The Poor

This is another installment of “Social Controls.”  That is, an attempt to uncover how ideology works in our day to day lives.

“Their lazy, they are a drag on society, due to their access to welfare and unwillingness to work. They just want to abuse the system and therefore their access should be severely limited.” Their ability to access luxuries (TV, air conditioning, internet, etc.) can be used against them in two ways. One is to say that they really have it quite well, due to these things. The other is to say that if they had not bought these things (i.e. made better decisions) they would not be poor.

These are some of the arguments used against the poor. Part of the prevailing ideology which seeks to keep the poor in their place. Where they need to be so that system can carry on (their backs).

Consumerism and debt work together to keep them poor. The two classes (upper and lower) are assumed. Whether from a religious or natural point of view. Due to this, very little is done in the way of ending poverty or divisions of classes. However, people are not heartless, they seek to alivaive poverty among the lower classes. This is generally called charity. Due to our perverted idea of individualism (see intense individualism) we have generally given a negative connotation to the idea of charity, at least on the receiving end. More then this though, charity is merely a short term fix to a side effect of the real problem (class division). From this point of view charity is negative. It temporary alleviates an effect of the disease without effecting the disease at all! Making it all that much longer that the sick will limp on.  In other words this allows the sick to limp on a little longer all the while thanking the doctor who had infected them in the first place but then gave them some pain reliever. You can also think of it like a fever when you are sick. A fever (in most cases) is actually a good thing. It is your body heating up to destroy the bad viruses, or what have you, that cannot live under the heat. The fever however is uncomfortable to us, so we try and get rid of it, we feel a little better but have destroyed something that our bodies naturally do to help and protect us.

The division between the classes has shifted from being preordained by God to being predetermined by nature. Originally the class division was seen as being the way God wanted it (Protestantism, Calvinism, puritanism). Again, this meant that one could not do anything about the place that the poor or lower classes occupied, and in fact to try and do so could be seen as blasphemous since you would be going against the will of God, so the only thing that people could do was to try and make life for the people in this class a little better. There is a paradox with this line of thinking however. God had made some rich and some poor. This meant that one was not really better than the other, only different. This argument was used to instill the rich with a sense of charity towards the poor. God likes it when you help people, God gave you your money and he can take it away if you displease him. The social benefit of this was that it (ideally) caused a bond to be formed between the rich and the poor or the upper and the lower classes. Thus, those who were being oppressed and those who were doing the oppressing would be closer. Instead of the lower classes seeing the cause and effect of the situation they were in, they saw two codependent outcomes of God’s will. The paradox comes in with the idea that being wealthy was seen as a sign of your grace (meaning that you were predestined to go to heaven). If this was the case then being poor was a sign that you were not going to heaven. So why would the people who were saved, or God for that matter, care if the rich helped the poor or not? The answer, as we have ready said, is the social cohesion brought about by the act of charity. Without this bond the poor, who far out number the rich and fulfill all the important rolls in society (mainly that of production), would soon tear the rich apart.

When seen from this point of view one can see how the shift from God to Nature, as the basis of the class division, makes sense. The argument became that instead of God predestining people to be in a certain class, people were “naturally” predetermined to be in one or the other due to their “natural ability.” This also has a paradox however. People have no control over their “natural” traits that they are born with (beauty, wits, etc.) and therefore can still be pitied and given charity in the same way as under the previous basis for the class division. However, these traits lead people to make individual choices and these choices lead them to become rich or poor and therefore it is their fault. This allowed the act of charity to continue which, again, is important because it helps create this bond between the two classes and it covers up the horror of life that the lower classes go though without getting rid of the lower class; and it allowed the poor to be blamed for their position and looked down on. One of the benefits of this is that the rich can be charitable which is thought to be good thing and yet the poor feel ashamed to accept the charity from the rich. Thus, this would serve to limit the charitable giving of the rich without making them look bad. If the poor did not want the money what could the rich do about it? They could not force it on them. Also, charity became associated with all forms of giving. So that community help, friends, social networks, etc. all came to be seen in terms of charity and all the connotations that go along with that idea.

An important idea that is not explicitly discussed here is that some of the lower class will rise up to the upper class, but this will be a very small fraction of the lower class. In this sense the lower class (as a social position) is used as a “testing” area to get into the upper class. However, this is a myth. The two best ways to get into the upper class are to be born there or exploit your way there. But the propose of this idea is that it keeps the people in the lower class fighting among themselves. Which among other things makes them work harder and also not fight with the upper class. As John Steinbeck said, “The poor in America are all temporary embarrassed millionaires.”

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