna wanna do that? Because that's what poverty is, ladies and gentlemen. In this country, you can succeed if you get educated and work hard. Period. Period.

    Or the idea that poor women have large numbers of children either because they are sexually out of control or for the purpose of obtaining or supplementing a welfare check. Barbara Ehrenreich, who wrote the book "Nickel and Dimed" about minimum wage employment and the working poor in the US, summed up the attitude like this:

    Ever since the idea of a "culture of poverty" arose in the 1960s, many affluent people have subscribed to the convenient and self-flattering myth that poverty represents some kind of characterological disorder involving laziness, promiscuity, "inability to defer gratification," and so forth.

    In this context it's interesting the enormous and destructive effort that has been put into enforcing the idea of even soft drugs as a criminal (ie: moral) issue rather than a medical problem or a personal choice.

    But this attitude has a long history in the Protestant tradition. Wealth is a sign of God's grace. Illness and misfortune may be signs of sin, but poverty surely indicates moral degeneration. It's a natural outgrowth of industrialization and colonization. New methods of farming displaced large numbers of serfs to become itinerant labourers and later urban day labourers. These workers did not find the transition to the factory an easy one: industry demanded that they turn up at a certain time and work with concentration in difficult conditions for long hours at extremely repetitive jobs. Such unrewarding employment and low pay did not encourage loyalty or enthusiasm, but the pulpit emphasised the spiritual value of the suffering of toil. This combined with religiously based movements for temperance and asceticism especially directed at the lower classes, who were presumed to be tempted to sin by their physicality. Money wasted on alchohol drugs and other pleasures of the flesh, and any time spent in activity other than the mortification of the flesh through hard work or religious observance, was money and time wasted. God's punishment for this ranged from disease to poverty. It's worth remembering that in its original Protestant conception grace was a mysterious quality bestowed if not at random then outside human understanding. Those who had it would be saved, and those without it, damned. Therefore those born into poverty, especially those who were prevented by ill fate or lack of the drive or ability to surmount such a heritage, were born outside God's blessing. By contrast those born to wealth and privilege deserved the benefits of this because this fortune was God's wish and betrayed not only God's favour but the special qualities of virtue which went along with it. So the rich were presumed good and the poor presumed sinful. The especially hard working and abstemious who were in the process of working their way out of poverty provided an exception, but if they failed it was a moral failure - an indication that they had succumbed to temptation. The other exception were the deserving poor. These widows, war veterans, and orphans exist for a particular and important reason - to be the subject of the pity, alms, and good works of the great and the good.

    This moral lesson was and is written large in the form of the differences between the colonial powers and the benighted world, the colonies. The white man's burden, blessed by the Christian religion and the wealth and power by which this grace was manifest, was to lift up the ignorant, lazy, sinful and poor. To give them the chance, by hard work abstinence and gratitude for the efforts of their betters, to demonstrate that God's good will extended even to the furthest and most ill-favoured corner of the globe, and could save the blackest sinner - usually not in this world but in the next.

    The same twisted logic was used to justify slavery:

    If, also, by [the slaves'] own confession, which has been made in manifold instances, their condition, when they have come into the hands of humane masters here, has been greatly bettered by the change; if it is, ordinarily, really better, as many assert, than that of thousands of the poorer classes in countries reputed civilized and free; and, if, in addition to all other considerations, the translation from their native country to this has been the means of their mental and religious improvement, and so of obtaining salvation, as many of themselves have joyfully and thankfully confessed — then may the just and humane master, who rules his slaves and provides for them, according to Christian principles, rest satisfied, that he is nor, in holding them, chargeable with moral evil, nor with acting, in this respect, contrary to the genius of Christianity.

    It's not fair to fault an argument just because it has been taken to evil extremes, and it could be said - leaving out the moral/religious overtones - that the poor would indeed be better off if they worked hard and did not waste money on addiction and entertainment. But the right to personal autonomy is paramount in the United States, except in this case when it is apparently trumped by paternalistic moral notions allied with an economic advantage to the powerful. What's more the moralising distorts public policy and obscures the reality of unequal opportunity.

