Is it true that the poor ye always have with you?

I have to admit that I don’t understand the “I am the 99%” shtick coming out of OWS.  If these people are saying that 99% of the country is poor, with only 1% holding the wealth, perhaps I don’t understand poverty as well as I should.  When I think of poverty, I think of this:

Slum outside Jakarta

or this:

A Favela in Brazil

or this:

East African Famine Victim

What I don’t think of when I think of poverty is this:

The computer crowd at OWS; photo by David Shankbone

or this:

Socialism is a good way to dump debt; photo by David Shankbone

or this:

Fit, bejeweled and spiritual at OWS; photo by David Shankbone

But in a peculiar way, those non-starving, non-homeless, non-refugee young people playing at being poor in cities across America have a point.  They represent some very specific — and sad — types of poverty.

To begin with, there’s the sense of poverty created by utterly ludicrous expectations.  We promised these kids that they were all “good enough, smart enough and, gosh darn it!, that everyone would like them.”  We promised them that they were all number one, and that they would never need to make any actual effort to achieve that blue ribbon status.  We taught them, through MTV and computer games, that a 3 minute attention span is sufficiently long to be awesomely cool and win the game.  And, God help us, we taught them that a Womyn’s Studies, or Africana Studies, or GLBT Studies, or Oppressed People’s degree from some big name university would assure them the kind of job that would enable them to pay off $25,000 or $100,000 or even $250,000 in student loans.  We, the older generation, created this wealth of stupidity.

These young people also suffer from a vast intellectual and moral poverty.  One of the things that shines through when we interview the people taking to the streets is that so many are woefully ignorant, and that they wallow in a sea of relativism that allows for no morality other than that gained by intense navel gazing.  They are the antithesis of the original American revolutionaries, whose leaders were men of exceptional erudition and thoughtfulness, and whose followers knew at the very least their Bible and Pilgrim’s Progress.  Revolutionaries of old were shaped by philosophy, known science, literature, practical life experience, and a deep sense of morality and justice.  Today’s little park piddlers are shaped by an aching sense of unfairness, a terrible fear of human-kind (that would be the AGW shtick), and a morality shaped by Oprah and whichever fabulously rich Hollywood Leftist happens to grab the microphone on any given day.

These self-styled 99%-ers are not poor, not by any known standard, either today or in the history of the world.  They are intellectually and emotionally bereft, but otherwise awash in material benefits.

The fact that these posers aren’t poor, as poverty has traditionally been understood, does not mean that there aren’t poor people in America.  New immigrants are poor, although America quickly absorbs them and propels their children and grandchildren into the working and middle class.  Elderly people whose life savings have been destroyed by the Democrat economy are poor, and deserve our help.  Those who suffer from profound physical or mentally disabilities, through birth or injury, may experience great poverty, and they too deserve our help.  Those are traditional kinds of poverty and, true to Jesus’ word, we will always have these people with us.

Lastly, there is a unique kind of poverty, one that could only occur in America.  I know about this poverty because someone close to me dwells among these poor (although she is not quite of them), and reports back faithfully.  These are not people who are poor in the old-fashioned way.  They were not deprived of opportunities due to class distinctions, because we do not have a European-style class-based society.  Although most are profoundly ignorant, all had available to them the basics of an American public school education.  Living in the modern age, their lives have not been blighted by epidemic diseases (polio, rheumatic fever, mumps, measles, small pox, etc.), nor have their family structures been decimated by the mortality that ripped through the pre-modern world, leaving large numbers of children as half or full orphans.

What these people are is the self-inflicted poor.  For example, meet my friend’s neighbors:  there’s John, surviving on welfare and food stamps, who was a “tweeker” (methamphetamine user); Abby, who almost died from a month-long coma after a heroine binge, and now gets intermittent work cleaning houses, when her health allows; Ray, who is an alcoholic, and floats from one unskilled job to another; Shannon, who has three children, by three men, and has had all three children taken away by social services because of her drug habit.  Oh, and let me not forget Fred, who is homeless because he fried his synapses both with drugs and with the head injury from a drunk driving accident.  The only time he wasn’t homeless recently was when he spent two years in jail for statutory rape.  As my friend said to him, “You’re old, ugly and homeless.  The only reason a young girl hit on you was to get your drugs, and you should have known better.”

Again, Jesus was right that “The poor ye always have with you.”  No matter how much you perfect your society, you will still be dealing with human imperfection.  You will deal with the people who came from dysfunctional homes and continue that dysfunction (with or without help from social services); and with the people who came from totally normal homes (as did my friend) but who were inexorably drawn to a dysfunctional culture.  You cannot save them.  They willingly embrace habits that lead inexorably to poverty.  These are the HONDAs (hypertensive, obese, non-compliant, diabetic alcoholics), who suck up a doctor’s clinic time; the over-dosers who are rushed into ER while the kid with the broken arm (and insurance) sits in the waiting room; and the drunk drivers whose irresponsibility tears apart families.  They are the ones who crowd the welfare roles, live in parks, eat at the homeless shelters, and rotate through jails.  They are the imperfect ones.  We will always have them with us, and no amount of Leftist utopianism will change that reality.

