Guggenheim and MacArthur fellowship-winning philosopher Elizabeth Anderson recently spoke with Joe Humphreys at the Irish Times about America's toxic obsession with by-your-bootstraps individualism, and specifically how it relates to poverty.
There are plenty of impactful quotes throughout the interview, but the parts that stuck out the most to me—as an agnostic born into an Irish Catholic family, whose mother worked for the church for a long time—were her observations about America's puritanical roots, and, later, the impacts of World War II. Anderson essentially proposes the idea that early America Puritans like the Pilgrims were determined to distance themselves from the institutional power of the Catholic church—which, for all its faults, has at least had a longstanding commitment to helping and empathizing with those suffering from poverty. In addition to Manifest Destiny, these Puritans believed that hard work was the only promise of salvation, which eventually evolved into the whole "rugged individualism" idea that consumes so many American conservatives and Evangelicals. While Anderson acknowledges that this ethic is rooted in a very pro-worker mindset, it's clearly been secularized over time into a highly partisan hatred of the poor, with a nod towards its religious roots:
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There is a profound suspicion of anyone who is poor, and a consequent raising to the highest priority imposing incredibly humiliating, harsh conditions on access to welfare benefits on the assumption you’re some kind of grifter, or you’re trying to cheat the system. There is no appreciation for the existence of structural poverty, poverty that is not the fault of your own but because the economy maybe is in recession or, in a notorious Irish case, the potato crop fails.
America has a food insecurity problem, and poor, hungry kids who can't pay their school cafeteria lunch debt are performatively ridiculed and humiliated by their schools. Despite this shaming, these kids parents refuse to stop being poor, and so schools are turning to desperate measures to provide the right incentives to these parents (meanwhile, kids from wealthy families are being offered front-of-the-line privileges in exchange for their parents' "donations").
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Americans who are poor increasingly use mobile phones as their primary way to go online.
Poor people were not the primary target of Obamacare; as a group, their care is more likely to be "non-compensated" (trips to the emergency room while classed as "indigent" and unable to pay), so insurance shouldn't make a big difference to them, right?
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Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, has followed up his scorching condemnation of US poverty with an even more damning report on poverty in the UK, which he calls a "political choice" brought on by a decade of austerity at the hands of the Conservative Party.
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The northwestern Mexican state of Guerrero’s ocean side vistas, Mayan and Zapotec heritage and mountainous terrain would make it a postcard-pretty place to be—if it weren’t for all the murder and financial destitution.
Because of the extreme poverty in the region, the state has one of the lowest life expectancy rates in the nation. According to the Guardian, close to 70% of the people who call Guerrero home, live in poverty. This misery experienced on a daily basis by those living in Guerrero is compounded by an ongoing turf war between cartels and the Mexican military resulting in one of the highest murder rates per capita, in the world. The violence is so extreme that most professionals who can afford to pick up and relocate, have done so. The loss of lawyers? Meh. However, having no Doctors or other medical staff to care for a population trapped in an already untenable situation is nightmare.
Thankfully, with little fanfare, Médecins Sans Frontières is on the scene, trying to make a difference.
From The Guardian:
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Before patients are seen, the clinical team – three doctors, two psychologists and a nurse – explain that MSF is neutral, independent, free of charge and available to anyone as long as weapons are left outside.
This is the standard pep talk in the state of Guerrero, where MSF has taken over 11 primary health clinics that have closed or are limited by the security crisis in communities long neglected by the state.
In addition to regular clinics, MSF provides rapid response interventions in the aftermath of grave incidents like mass kidnappings, gun battles and massacres, which leave displaced or trapped communities in psychological turmoil.
New research suggests that a key cause of poverty is poor parents' lack of engagement with neonates and toddlers. Brazil is trying to change that by showing parents the importance of interacting meaningfully with young children through eye contact and activities. Read the rest
The rich world has never been more unequal, and the poor world has never richer: in 2018, we're seeing record low levels of global "extreme poverty" (a measure that's admittedly a bit fuzzy) and record levels of inequality, which wealth concentrated into a declining number of hands.
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British Columbia is a rich Canadian province. As with most places where money flows freely, not everyone is allowed a taste of privilege.
British Columbia has one of the highest rates of child-poverty in the whole nation. This lack of wealth to buy the basics of life that most of us take for granted has been giving B.C.’s Ministry of Children and Family Development the excuse it needs to remove kids from their parents. The premise for doing so, sounds logical: If you can’t pay to properly feed, clothe and house your child, you’re neglecting your child. The government will step in to do what you can’t and, in the process, take your child away from you. But once you start picking apart the apparatus that serves to ‘protect’ the kids separated from impoverished families, it’s easy to see that provincial government’s methodology is based in cruel madness, masquerading as concern.
Last year, it came to light that a teen removed from his family lived in 17 different foster placements under the watch of 23 different social workers and caregivers over an 11 year period. His final placement: being kept in a hotel room: a practice that was employed on a regular basis, due to the number of children in B.C.’s child protection system and the difficulty in finding suitable foster families. Unsupervised and suffering from a number of mental health issues, he jumped from his hotel window, to his death. In a feature published this week by The Globe & Mail, it was revealed, that this teen, Alex Gervais, was being “sporadically” checked in on by a caregiver paid $8,000 a month. Read the rest
I got my first Kíla album in the mid-1990s while I was going to university in Halifax, Canada. It was a big deal.