    But the basis of this point of view is not logic, and certainly not compassion. Rather it is a way for the middle classes to justify being selfish and hard hearted. Gypsies, Irish casualties of English rule (ie: early economic refugees), war veterans, and the itinerant workers forced from tenant farms — in England in the 16th and 17th Centuries these fell outside the village based welfare system of the time. The parish collection plate provided for widows, orphans, and the disabled in an informal system based on community coherence and compassion. But outcasts, foreigners, itinerants, and so on were not connected by history or kinship to the group. These people were often desperately needy, however. If the burghers and farmers did not want to help them, then their instinct was instead to despise them and mistrust them.

    Here is an analysis of the situation in the eyes of William Harrison from 1577:

    There is no commonwealth at this day in Europe wherein there is not great store of poor people, and those necessarily to be relieved by the wealthier sort, which otherwise would starve and come to utter confusion. With us the poor is commonly divided into thr e sorts, so that some are poor by impotence, as the fatherless child, the aged, blind, and lame, and the diseased person that is judged to be incurable; the second are poor by casualty, as the wounded soldier, the decayed householder, and the sick person visited with grievous and painful diseases; the third consisteth of thriftless poor, as the rioter that hath consumed all, the vagabond that will abide nowhere, but runneth up and down from place to place (as it were seeking work and finding none), and finally the rogue and the strumpet, which are not possible to be divided in sunder, but run to and fro over all the realm, chiefly keeping the champaign soils in summer to avoid the scorching heat, and the woodland grounds in winter to eschew the blustering winds.

    [...] The several disorders and degrees amongst our idle vagabonds.

    1. Rufflers. 2. Uprightmen. 3. Hookers or anglers. 4. Rogues. 5. Wild rogues. 6. Priggers or pransers. 7. Palliards. 8. Fraters. 9. Abrams. 10. Freshwater mariners or whipiacks. 11. Drummerers. 12. Drunken tinkers. 13. Swadders or pedlers. 14. Jarkemen or patricoes.

    Of the women kind.

    1. Demanders for glimmar or 2. Bawdy-baskets. [fire. 3. Mortes. 4. Autem mortem. 5. Walking mortes. 6. Doxies. 7. Dells. 8. Kinching mortes. 9. Kinching cooes.

    The punishment that is ordained for this kind of people is very sharp, and yet it cannot restrain them from their gadding: wherefore the end must needs be martial law, 2 to be exercised upon them, as upon thieves, robbers, despisers of all laws, and enemies to the commonwealth and welfare of the land. What notable robberies, pilferies, murders, rapes, and stealings of young children, burning, breaking, and disfiguring their limbs to make them pitiful in the sight of the people, I need not to rehearse; but for their idle rogueing about the country, the law ordaineth this manner of correction. The rogue being apprehended, committed to prison, and tried in the next assizes (whether they be of gaol delivery or sessions of the peace), if he happen to be convicted for a vagabond, either by inquest of office or the testimony of two honest and credible witnesses upon their oaths, he is then immediately adjudged to be grievously whipped and burned through the gristle of the right ear with a hot iron of the compass of an inch about, as a manifestation of his wicked life, and due punishment received for the same.

    This, to my mind, is how and why the meme came into being. We have seen how it was propagated by the churches, and how it suits the wealthy and the conservatives that it be part of the world-view of voters in the west. It's why Reagan misinformation about Welfare Queens allowed him to cut benefits and hand the money to the rich. It's why Bush could do the same. It's part of Bush's push to blame the Iraqi people for the anarchy in that country. It has a lot to do with the fact that the US has the most costly and most ineffective health care in the OECD, and the sort of poor and desperate underclass which Katrina revealed.
    Solutions

    Any change in this attitude is not going to begin in the big end of town. Honestly I think it's one of those things in western society which suit those with power and influence and so will only change when the intelligentsia get a bit of intellectual honesty and stop allowing themselves to be bought by the corporations and the media. I have high hopes for the web leading the charge in this, especially because it enfranchises a group of people exemplified by some of the fine writers here on Newsvine — who have the intelligence and idealism to look for a better world and yet have experienced life on the margins, so their vision is of a better world for all, not just a more comfortable world for the privileged.