History shows, though, that there is one solution to minimize the overall number of poor:  a free, capitalist society.  While there will always be the old, the sick and the stupid, our American experiment with freedom and capitalism creates sufficient plenty that even poor people, provided that they are functional poor rather than dysfunctional poor, can get sufficient calories, have housing, wear stylish clothes, carry a cell phone, watch television, etc.  A rising tide lifts all boats, even the smallest dinghies.

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Comments

  1. Michael Adams says

    When Jesus said, “Happy are the poor,” He meant something well understood by people in His day.  The Rabbis talked about poor people who must, “Depend upon God for everything.” The earliest version of that teaching just says, “the poor.”  Later versions, written for people less familiar with the cultural milieu, added, “in spirit,”  to explain the passage. The thing is, then and now, it is the sense of being poor, the feeling of insecurity, that drives people nuts. Life had much narrower margins in the first century Mediterranean world, but most people ate something every day. These were rural people, close to the sources of food, like fish, for just one example.
     
    However, they lived with the shame of ragged clothes, inability to wash in the correct ritual way, jobs that subjected them to general contempt, like sheep herding, and always the dannger that, if they were not living in that level of poverty yet, it was just right around the corner.. The little incident about the Roman coin tells us more than we see at fist blush.  To be anything above that subsistence level, wattle and daub hovels, throw-away fish from down by the lake shore, gleaned grain, one had to engage in commerce, using Roman money, paying, therefore, taxes “to Caesar.” (Road and gate tolls, VAT on some goods)
     
    Anyway, I wanted to elucidate that part, although the rest of your essay was wonderful, citing without cruelty the ways that people inflict genuine material poverty, as well as  the spiritual kind, upon themselves and their children.
     
     

    • says

      Thank you, Michael Adams. I did know that Jesus spoke about the poor in a way very different from our current approach, but I never really appreciated the full context. It really does show how far we have traveled, doesn’t it?

  2. Dagwood says

    Great, great post.
     
    Concerning your final remark, I have to think that Obama was true to his word.  The seas have quit rising.  Well, at least the tides of the economy are approaching their lowest ebb under him.

  3. says

    Interesting question, Mike. It wasn’t, but that’s only because I’m not saying the truths directly to someone. Speaking them in abstract philosophical mode is much easier than confronting a single individual.

  4. Danny Lemieux says

    Book, you have truly outdone yourself in your description of these park-piddling perversions of poverty. They want to fix the world when they can’t even fix themselves.

    Yes, the poverty does run ever so deep. It reminds me of Mother Teresa saying that she had never seen so much poverty as she saw upon her first visit to the United States.

    Fortunately, this kind of poverty can be fixed with relatively little outlay of human and government resources.

  5. Old Buckeye says

    Book, very astute observations. Self-inflicted poor and HONDA are great descriptors! After reading an account of how the hierarchies are beginning to manifest themselves at OWeS NY, (http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2011/10/occupy_animal_farm_the_organiz.html) it ought to become shockingly obvious to one and all that no matter if you started out giving everyone the same amount of money with the same opportunities, there will ALWAYS be someone who comes out ahead, whether through guile or genius. You would think that this microcosmic example of Communism/socialism/whatever noncapitalist-ism you want to term it at work would prove the failures of such -isms. Perhaps the truism we are seeing displayed is that we will always have the idiots amongst us.

  6. Caped Crusader says

    Although most of the educated morons have not the faintest idea what the 99% means, just parroting the group chant, I read somewhere it’s real meaning is to emphasize that Jews control Wall Street as many of the signs and chant have declared. Just another manifestation of antisemitism prevalent in these groups.

  7. Mike Devx says

    Old Buckeye, thank You for #8!  Fascinating link to the behind the scenes scene at OWS (New York).   The movement is way more complex and chaotic than either side reports.  The tensions and subtle struggles outlined in that article are engrossing and fascinating to me.

    I’ve decided that it’s impossible to characterize the OWS and other Occupy protests by simple statements.  What they are is anarchy.  No one is really in charge.  It’s a muddled incoherent crowd with a muddled, incoherent message.  Though the core organizers are far-left activists, they’re either incapable of exerting total far-left control, or they’ve consciously decided not to.  What you’re seeing is pure, unorganized democracy, with all the nastiness and ugliness of unadulterated democracy.  Thank God the USA is a democratic republic, not a pure democracy.

    I’m not a fan of long-term sit-in tent-city movements.  They cannot possibly be representative of America.  Very few Americans have the free time and freedom from responsibilities to go “occupy” a spot in a months-long sit down protest.  Most Americans have families, and they spend time with those families.  Despite Obama, most Americans have jobs and they have to work at them to support their families.  And most Americans, simply, have families.  How many families do you see “occupying” space at these protests.  None.

    The occupy protests are therefore not representative of America.  They simply can’t be.
     

