Fair-weather socialist

Suddenly you face
The possibility of me
Getting a place
Next to yours, of me
Coming to dinner
Without learning manners
Without losing the cap
Still using these vowels
Not caring how much
Jane Austen and Tolkien
And the oeuvre of Mike Leigh
And Romantic poetry
Mean to you
With my lack
Of gratitude
That you descended
To my state
That you befriended
Me, for your efforts to
Educate me
Improve me
Fix me
Elevate me
With my disinterest in
The time you invest in
Making me want to be you;

You shudder.
In a flash of inspiration you see
The necessity
Of embracing all that is
Accept a commission
On the basis of a
Fearsome reputation
For a column in the Daily Mail
Bearing the advice:
The project has failed
Give it up, think again
Poor people just aren’t adequately nice.

The age-old story: a privileged liberal type is all fervent and leftie, and then when he or she realises that poor people can’t actually be “civilised,” loses all interest in social action. It happens again and again. A lot of them end up writing for the Daily Mail.

You know what poor people actually need? Money. So they won’t be poor anymore. So what if they’re still not “our sort of people”? That’s irrelevant. Poverty is an evil in itself.

(Wood lives in Wales and blogs at The John Heron Project, where this was first posted.)

  • DJ

    If only money would fix it. Then a subsistence farmer earning $1 per day would be thrilled when he gave up his farm for a $3 a day factory job (instead, his income increases and he starves). And the minimum wage worker in the U.S. making $7.25 would be happier still… and the poor guy making “only” $60K a year in Los Angeles would be ecstatic as he struggles to pay 40% in taxes and 30% more to his landlord…

    I know someone who sold his business for over $100 million. He’s a miserable SOB, and I wouldn’t want his life.

    For myself, as the song says, “I’ve had money, and I’ve had none.” I’ve lived the American dream with the white picket fence– and hated my life so badly I nearly blew my brains out. I’ve couch surfed. I’ve given it all up to live in a hostel as a volunteer. (That was far more rewarding.) Now, I live as cheaply as I can. I don’t have a cable bill, or a Blackberry, or a mortgage, and I drive a 10-year-old Saturn. I have almost no debt. I own my home– not a fancy home, but it’s paid for. I have two businesses. Last year’s income was below the national median, but I’m satisfied. Sure, there are a few things I want, but nothing I need that I don’t already have. And I could live on less: It’s not money that makes my life okay, it’s satisfaction.

    A wise man once said, “One spouse, two children, three rooms, four wheels. Anything more is decadence.” Okay, my wife & I have five rooms, but we skipped the kids so it evens out…

    What the poor need most is not money– it’s to be listened to, and to be supported in meeting their basic needs. When we presume we know what someone’s basic needs are without asking them, we exploit them. When we throw money at them thinking it is a solution, we exploit them. (I’m thinking here of a friend who teaches in an area that serves, among others, a Native tribe that came into a lot of money. The money improved their quality of life very little– much of it went to fast cars and alcohol, and that turned out as expected.)

    Poverty itself is not an evil, exploitation is– and plenty of doctrines have exploited the poor, from capitalists and fascists to socialists to well-meaning philanthropists. Even some socialists have an aversion to sitting down with “them” and asking how “they” see things.

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