Lemme give you some background: my folks declared bankruptcy the week that I shipped off to school. The financial help I assumed would be there for me, wasn't. I watched, near penniless, as my fellows drank themselves into oblivion and got to know one another. I couldn't afford to participate. I couldn't afford the books from the extensive reading list I'd been given. The only thing that I had going for me was that I'd used my student loan to pay for a meal plan as part of my first semester's tuition. I quickly found the work I needed to get by, teaching music, doing audio/visual duty for the classes I was attending, rattling locks as a security guard and playing in a bar band to make ends meet. I was exhausted much of the time.
There wasn't a lot of room in my life for joy back then.
Around the middle of the school year, I received a letter from my mother. It explained that the she'd come by a coupon, good for $25 at HMV--a Canadian and British music store franchise. The thought of buying new music--new anything, really--at the time, didn't have a place in my head, given how hard it was to come by books or cover my day-to-day expenses. I've never listened to a lot of popular music. My tastes lean towards OG punk and Irish/Scots traditional music. Read the rest
What Went Wrong? is a citizen journalism project started in sub-Saharan Africa to document all the unsustainable aid projects started by Westerners who fail to follow through after their PR blitz. Journalist Peter DeCampo spoke with BRIGHT magazine about the project, where Africans can text reports on local fiascoes and boondoggles: Read the rest
In a country that has so much, it should be a crime to leave the less fortunate with so little. But it isn't, so here we are: As part of a United Nations study on poverty and human rights abuses in America, researchers have stated that rural Alabama is home to the worst poverty in the developed world.
According to Advance Local, the U.N. Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, was shocked at the level of environmental "degradation," economic inequality and systematic racism in the state:
Of particular concern to Alston are specific poverty-related issues that have surfaced across the country in recent years, such as an outbreak of hookworm in Alabama in 2017—a disease typically found in nations with substandard sanitary conditions in South Asia and Subsaharan Africa.
You should know that economic inequality and racial discrimination lend themselves to civil rights abuses. That makes poverty a human rights issue.
A lot of us, including myself, live comfortably enough. I know where my next meal is coming from. Too many of our fellow citizens aren't as fortunate. The fault for this, according to Alston, can be laid at the feet of our governments:
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“The idea of human rights is that people have basic dignity and that it’s the role of the government — yes, the government! — to ensure that no one falls below the decent level,” he said. “Civilized society doesn’t say for people to go and make it on your own and if you can’t, bad luck...
Anna Rosling Rönnlund, co-founder of the Gapminder Foundation, asked Swedish students where they thought they fell on the global income spectrum. They guessed somewhere in the middle; they were wrong. After having 264 homes photographed in 50 countries and collecting 30,000 photos, she made this tool to help everyone understand the world – and how they fit in – a little better.
Want to see how people at your income level live in other countries? Of course you do.
It's the perfect antidote to Instagram-induced envy. Actually, I'd like to see someone curate a Selby or Apartmento-style lookbook from these images. Anyone? Read the rest
Freddy deBoer writes that he's been telling the same joke for years about Silicon Valley's only product, which might be universalized as "At last, a way to verb with nouns on the internet!" But the social-media techopoly is stable, now, and so the venture capitalists have moved on to the three terrible trends that will now occupy their interest.
First is infecting everything with DRM so it's controlled by the manufacturer and limited to their ecosystem. Second is charging rent for being in it and using algorithms to maximize it. Third is marketing workaholic poverty to the young as a way of life.
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We Love Doers So Much We Want to Give Them a Hellish Existence of Endless Precarity
The basic idea here is that 40 years of stagnant wages, the decline of unions, the death of middle class blue collar jobs, the demise of pensions, and a general slide of the American working world into a PTSD-inducing horror show of limitless vulnerability has been too easy on workers. I’m sorry, Doers, or whatever the fuck. The true beauty of these ads is that they are all predicated on mythologizing the very workers who their service is intended to immisserate. Sorry about your medical debt; here’s a photo of a model who we paid in “exposure” over ad copy written by an intern who we paid in college credit that cost $3,000 a credit hour. Enjoy.
The purpose of these companies is to take whatever tiny sense of social responsibility businesses might still feel to give people stable jobs and destroy it, replacing whatever remains of the permanent, salaried, benefit-enjoying workforce with an army of desperate freelancers who will never go to bed feeling secure in their financial future for their entire lives.
American penitentiaries, in idealized Quaker imaginings, were to be a place for reflective penitence followed by forgiveness. That's not how it worked out, especially for the poor. And the problem goes far beyond prison reform: Read the rest
German photographer Bernard Lang has produced a photo series documenting the incredible overcrowding in the slums of Manila, a city whose mean density is 36,000 people/square mile, rising to 200,000 people in the city's 500 riverside slums. Read the rest
"More than 40 percent of all children live in low-income families -- including 5.2 million infants and toddlers under 3," reports the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.
These families are not poor because they are lazy. From EurekAlert:
The majority of children in low-income families have at least one parent who works full time, all year long. Children whose parents are employed full time are less likely to live below the poverty line, but earning a wage was no guarantee of economic security in 2015, according to NCCP research. More than half (53 percent) of low-income children and 31 percent of poor children live with at least one parent employed full time, throughout the year.
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