Reverse Robin Hood – Rob the Poor and Give to the Rich

A couple of months ago I posted this quote from John Berger –

The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other.  It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich.  Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied…but written off as trash.  The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing.  

I was very taken with it.  In particular, I was taken with the idea of, ‘the modern poor’, being, ‘written off as trash.’

Is that true?

Do we blame people for being poor as though it is always an action they have taken or a choice they have made?

I suspect we do.

But I don’t know why.

Any ideas?

________________________________________________________________

Photograph – Children in a company housing settlement, Puerto Rico, Photographer, Jack Delano.  December, 1941.

Repository: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA,hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print

Part Of: Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Collection 11671-25 (DLC) 93845501

General information about the FSA/OWI Color Photographs is available at hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.fsac

Persistent URL: hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsac.1a34030

Call Number: LC-USF35-437

30 Comments

  1. The reasons are as complex as the reasons why some people don’t think others deserve subsidized healthcare. A little compassion would go a long way… 🙁

  2. Many people respond to beggars negatively, often saying something like “get a job.” Even if we can’t offer any money, a smile is free. And none of us are going to die of thirst if we hand over that fresh coffee we just bought for ourselves.
    Peace & grace,
    ~Miro

  3. Many people respond to beggars negatively, often saying something like “get a job.” Even if we can’t offer any money, a smile is free. And none of us are going to die of thirst if we hand over that fresh coffee we just bought for ourselves.
    Peace & grace,
    ~Miro

  4. Not sure but part of the darkside of a meritocracy or a democracy, perhaps, is that these ideologies tend to focus on narratives supporting personal freedoms. The aim of these philosophies is to increase hope in the idea we can make our lives what we want them to be. Democracy is a liberation! I love it. However, while selling the idea of choice many come to believe that all our good fortune in life is a product of our own decisions. And we should be “rewarded” for our good decisions. We come to look down on others who “don’t make good choices” . To me that phrase is loaded with judgement; when people take a moral high ground against the vulnerable we have a problem. I think people who beieve strongly in choice want to put up barriers to those who remind them choice is in fact a privilege. Most of the world has very little of it.

    Perhaps too when one cuture looks upon another and the one culture looks so far gone, perhaps it inspires in the culture with means and hope a feeling of despair that nothing can be done short of wiping out the culture and starting over. Maybe all our privilege makes it difficult to look upon those with so much less and imagine how their lives could be improved, not in the way we would improve them, but in the way they would choose to improve them. Our own lens of privilege builds into our view of others with so much less than ourselves a kind of fatalism. Of course this is all off the top of my head and I haven’t even had coffee yet but I’m just noting what I’ve observed in my own life. For instance, when the folks I work with, medical people dealing with mental health concerns (a subjective treatment), feel that there is nothing to be done for a patient I notice how frustrating this is for them, particularly if they feel the patient is patently incapable of complying with their treatment suggestions. The despair this inspires in the provider that there is little they can do, as they do not have total control over the patient, often turns to contempt and even a little hatred. The providers get angry because they think the solution is straight-forward to some degree, they don’t understand their solution is quite complex and perhaps doesn’t match the preexisting operating system inside the patient. They see the patient as coming to them for help but refusing their help. Soon these patients become in the providers mind a kind of “trash”, a reminder of the provider’s own powerlessness, a reminder that he doesn’t have as much control as he once believed.

    1. I think you are right about a belief that the idea of ‘choice’ must be supported and also about the mistaken belief that the same choices are available to everyone. I also agree with your point about the ‘trashing’ of people who make us feel bad about ourselves – maybe it’d be a pretty good rule of thumb when we feel angry with/contemptuous of/dismissive of others we might have a look and see what exactly it’s evoking in us? Thanks.

  5. Not sure but part of the darkside of a meritocracy or a democracy, perhaps, is that these ideologies tend to focus on narratives supporting personal freedoms. The aim of these philosophies is to increase hope in the idea we can make our lives what we want them to be. Democracy is a liberation! I love it. However, while selling the idea of choice many come to believe that all our good fortune in life is a product of our own decisions. And we should be “rewarded” for our good decisions. We come to look down on others who “don’t make good choices” . To me that phrase is loaded with judgement; when people take a moral high ground against the vulnerable we have a problem. I think people who beieve strongly in choice want to put up barriers to those who remind them choice is in fact a privilege. Most of the world has very little of it.