    To my mind the issue is that the group who are targeted by this slander should not buy into the viewpoint themselves. Doing so puts the problem in terms of whether or not the poor are entitled to state help. I would like to see things reframed in terms of what people need and want out of life and how they can get it. This approach is proactive, self sufficient, and ends up involving education, community building, and grassroots politics rather than perpetuating a system of dependency and patronising, begrudged "welfare" which encourages a childlike and dependent response.

    Newsvine Opinion Post


    What are your feelings about this? How accurate are his statements? Is it true? Or an opinion piece to bash religion?

    Not my writing. Look at the author on the site.
    Last edited by Marshal Murat; 06-22-2007 at 16:51.
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    Re: Pursuit of happiness
    Have you just been dumped?

    I ask because it's usually something like that which causes outbursts like this, needless to say I dissagree completely.

  2. #2
    Could be your God Member Abokasee's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Poor are Degenerate

    You've appeared to hit nail on the head
    Now with transparent layers!

    Lost on the Internet? Go back to start.

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    Kanto Kanrei Member Marshal Murat's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Poor are Degenerate

    It's not mine. Better edit.

    Whooosh!
    "Nietzsche is dead" - God

    "I agree, although I support China I support anyone discovering things for Science and humanity." - lenin96

    Re: Pursuit of happiness
    Have you just been dumped?

    I ask because it's usually something like that which causes outbursts like this, needless to say I dissagree completely.

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    Jillian & Allison's Daddy Senior Member Don Corleone's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Poor are Degenerate

    Karl Marx, ladies and gentleman. Here for your enjoyment through the week, 2 shows a night, three on Friday and Saturday.

    It is one way of looking at socio-economic class and distribution of wealth. It presupposes the following: 1) that all people are entitled to equal standards of living, regardless of their own drive & talents, not just equal opportunity 2) that religion is a cynical con-game, paid by a shadowy elite, known as 'the rich' that pay the religious leaders to make their propaganda points 3) that all that are poor or disadvantaged are somehow victims of an oppressive system that runs on an engine fueled by human misery.

    In short, it's hogwash.

    My short-form rebuttal (long form would be pages and pages) 1) if I work harder than my co-worker, I am entitled to be rewarded for it; to say otherwise is to mandate mediocrity. 2) This theory completely avoids the tough economical stances most main-line churches have taken with regards to poverty and the role of social services in a just society (the Catholic Church has recently declared that the United States has no right to keep ANYBODY on the Mexican side of the border 3) Poverty is a natural condition, but it's not a foreone conclusion that the individuals that are poor must remain that way.

    If you run a race, somebody has to come in last. If some people in the race are walking, sure, they're always going to be last. If they decide they're tired of always losing and start exerting themselves, amazingly enough, they discover that they've left the rear and joined the main body of finishers. Keep working extra hard at it, or discover that they have a natural talent for it, amazingly enough, they keep moving up in the ranks.
    Last edited by Don Corleone; 06-22-2007 at 17:01.
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    EB II Romani Consul Suffectus Member Zaknafien's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Poor are Degenerate

    I for one cant wait until humans evolve to a society where money is useless. I cant wait to see how angry the corporate greed-monger capitalists become then. This idea of competition is banal and primitive. Theres no reason 'everyone' can't win.


