Sunday 4 September 2005

Being Poor my arse

BoingBoing quotes [via Making Light] John Scalzi's Being Poor. And for the first time, I find myself genuinely upset with how little people in the USA know about how the rest of the world lives. Fercrying out loud, that piece is about luxury that some people in this part of the world can never aspire to.

Here, with no apologies to Mr Scalzi, is my version.
Being Really Poor

Being poor is not knowing how much everything costs. You can't afford it anyway.

Being poor is your kids watching TV maybe once a year, when the local political party or something like that hires one so they can watch movies during Ganesh Chaturthi .

Being poor is thinking that a car is an unattainable luxury. Unless it's an abandoned junkheap you can sleep in.

Being poor is hoping the tooth falls out.

Being poor is your kid goes to play on the street. When s/he's not working, that is.

Being poor is not understanding the concepts "restroom," "school," and "lunch."

Being poor is living next to - or over - a gutter. And getting evicted from there.

Being poor is hoping someone throws an empty box of something away so you can use it to plug the hole in the thatched roof.

Being poor is not having any well-off siblings. Or aunts. Or uncles. Or any relatives at all. Well maybe the local dada or pusher.

Being poor is no toys.

Being poor is where a one room house is what you aspire to. Never mind the heater. It's hot enough already.

Being poor is not knowing anyone who has the equivalent of $5 to leave around.

Being poor is hoping your kids get to grow up to be adults.

What's meat?

What's underwear? What's Goodwill?

Oh there's plenty of room on the streets.

Being poor is wishing you had a playground to run around in. And never having known shoes.

Being poor is no school.

Being poor is thinking $8 an hour must be what the local ganglord earns.

Being poor is not having anyone to rely on.

Being poor is wishing you could find work. And if it's in a place that has fluorescent lights, you'll wonder where they're stealing the electricity from.

Being poor is where any letter you find is a scrap of paper with squiggles on it that you can add to the raddi sack you're carryying on your back, and hoping that the scrap dealer doesn't cheat you.

Being poor is a bath in water from other people's toilets.

Being poor is taking everything from the trash heap.

Being poor is fighting the cockroaches for food.

Being poor is nt knowing what the fuck a "GED" is.

Being poor is people angry at you for looking so poor. Anywhere. And if you tried to get in a mall, you'll get beaten up by security.

Being poor is taking any job. And your kids take any job too.

Being poor is the police treating you like shit all the time.

Being poor is not grokking romance. Sex, maybe.

Being poor is hoping you can find dinner in a rubbish heap.

Being poor is a sidewalk full of excrement.

Being poor is people not wanting to know anything about you.

Being poor is needing 35-cents. Please.

Being poor is your kid's teacher (if there's a school, if your kid has enough time off from work to go to it) doesn't have any books.

Being poor wondering what a "utility" is.

Being poor is being happy when someone drops a mac and cheese on the floor. Dinner!

Being poor is wishing you could get a job. Wishing you had the strength to work hard.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you're human.

Being poor is not being surprised people are suprised to discover you're human.

Being poor is a sick child asleep on your lap. And hoping she'll live.

Being poor is never buying anything.

Being poor is thinking ramen is what rich people eat.

Being poor is having to live with choices you didn't make. And there being a pretty good chance you will never be 14 years old.

Being poor is wishing there was someone you could be grateful to.

Being poor is knowing you're being condemned.

Box of crayons. Hm. Can be sold. Colouring book. Hm. Add to raddi sack.

Being poor is counting your income in coins.

Being poor is fighting for shelter.

Being poor is knowing you can't afford the local equivalent of a Lotto ticket.

Being poor is never having seen a cash register.

Being poor is feeling helpless when your child hasn't a hope in hell. And you can't do fuck about it.

Being poor is a cough that doesn't go away. [Hey, he got that one right!]

Being poor is being elated at finding a discarded couch that's only damaged, and marginally filthy. Furniture!

Being poor is never having seen a paycheque.

Being poor is not having a night class anywhere. Except, perhaps, if the pusher is teaching you how to sell cut drugs.

Being poor is sleeping on the road.

Being poor is knowing where the shelter is. And you're too tired to walk there.

Being poor is envying people who have never been really poor but think they are.

Being poor is knowing you can't stop being poor.

