Do you know what I hate about the poor? That the juxtaposition of true suffering and my own comfortable lifestyle makes me confront my own mortality and a place in a universe composed of a cruel and bitter irony. I hate that my discomfort with the poor is miniscule compared to their own discomforts and yet I’m still selfishly worried about my own feelings. I hate that my selfishness equates to enormous hypocrisy in the area of David-is-basically-a-good-person style of thinking. I hate that there’s nothing I can do to fix poverty on my own. I could beggar myself and still not make a difference, I could run for political office and lose, I could set up a charity and even if it was more wildly successful than any other charity in this history of the world I’d still only make a small dent in the levels of poverty. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that poverty is an unsolvable problem, I just don’t think the world cares enough to solve it. Including me and being confronted with my own apathy makes me uncomfortable. That’s what I hate about the poor.
What I hate worse than the poor, is poor bashing. We think of the poor as a black hole of fiscal irresponsibility, drug use, and insanity. We, ourselves, are vastly superior in comparison. Because unlike the poor, my insanity is safely medicated thank you, my fiscal responsibility carefully hidden behind a crumbling wall of credit card debt and student loans, and only the poor would ever do drugs. There’s this subtle (or not so subtle) belief that you can’t help the poor because by doing so they’ll breed. They’ll multiply like vermin requiring ever more resources to funnel into their destructive appetites. That’s Malthus. A 18th century writer who correctly identified the correlation between exponential population growth and arithmetic increase in food production. Just a bit later you had Social Darwinists. People who believe that it was their literal God given talents that made them wealthy. If the poor weren’t disposed to drugs, insanity, and making poor choices they wouldn’t be poor now would they? Quite frankly the poor are undeserving. They are the takers. That’s Ayn Rand. Rand was a popular author in the ’50s whose colorful tales were filled with people whose unquenchable thirst for more eventually brought down civilization. It’s also the modern Republican party. Obsessed as they are with givers and takers. Half this country are takers they say, the other half — the virtuous, god-fearing, half — are givers and taxpayers. They are the untiring folks upon whom stand all the rest, parasites, just eating and growing, and somehow not dying.
The poor are not the lowly incompetents that will spend money on nothing but drugs and alcohol. Addicts will yes. If you believe that all poor are drug addicts then you are ignorant scum of the earth. No offense. Ok maybe a little offense, because I’m tired of the poor bashing. Because even when drug addicts get their basic needs met they’re far more likely to get treatment and reenter society. We have a taboo about giving directly to the poor because they’ll waste it. Probably doing something immoral. Except that that’s all wrong.
There is a burgeoning field of work that say the exact opposite of popular anti-poor sentiment of poor shiftless losers. I don’t know how to reform the social safety net. I’m not a socialist or a communist (If you think so you need to go do some research on basic economic definitions) but I am fed up with this notion of givers and takers; of the poor being caricaturized as Ayn Rand style economic leeches that will bring down civilization. I don’t know if we should give money to the poor, but I do know that, if we did, it won’t have Malthusian style repercussions or be a Soviet-style drain on the economy. Because that’s the worry. Isn’t it. That a little of the poor will rub off on you. That a generous government will reduce all the good upstanding folk to a state of destitution and penury while the poor lounge about on government sponsored holidays. Like I said just a few sentences ago I don’t know how to reform the social safety net. Obviously some programs are better than others. But this time around let’s try a modicum of courtesy and respect shall we?