    Perhaps too when one cuture looks upon another and the one culture looks so far gone, perhaps it inspires in the culture with means and hope a feeling of despair that nothing can be done short of wiping out the culture and starting over. Maybe all our privilege makes it difficult to look upon those with so much less and imagine how their lives could be improved, not in the way we would improve them, but in the way they would choose to improve them. Our own lens of privilege builds into our view of others with so much less than ourselves a kind of fatalism. Of course this is all off the top of my head and I haven’t even had coffee yet but I’m just noting what I’ve observed in my own life. For instance, when the folks I work with, medical people dealing with mental health concerns (a subjective treatment), feel that there is nothing to be done for a patient I notice how frustrating this is for them, particularly if they feel the patient is patently incapable of complying with their treatment suggestions. The despair this inspires in the provider that there is little they can do, as they do not have total control over the patient, often turns to contempt and even a little hatred. The providers get angry because they think the solution is straight-forward to some degree, they don’t understand their solution is quite complex and perhaps doesn’t match the preexisting operating system inside the patient. They see the patient as coming to them for help but refusing their help. Soon these patients become in the providers mind a kind of “trash”, a reminder of the provider’s own powerlessness, a reminder that he doesn’t have as much control as he once believed.

    1. I think you are right about a belief that the idea of ‘choice’ must be supported and also about the mistaken belief that the same choices are available to everyone. I also agree with your point about the ‘trashing’ of people who make us feel bad about ourselves – maybe it’d be a pretty good rule of thumb when we feel angry with/contemptuous of/dismissive of others we might have a look and see what exactly it’s evoking in us? Thanks.

  6. We see the world behind our eyes and think, “If we can do it . . . why haven’t they?”

    Of course, “they” haven’t had the same experiences, opportunity, training, etc., as “us” . . . so those types of comparisons involve non-productive thinking.

  7. I disagree with his idea that ‘the poor’ are written off only in modern times but perhaps he means in the culture he lives in? I also disagree that being poor and being a beggar are the same thing. These days big business trawls the world for cheap labour and use ‘the poor’ as a valuable resource. The extremes of wealth and poverty will only be addressed when, as a whole, we realise that we are one family. How can we be satisfied when so much of our family is still struggling for the basics – it’s heartbreaking.

    1. He’s English so I don’t know about the cultural thing but I am sort of afraid that he might be right about the changing attitude to the poor. I think he might mean that in the past there was a ‘there but for the grace of God’ attitude to the people who were poor and now we’re more inclined to see them as being to blame for their own poverty. I do agree though that he is mixing up being poor and being a beggar – I even hate the practice of calling people ‘the poor’ as if that totally defines people who live in poverty. It’s as if they are ‘poor’ and that’s all – no life, no love, no dreams, no thoughts, no imagination, no jokes or hopes or ideas. And I couldn’t agree more about the solution being in how we see others – no strangers – thanks, Ann.

  8. I disagree with his idea that ‘the poor’ are written off only in modern times but perhaps he means in the culture he lives in? I also disagree that being poor and being a beggar are the same thing. These days big business trawls the world for cheap labour and use ‘the poor’ as a valuable resource. The extremes of wealth and poverty will only be addressed when, as a whole, we realise that we are one family. How can we be satisfied when so much of our family is still struggling for the basics – it’s heartbreaking.

    1. He’s English so I don’t know about the cultural thing but I am sort of afraid that he might be right about the changing attitude to the poor. I think he might mean that in the past there was a ‘there but for the grace of God’ attitude to the people who were poor and now we’re more inclined to see them as being to blame for their own poverty. I do agree though that he is mixing up being poor and being a beggar – I even hate the practice of calling people ‘the poor’ as if that totally defines people who live in poverty. It’s as if they are ‘poor’ and that’s all – no life, no love, no dreams, no thoughts, no imagination, no jokes or hopes or ideas. And I couldn’t agree more about the solution being in how we see others – no strangers – thanks, Ann.

  9. I’m not sure about US or actually any security sythem outside of Germany, so all of my assumptions are based solely on the German social security systhem.

