Friday, October 22, 2010

I've been trying to figure out why this 'culture of poverty' stuff bothers me. Some have written beautifully on environmental factors, and some have spoken on the effects of growing up poor.

I guess one thing that bothers me is that it's not just the language of Rohan and the language of Mordor, and those who can speak both are able to move fluidly- it's the idea that the language of Rohan is somehow the language everyone should speak, forever more, and that the language of Mordor has no grace or poetry to it. I don't agree with that- the ways people live are always both beautiful and terrible, because humans are like that. By focusing on what we think is 'terrible', even if we ourselves are doing the same 'terrible' things, we miss the whole rest of people's lives.


I was reading slackitivst and people were talking about the parable of the prodigal son. And I think some of the people talking about the culture of poverty are like the older brother. Instead of rejoicing that the poor can at least have something in their bellies, even if we don't like what they eat, or can enjoy some of the good of society, even if we think that their choices are wrongity wrong wrong, we sit in resentment. If only we could change their dysfunctional culture! If only they'd see the light! But..even if we think they should live like this or that, maybe we can let go of the feeling that because someone is poor, we should be able to control their lives.

Because, at base, this is what our whole culture of poverty ideology is about. It's not about discussing people's experiences equally- it's about saying that if only poor folks had made the same choices as us, or choices we think everyone should make, they wouldn't be poor. That's why I don't like it. The idea that people who are richer are somehow better than the poor. That there's one right path to get through life, and if you deviate, you're wrong, even if you're adjusting to the circumstances of your life.

And I don't want to have that power. I don't want to be in people's bedrooms, questioning if they are having sex the 'right' way, with the 'right' person. I don't want to be at people's doctor's appointments, trying to make them not have children they want. I don't want to be in people's mailboxes, and bank accounts, trying to make them spend their money the right way.

To say that I know how you should live your life...that's arrogant. I know I'm arrogant, but to give yourself that much power, you're giving yourself an equal amount of responsibility. The world is not under our control. To say that you know the right way for millions of people! Feel the hubris of that!

To say you know when they should have kids, what they should eat, what they should spend their money on, what they should value... It makes me dizzy to think of it. Maybe we should try to be more humble. Instead of approaching people with "You should...", maybe we should try to listen to others sometimes.

1 comment:

armillaria said...

Hey, I thought this was really spot-on... is it cool that I referenced it on my blog? Hope you write more soon. :)