Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty

Poverty is a disgrace, a disease and a disaster.

Poverty is a disgrace because we, the human race, have proven millions of times over that nobody needs to be poor. The basic amenities needed to sustain each and every human being on this planet are readily available and cheap. Distributing material wealth to those who need it wouldn't be more of a logistical challenge than, oh, your average war.

Poverty is a disease because all of society suffers. It's not just that poor people lose their sense of dignity and are derided and shamed for their lack of money (when it's the laughers themselves who ought to be ridiculed: what possible worth can you assign to a person based on the size on their bank account?). The problem is also that poor people, when backed into a corner, will turn to crime. The correlation between low income and crime is well-established, and is not limited to property crimes. Treat poor people with disrespect, as we all do, and they disrespect us in return.

Poverty is a disaster because poor people are of course no different from rich people, but society affords them little opportunities to develop themselves. Stop wondering if this millennium's Einstein may have been born, lived and died without revolutionizing the world, simply because she did not get the right chances. Instead, realize that massive throngs of Einsteins, Picassos, Shakespeares and Kubricks have already been lost to us. It's poverty that has deprived, and is still depriving, the world of its greatest achievements. What we as a global civilization have accomplished so far is insignificant compared to the humongous progress we could have made --if the world would know no poverty.

The reason that astronomical numbers of people are still poor today is because of the free market economy, which, despite all its achievements, promotes inequality and consumerism. On the one hand, people become poor by putting themselves into insurmountable debt, tempted by consumer goods. They stay poor for the same reason, sometimes even going without food if it means they can keep their TV. On the other hand, affluent people spend precious Euros buying things like bottled water or ringtones, money that could be better spent fighting poverty. Poverty is endemic to the system, which means that the system, at some level, is fucked up and in need of change.

In short:

  • Whether you're poor or rich, don't give in to consumerism. Realize that a thing's value is not the same as its price, and avoid buying on credit.
  • Respect poor people. Resist all attempts by society to make you judge people by their wealth, and to segregate the affluent from the destitute.
  • Support politicians, charities and corporations that offer structural help to combat poverty. Be wary of those who mix their good intentions with ideological propaganda.

Posted by zeptimius at 03:47 PM, October 15, 2008