    Here you receive a full unemployment pention for 1 year and then a radically reduced pention (just bare minimum – 380 € / month / p.P. BUT on top benefits are covered such as rent, medical costs, necessary items such as TV, PC, Washer & Dryer are covered appart from the 380€). The general idea of this was to support unemployed while being out of work. Unfortunately today many have taken to seeing this as their job and maybe earning a bit (black thus untaxed and illegal on the side). Obviously this makes the working population angry (because it’s payed for by tax payers dime). Not just because of the funds, but also b/c the governmental agencies have lots of free programs available to get people back into the workforce (classes and even financial help for start-ups) and also b/c childcare is provided free for people below a certain income rate (on top of 3 year full payed “parenttime” by the former employer and a guaranteed job upon return and about € 125 /per Child / per month payed for by the Government).

    What I mean is that the general public has the feeling that people who chose to live in poverty in our social security systhem do this out of lazyness and a lack of respect for the working public paying their rent.

    I’m not 100% sure what my opinion is, as I see and understand both sides of the argument. I think the main issue is those people that purposely take advantage of the systhem.

    Also I understand that our social security systhem is somewhat rare compared to other countries, thus can’t be transplanted into poverty in other countries (especially the US).

    1. I live in Ireland and we have the same issues with social welfare – and it’s true that people do take advantage and that the system seems to punish people who work hard and also those who need social welfare to help them through difficult times (after all we all also pay social insurance which is intended to cover these eventualities). It’s also true that there are people who milk the system but I think you are right – the vast majority of the world doesn’t have these types of systems. Many people live in countries where if you are out of work you starve unless you have family who can help. In fact this is true of the vast majority of the world. But maybe the really bad – really difficult thing (for me anyway) is the judgement. The ‘them’ and ‘us’. The insistence that there is a neat formula that exists and can be followed and if we follow it we succeed and if we don’t – well, we lose. I sort of wish it was true – it just isn’t though. Thanks, K.

  10. I’m not sure about US or actually any security sythem outside of Germany, so all of my assumptions are based solely on the German social security systhem.

    Here you receive a full unemployment pention for 1 year and then a radically reduced pention (just bare minimum – 380 € / month / p.P. BUT on top benefits are covered such as rent, medical costs, necessary items such as TV, PC, Washer & Dryer are covered appart from the 380€). The general idea of this was to support unemployed while being out of work. Unfortunately today many have taken to seeing this as their job and maybe earning a bit (black thus untaxed and illegal on the side). Obviously this makes the working population angry (because it’s payed for by tax payers dime). Not just because of the funds, but also b/c the governmental agencies have lots of free programs available to get people back into the workforce (classes and even financial help for start-ups) and also b/c childcare is provided free for people below a certain income rate (on top of 3 year full payed “parenttime” by the former employer and a guaranteed job upon return and about € 125 /per Child / per month payed for by the Government).

    What I mean is that the general public has the feeling that people who chose to live in poverty in our social security systhem do this out of lazyness and a lack of respect for the working public paying their rent.

    I’m not 100% sure what my opinion is, as I see and understand both sides of the argument. I think the main issue is those people that purposely take advantage of the systhem.

    Also I understand that our social security systhem is somewhat rare compared to other countries, thus can’t be transplanted into poverty in other countries (especially the US).

    1. I live in Ireland and we have the same issues with social welfare – and it’s true that people do take advantage and that the system seems to punish people who work hard and also those who need social welfare to help them through difficult times (after all we all also pay social insurance which is intended to cover these eventualities). It’s also true that there are people who milk the system but I think you are right – the vast majority of the world doesn’t have these types of systems. Many people live in countries where if you are out of work you starve unless you have family who can help. In fact this is true of the vast majority of the world. But maybe the really bad – really difficult thing (for me anyway) is the judgement. The ‘them’ and ‘us’. The insistence that there is a neat formula that exists and can be followed and if we follow it we succeed and if we don’t – well, we lose. I sort of wish it was true – it just isn’t though. Thanks, K.

  11. The 1% and the 99%? One percent of the people in the U.S. owning almost fifty percent of the total wealth? And some political candidates want to accuse the President of the United States of initiating class warfare? People making over 50 million per annum paying an effective tax rate of 13%, when folks making 50 or 60 thousand per annum pay about twice that rate. Come on, already!

    1. The statistics for the world are the same – if not worse. Even in the current worldwide recession the fact is that there is the same amount of money in the world – it has just concentrated even more in small pools. It is very unjust. And then there are all the children who are starving to death and dying of treatable diseases because of war and politics (including ours) and all other sorts of vested interest. Thanks.