    "urbani, seruate uxores: moechum caluom adducimus. / aurum in Gallia effutuisti, hic sumpsisti mutuum." --Suetonius, Life of Caesar

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    Jillian & Allison's Daddy Senior Member Don Corleone's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Poor are Degenerate

    Quote Originally Posted by Zaknafien
    I for one cant wait until humans evolve to a society where money is useless. I cant wait to see how angry the corporate greed-monger capitalists become then. This idea of competition is banal and primitive. Theres no reason 'everyone' can't win.
    This is the only part of your statement that I even remotely agree with. Capitalism is the only way to ensure that this continues to happen. A 'downtrodden and victimized' plebian today, with their government checks and their 48" flat panel LCD television with HD satellite signals live a damn sight better than even royalty did only 100 years ago.
    "A man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man."
    Don Vito Corleone: The Godfather, Part 1.

    "Then wait for them and swear to God in heaven that if they spew that bull to you or your family again you will cave there heads in with a sledgehammer"
    Strike for the South

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    EB II Romani Consul Suffectus Member Zaknafien's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Poor are Degenerate

    theres a difference though. private enterprise, of course, is good. insatiable consumerism, of course, is evil.


    "urbani, seruate uxores: moechum caluom adducimus. / aurum in Gallia effutuisti, hic sumpsisti mutuum." --Suetonius, Life of Caesar

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    Darkside Medic Senior Member rory_20_uk's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Poor are Degenerate

    I work in an A&E department. I see daily the out of work drug users, the alcoholics and the teenagers who are on their 3rd or so kid - possibly in care. Often they come in by ambulance as after all it's free. They are frequently abusive and as a rule have nothing wrong with them.

    Defend them if you will, but they are scum sucking life and money out of the country.

    The "poor" in the UK aren't starving. They aren't (usually) homeless. They have free schools, free healthcare (and they use if one hell of a lot more than others do) and use up far more police time with their "high jinks".

    Everyone can win. It will involve more people working at school, not breeding as early as they do and not drowning their live in drugs and ethanol.

    Last edited by rory_20_uk; 06-22-2007 at 21:22.
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    The very model of a modern Moderator Xiahou's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Poor are Degenerate

    From How Not to be Poor
    There is a strong correlation between poverty and certain behaviors. Thus one solution to the problem of poverty is to encourage young Americans to avoid behavior that will tend to lead them into poverty. Specifically, there are four choices young Americans can make that are more likely than any government welfare program to keep them out of poverty and on the road to a productive and prosperous life: (1) finish high school, (2) stay married, (3) get a full-time job and (4) if a woman, don't have children before age 20.
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    He who controls Arrakis.. Member 71-hour Ahmed's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Poor are Degenerate

    I think that the statement quoted at the start of this topic is a load of garbage.

    In the case of the third world the vast majority are not "responsible" for their relative poverty, and so we should so all we can to help them improve by involving them in the global economy - give them a decent paying job.

    The whole general tilt of that statement seems to be pretty much standard for the sort of tripe that anti-globalist campaigners come out with, but focussed on a different subject area than the norm. other than that the same self-satisfied nonsense.
    The scary thing about leaving the Org for a while and then coming back is the exponential growth of "gah!" on your return...

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    Member Member KafirChobee's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Poor are Degenerate

    Personally, I didn't see the essay as a religious bashing - but, as pointing out how some justify why there are poor and why they deserve to be poor.

    Granted education is a key to improving the living conditions of those born into poverty. However, one need only visit a school in (say) SouthCentral L.A. and realize the insurmountable task that a young person there has in attaining a quality education.

    Still, it is not as simple as assuring a productive education. It is more a matter that corporations need to involve themselves in that system to assure they will receive the workforce they need - as to outsourcing being the easier path. The path they are presently on will likely bite them in the ass at some point, as the poor of the lesser nations they are using to produce their profits realize the disparity between them and their desire to purchase the things they are making for foreigners.

    Do people want to be poor? Can we blame it all on drugs and sex? Gee, isn't that a simplistic cause all to answer the ills of the poor? Is there a category that fits this analogy? Yes, but really - they also fit in to the category of giving up. When something seems insurmountable, it is a natural human impulse to surrender to the forces keeping them there - or revolting, rioting, looting, burning - what ever it takes.

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