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The Cruel Hoax Of Individualism: Sustaining Poverty at All Costs

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For some people freedom means one living without unwanted consequences. For others it means being anywhere but here. But freedom is not a condition we may acquire by making the right choices.

I was taught in school that our great heroes and great leaders rose above lesser men all by themselves, with pluck and luck and hard work, and perhaps a little help from a woman they were wise enough to choose for a help-meet. The girls sat in the same classroom, except they had "home economics" while the boys had "shop" and got to handle much larger, sharper objects. The girls were taught -- or so the boys were taught they were taught -- that behind every Great Man, there would be a Great Woman. She would obey him, unlike his Mom, but still make him eat right and remind him change his underwear in case he was in an accident. I thought that was funny, but I notice underwear is made with the logo outside, and the stitching inside.

In our culture we are placed above some, and inferior to others, according to "net worth." Movement in this pyramid scheme involves the old patterns of patronage, cronyism and nepotism. We explain it to ourselves, however, as character, behavior and/or genetics. The more we think "all persons are created equal," the harsher our judgment on those on the next rung. This lets us off the hook for stepping on other people and kowtowing to higher-ups, fully alert for a chance to step on them.

Cynical? Maybe. However, looking from there, a ten-year government study reported a statistical link between marriage and poverty. The experimenters provided "relationship training" for people living at a certain measured level of impoverishment, to see whether their economic condition improved. After a decade and a billion dollars, the results showed that relationship training did not change anything much, except where it clearly made things worse.

Apparently that study swept through the political landscape like a swarm of locusts. Looking for the original study, I found page after sanctimonious page on the beneficial or detrimental impact of marriage on poverty, or poverty on marriage, depending on which baseless inference a given think-tank promotes. Most use this in comparisons between people of color and presumably colorless people, spelling out their favored policy implications for the demographics they seem to fear.

For some examples (warning: the following paragraph contains disturbing thoughts cut-and-pasted directly from prominent Internet websites). The Heritage Foundation put it on a war footing, in a bold headline: "Marriage: America's Greatest Weapon Against Child Poverty." The American Prospect responded primly: "Blaming declining marriage for rising poverty is backwards in many ways." The Brookings Institution claimed a breakthrough: "Work and Marriage: The Way to End Poverty and Welfare," and just to pound it in all the way, the tag-line: "Poor Work and Marry Less than the Nonpoor." (I guess that would be the "working nonpoor"? They don't discuss the marriage and work customs of the "nonworking nonpoor," but we see that anyway on the front pages of the tabloids in the checkout line.) Focus On The Family dredges up the old Moynihan Report, quoting: "[at] the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of society is the deterioration of the Negro family." But that's apparently not cracker enough for them: they go on to discuss "the decline of shotgun weddings" as a major cause of rising poverty in America. I didn't look up the NRA, but just for variety, there's a very scholarly Chinese site that says scientists need to "gently guide the public" to drop the obsolete institution of marriage altogether. That could be a false-flag operation, given the current admin's saber-rattling against the country that makes all the spare parts for our weapons-systems. But it doesn't seem unreasonable when juxtaposed with that bit about "shotgun weddings." As we might expect, Psychology Today phrases the issue as a question: "Is Marriage the Cure for Poverty? Or is poverty the enemy of marriage?" Well it's got to be one or the other, right? The hour is up, see you next week.

Stuff and nonsense. That's why I put it all in one paragraph.

This false dichotomy dances around an equally spurious but sacrosanct foundation-stone of the American worldview, sometimes referred to as "American Exceptionalism," or less formally, "Individualism." You're on your own, and bad consequences come from character flaws, maybe bad DNA. Several of these websites list "The Three Steps To Success," which are finishing high school, getting a job, and getting married. They provide helpful charts and tables showing just how statistically effective this is certain to be for one of two sexes and one of two skin colors. And showing how this means it's nobody's fault but your own if you're poor. It's a worldview, because everybody sees the world from it, in America, wherever they land on the social ladder. It's the foundation of public policy.

It is already shatteringly obvious to anyone that poverty, regardless of DNA, rips people and relationships to shreds and makes life a desperate struggle: that's what poverty is.

Except it isn't quite as obvious when you need to justify a flamboyantly luxurious lifestyle ("Freedom"), in the face of widespread hunger and starvation just a short bus-ride from your gated McMansion to where the hired help lives. Denial is the mental derangement such a lifestyle requires. The agenda behind all these contorted explanations of gross disparity is deeper still. It's buried in our culture. This is why highly educated social scientists don't notice what's right under their noses. Why do they keep studying the systematically downtrodden to figure out why they are so defeated?

It is simply this: at all costs, we must keep poverty in place.

We can never share even part of our abundant wealth freely with everybody. Because, well, you know, must I spell it out? Without keeping poverty in place, people would never do any work, they would become lazy and shiftless, they need rewards and punishments, they need Structure, they need to be Incentivized. Freedom isn't free. It has to be earned.

Dog-whistle. To decode it, we only need substitute "Slavery" for "Poverty" to reveal the stark truth propping up this commonly-held set of delusions. Today the "jobs" not being done by robots are being done by incarcerated people, the under-employed (read: underpaid) and undocumented refugees.

Poverty is very good for business.

Without keeping poverty in place, private prison profits would collapse, along with the bloated policing system and the "volunteer" military. The "informal" labor force (which feeds the rest of us our veggies), along with the taxpaying, rent-paying, debt-paying "employed" workers would have to be paid a living wage. And everyone would demand universal healthcare. And a lot of real estate would sit tall and useless and abandoned. At least until we converted it to sustainable housing. Without keeping poverty in place, there would be no more cannon-fodder for the perpetual wars to plunder "our vital resources" in the name of "Freedom."

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I'm an old Pogo fan. For some unknown reason I persist in outrage at Feudalism, as if human beings can do much better than this. Our old ways of life are obsolete and are killing us. Will the human race wake up in time? Stay (more...)

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