Being poor is seeing no options.

Being poor is staggering around, left behind.

Being poor is where the only way you leave is when you die.
Update - 5th September, 18.48

John Scalzi dropped by to leave a clarifying comment. We believe in equal air time, so here it is, reproduced from the comments section.
John Scalzi said...

I see this list as complementary to, and not in opposition to, my original list, and it highlights the difference between relative poverty (which is the situation in the US), and absolute poverty (which is the situation in much of the rest of the world). Writer Nick Mamatas has also written a similar list (in this typically pungent style), which you can find here:

I wrote the list originally as something of a response to all the people who I saw having difficulty understanding why some of the poor prople in New Orleans stayed behind for the hurricane and its aftermath. It was designed to help them empathize with people who are in a similar economic situation with those people. It is by no means an exhaustive list for what it's like to be poor worldwide, just poor where I (and much of the blogosphere) live.
Point taken, Mr Scalzi. Thank you fortaking the trouble to explain. And yes, I'm with you on the need to get the message across to the people who wondered why New Orleans's poorer residents didn't leave. Your post didn't offer that context, and it was my first visit to your blog, so I'm sorry that I didn't get that.

Must still say, however, that I stand by everything else I said.
Oh yes, here's Nick Mamatas's post, which Mr Scalzi kindly pointed to. And Least Loved Bedtime Stories v. 2.0 has another version of the list up too.


Veena said...

Great retort. But though the original piece did not say it explicitly, its pretty clear that is talks about being poor in the First World. I do think that most people understand poverty is relative too.

Dina Mehta said...

Peter ... i put up some pics from fieldwork i was on last week ... i hadn't planned to blog them earlier as i felt they were too intrusive ... but your post touched me and spurred me to. They are here - - I hope they speak to readers.... in the First World especially.

John Scalzi said...

I see this list as complementary to, and not in opposition to, my original list, and it highlights the difference between relative poverty (which is the situation in the US), and absolute poverty (which is the situation in much of the rest of the world). Writer Nick Mamatas has also written a similar list (in this typically pungent style), which you can find here:

I wrote the list originally as something of a response to all the people who I saw having difficulty understanding why some of the poor prople in New Orleans stayed behind for the hurricane and its aftermath. It was designed to help them empathize with people who are in a similar economic situation with those people. It is by no means an exhaustive list for what it's like to be poor worldwide, just poor where I (and much of the blogosphere) live.

Anonymous said...

Being ignorant is thinking that Americans don't know about poverty in the developing world. Thousands of people are alive today because at least some Americans did know, and cared.

Being ignorant is criticizing Americans specifically. It's pretty obvious from reading through the responses to Scalzi's article that people of other nationalities have given their stories.

Being ignorant is thinking that telling someone who is poor in New Orleans, or in Chicago, the Bronx, Los Angeles, or anywhere else in the US, that he or she should be lucky that they're not in the developing world will in any way lessen or mitigate their misery. I don't believe that a child who is sick, cold, or hungry will care all that much that at least their family has a couch.

Being ignorant is ignoring the fact that relative vs. absolute poverty has already been acknowledged so that you have an excuse to pimp your own blog.

I could go on, but I'll give you a chance to work on wrapping your brain around that little bit. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Being poor is being able to breathe without hurting. Being poor is being able use your last remaining nerves due to being malnourished.

What the fuck is your point? This is the most childish display "My poverty is worse than your poverty" I've ever heard. Have you solved poverty with your display of sensitivity? Have you helped those poor people get out of their mess? What's that? No? Then shut the fuck up, and go read a book in your air-conditioned room with computer, and spare the world your bullshit preaching, and talk about something you actually know about, instead of pulling other people down, just get yourself some kicks. Suffering is suffering, and just because somebody doesn't meet your definition of suffering doesn't make it any less real, or of less consquence. Why is just being poor a big deal? Is being HIV positive and rich a lot better? Is that less suffering? Should somebody who wrote about an HIV-positive person in the First-world be pulled down because somebody in the third-world is suffering worse? You are truly an awful human being.

Pixy Misa said...

Thanks for this.

From the other list, I was starting to thinkg that "being poor" was "whining a lot".

And the two anonymouses above only confirm that opinion.

Aekta said...

