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View Diary: "Americans React to the Poor with Disgust" (139 comments)

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  •  I think we have to understand... (6+ / 0-)

    ...where a lot of this stuff is coming from.

    Let's say you're part of the vanishing American middle class. You're vaguely discontented with your life, you work 45 to 50 hours a week but never quite seem to get ahead of the bills, you don't get to take vacations, your weekends are full of the stuff you're too tired to accomplish in the evenings and don't really have much in the way of recreation.

    And then you hear about someone who is much worse off than you are.

    On the one hand, you want to feel sorry for them. But if you feel sorry for them, then you have to face head on the fact that you're not really any different than they are, you're just luckier. Maybe you're a harder worker, maybe not. Maybe you're smarter, maybe not. Maybe you are better educated. Whatever. But all of those things came from either your genetics or your circumstances growing up, and both of those things are a crap shoot.

    If you acknowledge the poor as being people just like you, you have to acknowledge that you're lucky. And maybe feel guilty for having so much when they have so little, or feel guilty for not giving more to charity to help them, or whatever. You can't acknowledge that the poor are people just like you without feeling that way. (Plus there's the extra bonus side to this, where we have to wonder why an omnipotent deity would let people just like us suffer, but give us lots of stuff.)

    So we have developed many fine defenses against viewing the poor as people just like us, because we don't like feeling bad about ourselves. If the poor are just morally inferior, then we deserve our good fortune and they deserve their misfortune. If the poor are all brown and all brown people are morally inferior, that makes it a lot easier.

    There's another aspect too, though, at least for Republicans. Remember, we're not actually all that happy. We don't feel like we're making it. We're not going to retire until we lose our jobs and can't get another one, and then we're pretty much fucked. So we also have this sneaking suspicion that maybe the poor are actually happier than we are, because while they get a lot less, they also don't have to work for it. (This is, of course, just in the minds of the Republicans. No correspondence with reality is necessary.) Objectively we would never actually try 'sponging off the system' like that, not necessarily because we're too moral but because we actually know that the poor are pretty well fucked. But if we pretend to ourselves that they're doing fine, it becomes okay not just to dismiss them but to actively hate them.

    This is coupled with the fact that a lot of people feel a little guilty all the time for not working as hard as they think they ought to. So we actually feel, subconsciously at least, like maybe we are LESS worthy than some of those poor folks, who would no doubt really work hard if they had our jobs. Can't acknowledge that even to ourselves, either, though.

    The alternative to all this would be to make sure everyone in the country has enough to eat, a decent place to sleep, clothing, medical care, some entertainment, etc. Then we wouldn't have to hate the poor for having nothing and reminding us of our own mortality and luck. And as a side effect, we'd have a real safety net that could catch US when we are the ones who are unlucky.

    Ironically, of course, this is what the Republicans are most dead set against, of all things: the one thing that would actually make them feel less guilty and afraid. And so we hate the poor, and they die young, and we pretend not to care while that guilt gnaws away in secret places and makes us hate them all the more.

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