  8. Danny Lemieux says

    I do have to wonder what is going to happen to these badly parented peoples’ park poverty piddlers: will they end their lives living under the bushes along California’s freeways or will they eventually buckle down to work so that they can feed themselves?

    Hmmm…we have a an interesting petri dish experiment at hand whereby to test Darwin’s theories of adaptation and extinction.

  9. Caped Crusader says

    S**T happens, to us all, and not of our choosing, and often enough for most people; as one great anonymous philosopher has observed. It is how WE deal with it that makes all the difference. Most wounds in life are truly self inflicted and caused by making poor decisions, usually caused by taking the path of least resistance and the most comfort and least challenging. And as that great philosopher Gomer Pyle once advised Deputy Barney Fife in a moment of genuine despair……….”Aw shucks Barney, don’t punish yourself on the INSIDE“………. good advice for all!!!  Far too many have developed wallowing in self pity as an art form.

  10. Libby says

    Excellent post!
    Your examples of self-inflicted poverty in the U.S reminded me of Sharon Jasper, New Orleans resident who said from the comfort of her Section 8 housing with big screen TV and hardwood floors in 2007:
     
    “I might be poor but I don’t like to live poor. I thank God for a place to live but it’s pitiful what people give you.” [http://blog.nola.com/updates/2007/12/housing_officials_claim_surplu.html]
     
    And wouldn’t you know it, she’s right out there “leading the call for justice” at an OWS protest parade only a few weeks ago [http://photos.nola.com/tpphotos/2011/10/occupy_nola_parade.html].

  11. Michael Adams says

    WRT #4, Book, maybe how far we have NOT come?  They really are poor, in spirit. I am older than most of their parents, and seeing how these kids turned out tempts me to the sin of pride.

  12. Oldflyer says

    Well, there is no reason that the OWS crowd should act any differently.  They have been indulged throughout their obviously miserable lives, and the Liberal establishment is falling all over itself to indulge them in this–so far.
    I look at these people as an infection within our society that if it is allowed to continue to develop unabated could well become systemic.
    The Tea Party demonstrated beautifully how to make yourself heard in a free society.  They obtained permits, conducted their rallies, said their say, cleaned up after themselves and went home.  Not only are these fools too stupid to see how effective that strategy was for the TP, and apply it to their issues; the municipalities who are hosting them are actually clutching a viper to their breasts.  Whether they are bitten is now beyond their control.
    Meanwhile most of America shrugs and says that nothing really bad can happen here as they watch Greece and others swirl around the toilet bowl in a state of chaos.

  13. MacG says

    “As my friend said to him, “You’re old, ugly and homeless.  The only reason a young girl hit on you was to get your drugs, and you should have known better.””

    This phrase reminds me of a facinating read “Chasing the Dragon” by Jackie Pullinger

    The context of the phrase “the poor you will always have with you”:

    Matthew 26: 6 Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined at the table. But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, “Why this waste? For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me. For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me. For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”   And 2000 years later so it is.

    The disciples it seems had their hearts set on helping the poor as they no doubt had been doing for about the last three years.  The feelings must have been very sharp for one such disciple, namely Judas Iscariot, this is when he approached the officials for how much to turn Him over to them.  Did Judas want the thiry pieces of silver for himself or the poor?  He was the treasuer of the group.

  14. suek says

    >>Not only are these fools too stupid to see how effective that strategy was for the TP>>

    I don’t know, Oldflyer. Look at how Christians – in _this_ country – are treated in matters concerning religion and how muslims are treated.

    It really seems as if the only way to get results when dealing with the government is to cause trouble. Behave badly.

    What you say is true when it comes to how most of us feel, but it doesn’t seem as effective in getting what you want.

    Maybe it will in the long run, but apparently the run hasn’t been long enough yet.

  15. Gringo says

    ….Abby, who almost died from a month-long coma after a heroine binge…
     
    “Heroine binge:” does that she spent three days without sleep while rescuing infants from burning buildings? :)
     
    I know you didn’t intend it , but it was funny.

  16. says

    Gringo’s comment reminds me of the fact that in Japanese entertainment media of anime class, the main character is almost always a male surrounded by a levy of female friends or peers.

     Voice actor is a very respectable job in Japan, for women. Probably because of the huge demand given the disparity between male and female roles. Although, I always wondered about those 18+ performances from before. Socially, the Japanese would have been in an interesting fix there.

     In American TV, the main characters when male, tend to be focused on a lot, with the females as support. But in Japanese media, there’s a large tendency to have the main male play the support for the various females, with the focus being on the heroines and their personalities. This doesn’t bleed into action hero movies or live action shows, but for anime, it’s huge. It’s why Otaku is said to be a sub-culture of Japan.

     

  17. says

    Japan is normally a patriarchal society, like America of 1930s-1950s. Women weren’t expected to lead much of anything, or work, or provide economically. Yet in anime, women had significant roles. Far more significant than the wife of Leave it to Beavis family had.

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