Many years ago, my dear friend Sharon Levinson pointed out to me a phenomenon she had observed and thought about a long time.
“How does it come,” she asked one day, “that we blame the poor for their situation? As if it were not enough living in such conditions, they furthermore have to endure our anger. Instead of helping them, we want them out of sight. We want them deported.” And acutely she termed this attitude “the beggar’s removal”.
Indeed. How does it come that we not only don’t act in solidarity with the people who suffer but want them to be removed from our ways of life? Why do we not act? Why do we not feel compassion, but anger, hate, indifference when we see them sitting there begging? Why do we hate the poor?
And it is not only with the poor, the beggars, the bummers and dossers. It’s with the disabled, with battered women, with foreign nationals, with shabby drug-addicts, with everyone and everything helpless and needy. We want them out of sight. And if they are in our sight, we don’t want to be bothered. And if we are bothered, we return small lips, rudeness, and walk away. We might feel a little bit ashamed, but then the accusations and the aggression start. Not only is it their fault to be in the situation they are, but what am I supposed to do anyway? Is anybody looking for me?
I suppose this phenomenon is widespread in affluent societies. With affluence comes contempt. I guess in 2nd- and 3rd-world countries, the poor may be marginalized too, but at least they are not condemned for being poor. But the more affluent a society becomes, the more rigid its emphasis on so-called ‘fair play’ and its repulsion of ‘free rides’. The more we have, the less we give.
I see this in varying situations: It’s the low-income-earner who tips more (and on a more constant level) than the high-earner. It’s the average person, especially old women, who give a nickel to the beggar. It’s people whose religion urges them to help. It’s never the well-dressed high-achiever who throws a dime. It’s never the geek and nerd, the young and the happy. At best it’s those who already know some pain to empathize with them. But ‘thems’ still they be.
Deeper down, there is another level: We accuse the poor of making our lives miserable. As if it were us who are suffering more than those sitting there, a life shattered. We do hate them, because they make us feel bad. Because they force us to look at them. Because they don’t go away. And that’s why we look aside. To make them invisible. We make them such not only to be don’t-cares, but to re-arrange our world in which we live more or less in control and without distraction. It’s a control thing. The poor show us that we only survive by luck, fear, anger, and aggression. These are the ways Commander Power-Ego tries to hold the world in balance. By excluding everything that is not controlled by him. What, on the other side, makes us miserable and lonely. For which, ironically, we might blame the poor too.
So not only do we not act in compassion to someone else, not only do we actively blame hin for his situation, for forcing us to see his live as a possible outcome of ours. Additionally, we hate that he makes us feel bad. We want this feeling to go away, and the easiest way to accomplish this is to have the beggar go away. If there were no beggar at all. That’s why we make him invisible or deport him in reality from one zone to another. Why we refuse to help anybody. Because nobody helps us.
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