Gosh, this post was brutally thought-provoking in itself, I was moved to tears, began thanking god for my blessings, and vowing to go out and help someone today.

And then I clicked on the original and was so hit by the contrast!!!

Gosh, I can't get over this. What a weird world we live in. Those who have, crib, those who don't, thank!!!!

Anonymous said...

Well we had it tough. We used to have to get up out of the shoebox at twelve o'clock at night, and LICK the road clean with our tongues. We had half a handful of freezing cold gravel, worked twenty-four hours a day at the mill for fourpence every six years, and when we got home, our Dad would slice us in two with a bread knife.

K said...

Yes, it is strange to hear CNN talk about people living among 'urine and feces' a fact of life for all of us. Urban poverty in America is really quite horrifying, even if a Manhattan panhandler possibly earns in rupee terms more than I do. The contrast is mind-boggling. While I never went to NOLA, I have been to distressed neighbourhoods in Atlanta and it is depressing. Sure, in India we have become 'acclimatised' so to speak to poverty, but it is all relative. After all, the US poverty line is still classified as a family earning less than $15,000 a year. Heck, I don't know too many people in my age group who earn above that mark in India, but you can't call them poor by any stretch.
Listen, like it or not - we're here and poor is different for us and for the Yankee.

Sinfully Pinstripe said...

Hey! don't exactly know what to say , and with my little literary abilities, will possibly not be able to put that across either... I know and totally understand where you are coming from, and am in no ways doubting the veracity of your words.

Just that, you know, some of the John Scalzi i.e. Being poor is knowing your kid goes to friends' houses but never has friends over to yours type of poverty exists here too, and of course it is not a hundredth as bad as what you talk about in your post, it is still not a pretty situation. And to be honest, being poor in the John Scalzi way in India is telling the kids stories of people living in the zigzackly way, such that they don't ask for a gift or something on their birthday.

That hurts too.

Senthil said...

Being rich is, how to portray a life which you have never lived.

Being rich is, how to win the emotional points which you have never scored.

Being rich is, just kiss my ass i will tell you what is to be poor.

Ohh i hate these kind of people who wants us to know whats to be poor.

Have they lived the poor life??
Do they know whats to be poor??

Somebody tells his views from what he may have seen (some john scalzi). Then this guy comes along and says see we have better poors than you have. (you know its the same thing as a good thief, a good thief may be the one like robin hood or may be he is good in thieving)

So what i say is, lets take these views with a pinch of salt and lets decide what WE want to do with the life that we have earned.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the poverty dick-sizing is irritating. "The poverty outside my window is worse than your poverty outside your window!" Using other people's misery to prove yourself the wiser poverty-grokker--the more world-weary sage--it's a bit disgusting, actually.

But if we ignore that aspect of it for a second, I don't think it's a waste of time to try to make richer people open their (our) eyes and understand what poorer people's lives are like.

In the US especially, many richer people genuinely have *no* idea that even the relative poverty exists.

They say "why didn't those people in New Orleans just hop in their cars and go stay at a hotel?" and they REFUSE to believe that this is not possible for some people.

So it's worthwhile to try to get those people to stop and think a moment--to try to get them to see beyond their own reality.

And any richer person who has already decided that the system is f#$&*ed up and needs to change--probably Zigzackly, and definitely me--reached that perspective over many years, in part via reading stuff like this and having their world shaken up a bit by things they'd never imagined.

In fact, I'm guessing that in the derisive tone of this commentary, Zig is basically expressing disgust and shame over the ignorance of his/her former self. Which isn't out of place.

I might suggest that Zig will get farther, in his/her apparent goal of educating the rich about fighting poverty, if s/he is able to approach them with more compassion and less self-righteousness. I would also venture to guess that s/he will get farther in his/her fight against poverty when s/he no longer reeks of having "something to prove" about his/her commitment, dedication and understanding.

But Zig will probably figure that out in another ten years. :-) Good luck, Zig, in all you attempt. We're all on the same side, here.

!si se puede!


Anonymous said...

Being poor is working on the minimum wage maybe thrice a week.

Being poor is going to collect your wages and paying a cut to the contractor

Being poor is being part of the EGS that guarantees some food and some cash and finding out that hte grains have stones and the cash has gone.

