Wednesday, May 09, 2007

It boggles my mind that this is necessary.

First of all, I do not hate poor people.

I hate feeling poor.

Poor people also hate feeling poor. The kinds of things that I don't want to do because they make me feel poor are things that I would only do if circumstances forced me to do so. What's more, I don't think that they are particularly controversial. Raise your hand if you'd rather wait in a bus station in sweltering Houston heat than have your own car. Raise your hand if you'd rather raise a family in an apartment than in a house, especially if most of your children's friends have yards to play in. Raise your hand if you'd rather eat every scrap of food, even the parts you hate, rather than be able to afford to do otherwise.

If you've never been financially insecure, if you've never had to worry about losing your home, or had to buy your clothes at the Goodwill store, or pinched pennies by buying expiring ground beef or eating a 25 cent pretzel for lunch every day, maybe you can't distinguish between a horror of poor people and horror of being poor. Being poor makes you do things you'd rather not. If you are able to refrain from doing those things, the following occurs:
  • You can tell yourself that you are financially secure and that the constant worrying that comes of being or becoming poor is not necessary.
  • You are happier because you get to do things you like.
  • You don't invoke negative emotional associations from past times of financial insecurity and are happier because you are not being cast back into upsetting memories.
Part of this is rational, and part of it is a form of magical thinking (if you refrain from behaviors associated with poverty, then you can avoid becoming poor). But none of it is about disdain for people in poverty. It's about feeling safe.

As regards status and terminology, many people have observed the curious, yet near-universal, American propensity to claim membership in the middle class. Becoming aware, by way of having to engage in poverty-necessitated behaviors, that one is on the verge of losing out on the American Dream is, to put it mildly, cause of strong negative emotions. Invoking such emotions by engaging in those behaviors without necessity is a cause of further stress and anxiety.

UPDATE II: Imagine this: Someone had a health scare or brush with serious illness and then recovered. Afterwards he said he had an aversion to low-sodium meals or sugar substitutes or using the wheelchair ramp or some other markers/behaviors that he associated with his illness because he didn't like "feeling like a sick person" and by not doing those things he could affirm to himself that he was hale and hearty. Would we say that person hated sick people or that he hated the idea of being "sickly"? If that person didn't want to be perceived as sickly by himself or even by others, would we call that contempt for sick people?
blog comments powered by Disqus