  12. The 1% and the 99%? One percent of the people in the U.S. owning almost fifty percent of the total wealth? And some political candidates want to accuse the President of the United States of initiating class warfare? People making over 50 million per annum paying an effective tax rate of 13%, when folks making 50 or 60 thousand per annum pay about twice that rate. Come on, already!

    1. The statistics for the world are the same – if not worse. Even in the current worldwide recession the fact is that there is the same amount of money in the world – it has just concentrated even more in small pools. It is very unjust. And then there are all the children who are starving to death and dying of treatable diseases because of war and politics (including ours) and all other sorts of vested interest. Thanks.

  13. (…partially in concert with Patrice’s and the other above replies)

    As long as the belief that the system of ‘bringing out the trash’ works, we perpetuate it. We extend it. When we start being honest with our limitations as fake, obtuse, and constructed by man.. then we realize that the limitations don’t really exist.
    I was a poor child, if only because all the cultural intelligence of how to grow my own food, clothe myself, and maintain an internal moral compass was stripped from my existence. The cultural heritage that allowed me to feed myself was washed away with modern media and pride. And the tools that are available to help the village of people grown their own food… is mired in regulation over patented seeds and water rights of the corporation that “owns” the watering hole, – the ability of the powerful to maintain power, and their “right” to that power. disgusts me.

    I’m starting to wondering if just shedding light on the idiocy of human power structures isn’t just the thing we need. The problem is, people aren’t ready to listen.

    We are too busy waiting for permission (pay raises and titles) from those in power, to choose between iPad and Android, rather than choices about living lives – free and loving. Our choices, are between McDonald’s for dinner, or a more expensive organic apple… Or otherwise work in the system and exchange your life energy for dirty money and be part of the machine that perpetuates the madness? is madness.

  14. (…partially in concert with Patrice’s and the other above replies)

    As long as the belief that the system of ‘bringing out the trash’ works, we perpetuate it. We extend it. When we start being honest with our limitations as fake, obtuse, and constructed by man.. then we realize that the limitations don’t really exist.
    I was a poor child, if only because all the cultural intelligence of how to grow my own food, clothe myself, and maintain an internal moral compass was stripped from my existence. The cultural heritage that allowed me to feed myself was washed away with modern media and pride. And the tools that are available to help the village of people grown their own food… is mired in regulation over patented seeds and water rights of the corporation that “owns” the watering hole, – the ability of the powerful to maintain power, and their “right” to that power. disgusts me.

    I’m starting to wondering if just shedding light on the idiocy of human power structures isn’t just the thing we need. The problem is, people aren’t ready to listen.

    We are too busy waiting for permission (pay raises and titles) from those in power, to choose between iPad and Android, rather than choices about living lives – free and loving. Our choices, are between McDonald’s for dinner, or a more expensive organic apple… Or otherwise work in the system and exchange your life energy for dirty money and be part of the machine that perpetuates the madness? is madness.

  15. I agree – we accept the way we find things and are told that the problem is within us if we don’t agree with/like the way things are. We are told to change ourselves and accept it. We are told that that is the grown up thing to do – that that is facing reality. But most of what we consider reality is constructed by us and changeable – also by us. We instinctively know the qualities that are admirable in ourselves and others – kindness and honour and honesty and courage and love and sacrifice etc – and yet we consider it naive to try and develop these qualities. Somehow putting a value on these things makes us foolish – and none of us want to look foolish.

    It’s easy to be cynical and point out and even elevate the dysfunction – all you have to do is look around – it takes no imagination at all. Seeing the potential – even though it isn’t manifested – takes creativity and imagination. I don’t know, Erik – maybe people don’t listen because they feel foolish and unsophisticated if they don’t just accept the reality around them? Thanks.

  16. I agree – we accept the way we find things and are told that the problem is within us if we don’t agree with/like the way things are. We are told to change ourselves and accept it. We are told that that is the grown up thing to do – that that is facing reality. But most of what we consider reality is constructed by us and changeable – also by us. We instinctively know the qualities that are admirable in ourselves and others – kindness and honour and honesty and courage and love and sacrifice etc – and yet we consider it naive to try and develop these qualities. Somehow putting a value on these things makes us foolish – and none of us want to look foolish.

    It’s easy to be cynical and point out and even elevate the dysfunction – all you have to do is look around – it takes no imagination at all. Seeing the potential – even though it isn’t manifested – takes creativity and imagination. I don’t know, Erik – maybe people don’t listen because they feel foolish and unsophisticated if they don’t just accept the reality around them? Thanks.

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