I have posted some pics i had take over a period of time on this on my site. that is poverty.
mind you if we compared it to Sub Saharan Africa it is probably relative prosperity!
check this, i had written about this last year after a docu in marathwada

Anonymous said...

I'm an Indian American who found both of these blog posts from Amit Varma's IndiaUncut Blog, and I have to say that while you both have points, yours, here, is a bit out of line. You have a computer and a blog, so clearly you're not one of the poor developing world people you're "championing". And clearly, you are aware of the Katrina disaster. So I don't think you have to be Sherlock Holmes to understand the context of this post, and the point its making, and why. You write in the update: Your post didn't offer that context, and it was my first visit to your blog, so I'm sorry that I didn't get that.
Since you apologized I hate hitting you on the head with it, but it does seem rather insensitive to take this difficult time to wallop one American for trying to incite compassion for his fellow Americans.
Your inference that this is evidence that that all Americans don't understand what world poverty is point-scoring at best. You want to make a clever point for the sake of being clever, and that's a bit rich in this context.

If you have a computer and a blog you're definitely better off than a large chunk of the American poor. Do we ask you to reflexively acknowledge their plight on your blog? No. Scalzi, Nielsen Hayden, and Boing Boing are all American productions, and you can't blame them for focusing on American problems at a time like this.

I for one, am quite aware of World Poverty, having spend some time in rural Bengal and Kolkata itself, and also of American poverty. I've been blessed to always live on the better side of the poverty line, but I've intimately known plenty of people stuck on the other side, and I know that even they are much, much, much better off than the poor of the Mississippi delta, the inner cities, the Dakota reservations, the Blue grass mountains. You'd be surprised how much of your Indo-centric list applies there, especially in Rural America. There are plenty of people in America who live in shacks with no TV and no car and very little furniture, who cannot walk to shelter every night (try sleeping outside in the snow), who are condemned hourly, etc. Your post implies that you'd have little compassion for a fellow-Indian who does not satisfy the basic criteria of your blogpost but does satisfy the basic criteria of Scalzi's. Again, considering that you have a computer and time to blog, that seems pretty weak. I'm not remotely sure what your point is. Americans should not worry about their fellow Americans? Americans should not care about the poverty of their fellow Americans? Americans should not try to work on inequality in America? Please clarify. Your fans say, "Excellent retort," and "great retort." Um, why is a "retort" even necessary. What kind of person feels the need to "retort" to someone who is trying to fix his own country?

Your citation of 35 cents and $15,000 is a bit silly b/c you odn't take into account the price differences for domestic goods. Clearly the impoverished of America are better off than the impoverished of India in absolute terms, but you exaggerate those absolute proportions for the most extreme cases. As k says, "even if a Manhattan panhandler possibly earns in rupee terms more than I do." To spell their point out a little mor: in what way are rupee terms even remotely relevant to a Manhattan panhandler who has to buy bread at Manhattan prices?

Actually, as it happens a lot of Americans--including myself--spend a lot more money on fighting world poverty than American poverty. Forgive us if for a few weeks we'd like to pay attention to our own. We feel a bit guilty for having forgotten them for so long.

Anonymous said...

Being rich is being among the elite 15% of the world who are sitting in front of a internet-enabled computer and having a p*ssing contest about who is poorer, and what true poverty is.

phucker said...

To all the Anonymouses - amen - are you the same person? You've made the only good points here. This is the stupidest display of surfer-whoring I've ever seen.

Apparently, because the people in New Orleans aren't as miserable as those in India and Africa, we shouldn't help them, we should let them die and maybe even tell them that "hey, at least you're better off than a poor person in the third-world. So what if you've lost everything? Stupid Americans".

Note to the sarcasm-challenged: The above sentence in quotes is sarcasm.

Anonymous said...

The two blogs are reflection of what we see out of our windows. They are here to remind us that we need to act. Even if it is 35cents/35paise. Lets stop cribbing what they posted, and start working. Here is a link for Indians who wanna help.

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing the anonymice who dismiss this is a whose-is-bigger contest are from a country in the middle of a continent on the other side of the world from the blogger.

balusmbox made the most sense to me.

-anonymouse, because I don't want these rabid people harassing me.

Anonymous said...

This once again proves to me, that some Americans are only semiliterate (
I am Slovak, by the way). To me and anyone else who can read at an adult level the last item on John's list - "Being poor is people wondering why you didn't leave." - is the clearest reference to New Orleans possible.

Anonymous said...

I must say that this post was quite childish. You'd be suprised at how many American's DO know about poverty in other countries and DO try and help at times. Yes, our government fucks up alot in that respect but seriously, they spend more on foreign aid than any other country.

Now they finally want to start spending that on my OWN countrymen. Seems relatively reasonable.

You also conviently ignore economics in your "nah nah my poors better than your poor." In america, there really is no such thing as "cheap." not when you scale the worth of our money vs. that elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

We in the U.S. did have this kind of poverty in the Great Depression. People got used to the taste of roasted rats.

Also, there are still pockets of poor in rural areas that might live similarly to those in 3rd world countries. Try Appalachia.

I have been poor. $30 a month for food, thanks to the Reagan revolution. My college degree meant nothing when no jobs were out there. I was grateful for my little room.

I remember those days. I was poor. And it might happen again, with the continual elimination of protections against the middle class. Trust me, poor thinking doesn't leave you. I have literally gone months with no food, only water (which is at least drinkable, even though we no have a middle class income. My clothes are K-Mart $5 clearances, even though we can afford more. But I keep seeing that axe getting ready to fall. Only 1987 dollars were much more valuable than 2005 dollars. Being poor leaves those scars.

And those in those third world countries need to acknowledge that there are many, many poor and a few very, very rich.

Anonymous said...

what a load of crap - you've missed the bloody point and no wonder your country is in such a mess.

where's your bloody compassion for ALL who suffer? is it like food stamps - a limited supply? must people behave like performing seals to get your attention? will only the most pathos filled story win the kewpie doll in your jerry springer society?

that first "poverty" list struck me really deeply. it rang so true. the second list here is also really heartwrending to someone (me) who isn't poor on either of those scales. BOTH affect me. BOTH need to be redressed. BOTH are heartbreakingly real to those who articulated them.

you shallow, silly people. thank goodness the majority of people you fail in your community will not have the "luxury" of reading the crap you come out with. i cannot believe how annoyed i am - this is beyond the pale. no wonder you've ended up with the government you've got.

Anonymous said...

Writing a retort to the "being poor" list means not ever having been subject to either.

I'm one of the few people reading this who grew up on the first list. It comforted me to have the recognition of what it was like for me and my family. And franky, I find the sudden "sympathy" (which it took a goddamn hurricane to generate) for poor people patently offensive. Y'all shoulda had it from the beginning.

Anonymous said...

In response to one of the "anonymous's" above.

"Being poor is people wondering why you didn't leave." - is the clearest reference to New Orleans possible.

With all due respect, not really. Especially when you're located far removed from the happennings at New Orleans (read from the other side of the pond) and don't have the hurricane on your mind when you read it. Apart from that last line, there was no other reference to the hurricane, and it's easy to see how the original poster could have "missed the point". When I first read the original list, I took "leave" to mean "get off your ass and do something about your poverty"
and I live relatively closer New orleans than the original poster.

Anonymous said...

In a world with over 6 billion people there will always be many, many poor.
There will never be enough "rich" to go around.

The Wizard of Odd said...

I refuse to partake of this here. Im doing it on my own blog.

One word though [thanks to that killer named second thought]

All those suffering blog-rage: when both the authors concerned are reacting with grace, where you getting off?

1) This post was a reaction to the lack of context. It wasn't written to win the Booker.

2) Beelzebub is right: misery is misery.

Best. And sharpen all knives, those who bring them.

The W of O.

Anonymous said...

No blogger account, I'm afraid, but I have to say I agree with all those "our poor are better than your poor!" comments. A pissing contest over the poor? Please. Scalzi produced a well-written and thought-provoking piece that got a lot of people thinking. I understand some may find it infuriating when others express sympathy for those in dire straights, when they themselves are in/have been in a worse place; and I understand that even if you've not been there, you can still see that misery. But like someone has already said: misery is misery. Some people have it worse, yes, that's true, and it's horrible. It doesn't mean that those in the relative poverty of the first- or second-world areas are just pissing and moaning when they say "My son has had hunger pains for two days." Humiliation is humiliation, whether it's begging on the street, having to let a stranger into your bed or being looked down upon by the other parents. To say "well some have it worse" reeks of childishness.

Anonymous said...

I can't understand for the life of me why the "poor" people writing these lists seem to worry about material things so much. Tellys and cars? Who gives a rat's ass?
Why do we need a telly to run up the power bill if we ain't got money to pay it? Why do we need a car if we can't afford petrol, licences, etc.?

Starch and calorie-laden foods are the only things poor people can afford? What the hell? Every supermarket I've ever been in has PRODUCE that is cheaper than any processed foods I've ever seen for sale. I grew up in a single-parent home. No child support, momma on welfare WHILE she earned a degree. I was taught that designer names on my butt didn't mean a damned thing because it was ME who counted. Not what was in our apartment, what kind of car we had, how my hair was done, etc.

So what if a kid doesn't get anything for Christmas. Most of this country is "Christian" any way right? And if ya are, the holiday is supposed to be about the birth of Christ, not teaching children how to keep the capitalistic empire stoked!

Today I shop at the thrift because I love it. I get a rush when I find a good bargain. Let those who care to go to GAPPED and GOLD NAVY spend upward of $30 for a pair of jeans. I'll wait and get the same pair (they're wearing 'em faded and ragged looking any way!) for less than $5 at my local thrift.

A chicken in every pot huh? If we put good foods (bananas, 59 cents a pound; grapes, 99 cents a pound; 5-lb bag of carrots - $1.98, etc.) into our "poor" bodies, we wouldn't have to worry about being unhealthy and have our teeth falling out, etc.

Sometimes we in the "developed" nations just take too much for granted. We really need to stop complaining and use the brains God gave us! I'm not saying we all have access to good food and common sense, but if you're reading this it's likely you do. So Pass It On! You know, "Each one teach one." That sorta thing.

Of course this is all relative... to one's frame of mind, frame of reference, choice of attitude. This will pinch some of us right where it hurts. And those who are pinched will holler...

Anonymous said...

(this is the 1st "blog" I've ever written, it strangly ammusing to me that I've become so irritated that I've been inspired to do so)
My heart bleeds piss for all of your "save the world" bullshit. Being poor is not giving a damn about ANYTHING but the survivial of yourself and family! Being poor is snatching life by the throat as if your life depended on it, because it does! Being poor is looking at all anemities as resources for survival and using them. Your think people in Uganda give a damn if your defending them on the internet right now! Aside from the few possible exceptions, you are all digustingly weak individuals, and obviously have never lived in the conditions you debate over. Burn in hell.
Welfare child

Catherine at Frugal Homemaker Plus said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

You can get two pounds of apples for a dollar. Great. Or you can buy a case of Raman for a dollar- which is more food? Which will last longer? Which one can be watered down and stretched? Which one does not go bad?

Which is the better deal? Apples are much better for you, it's true, but honestly, I can see how people hanging on by a thread choose the raman.

Anonymous said...

When someone says, "poverty is..." it’s a global appeal. It is about defining poverty. Naturally people, who have seen much worse conditions, won't appreciate that. The comment from an Indian American bashing the Indian version of poverty is typical. Most of Indian Americans come here on their father's money, right after earning a basic degree. They are clueless about the reality in India. They want to believe that they are not considered as blacks. There is a constant struggle to fit in.

Futurist said...

Often my "cold comfort" thought is that there's people who wish they had my problems.
Even though life in western countries can be pretty soulless and denigrating (with seemingly everybody else being more fortunate), I'd probably seriously consider committing suicide if my living standards/treatment by others was worse.

Even though the people are just as bad in western societies there's no escaping the fact that there's more opportunity than for people in places you've never heard of. (for the record I'm in Australia)

DMF said...

You are so right. Relative poverty, so what? Screw them. Who cares if really poor Americans also deal with lice, the government taking away their children, insects in their food, rodents in their bed, ridicule, incredible riches all around you, being rejected by everyone around you for being only 2% of the population (poor white children in the U.S. under the poverty line for greater than 15 years of childhood), etc. Maybe you are lucky to have TV as entertainment, maybe not (most pawned item at our house). But what human actually thinks constant Paris Hilton programming makes a U.S. poor child feel better? My brother killed himself. Why didn't you? You must have had something to live for. We are thankful we don't live in a Third World country, but then again, none of the poverty would have been so bad if we hadn't been living among walking gold mines.

Anonymous said...

So, what's your point? I ask the question sincerely, and not in the dismissive sense. On reading the list, it was obvious to me that he was talking about the sort of poverty you find in the U.S., not the sort you find in Uganda. So by bringing up the latter sort, what is it you intend to accomplish?

I would like to think that your goal isn't to dismiss the problems of relative poverty, but I think a lot of the people who read your counterpoint are going to take away the message that poverty in America doesn't really exist, and that the poor should just realize how good they have it and stop complaining. I doubt that was your intention (though if it was, using the very poor as a weapon against the moderately poor isn't exactly sporting).

I believe the two problems (relative poverty in industrialized nations and absolute poverty abroad) are very closely linked. Though you can get more bang for the buck fighting absolute poverty, the impetus to fight both stems from the same source: empathy for the suffering and the shattered dreams of a fellow human being. Those who cannot be moved by the sight of people struggling in their own neighborhoods aren't likely to be stirred to action by the plight of people on another continent. But if we develop a society committed to eradicating poverty at home, such a society won't be able to turn a blind eye to even more desperate conditions abroad.

I also believe that apathy towards the relatively poor and the absolutely poor stem from the same sort of rationalizations: somehow they are simply harvesting the fruit of their own laziness or their own moral failings. They believe that the poor in America are that way because they're lazy, or because they spend all their money on drugs and alcohol. They claim that the poor in Rwanda are simply too cowardly or shortsighted to cast aside a corrupt government.

Fighting one unfair stereotype can open peoples' minds to the baselessness of other stereotypes. What if that Wal-Mart bagger really is working every bit as hard as his manager, or the CEO of the company? Is it fair that a society that rewards the CEO's efforts with untold luxury doesn't even give the bagger basic health insurance? Once you ask that question, it's hard not to start questioning other assumptions, the ones that allow us to believe that poor people everywhere just need to think positive or start taking advantage of the opportunities around them.

I don't think that sympathy is a zero-sum game; rather, I believe that by spotlighting the very real struggle of the poor in America, Scalzi is also preparing people to be more receptive to the struggles that your own list hightlights.

Anonymous said...

Look at it from the perspective of a child. Most of the initial piece came from that point of view. Adults have choices; children have only what is provided for them, and they find that their options are limited by lack and other people's perceptions of that lack. No concentration, because they've had no breakfast. No place to study. No one to help them with their homework, and no time because they have chores.

Clearly Katrina has raised consciousness for many about poverty in the US, which is an opportunity to understand global interconnections of power and privelege and to foment change on a broader scale. This among many recent events has also pushed the painful guilt-button for people who thought they were living in a color-blind, egalitarian land of opportunity. I thought your post was bafflingly insensitive, really, for reasons that resonate with the more excoriating critiques you received, but you've done a wonderful job of provoking a conversation from which everyone seems to have learned something.

kooolaidred said...

"I can't understand for the life of me why the "poor" people writing these lists seem to worry about material things so much. Tellys and cars? Who gives a rat's ass?
Why do we need a telly to run up the power bill if we ain't got money to pay it? Why do we need a car if we can't afford petrol, licences, etc.?"

Because when you live in a rural county with no public transportation, having a car is crucial to being able to get to work and sometimes employers don't even want you if you can't show you have reliable transportation.

Unknown said...

The difference is that kids in the 3rd world countries have it worse. Americans suffer too but kids in 3rd world countries have it worse. Most 3rd world countries uses kids and adults as slave labour, child labour. And kids as young as 4 work in factories. And said factories are polluted (may lead to respiratory problems) and not safe (Wal-Mart has fa tories that have caught on fire due to negligence) and that accidents occur too often to children and adults with mishandled machinery and not being taught how to use machines. America has laws to protect them from this the kids in the 3rd countries don't. Also many don't have limits on how many hours you work on minimum wage. Kids could be working for 14 hours making like a penny an hour but in america kids are protected from this. Granted it isn't a who is suffering more contest but I get why this article has been posting and I commend the author and John Scalzi , because both posts are both thought provoking and maturely written.