I had to unfriend someone on Facebook recently. No great loss; he always was an asshole and I have no idea why I wanted him on my Friends list in the first place. I think it might have happened during the heady rush of those early days of Facebook membership, when you realize that you can find all the people you’ve lost touch with since High School…but forget that there may be a damn good reason that you lost touch with them in the first place.
Thing is, while we’d never gotten along in our youth, we were able to mostly stay out of each other’s way as adults (sounds like a good reason to be “friends” with someone, doesn’t it?). A “Like” here, a witty comment there, we got on all right.
Then he posted one of those viral graphics praising Florida for requiring drug testing for people on Welfare.
No, I will not repost it.
Now, as any of you who were actually here for my St. Patrick’s Day post would know, I don’t have a lot of patience for those who like to kick down at The Poors. For one thing, everyone has needed help sometime. If not personally, then ancestrally. Everyone has had their turn as the low, vulgar, lazy wretches who prefer beggary to work and filth to cleanliness. Nobody gets to pretend that they’re above this. For another, it’s just plain bullying. Picking on people who can’t fight back – who, in fact, need your help – because you’ve convinced yourself that they deserve it because they’re low, vulgar, lazy wretches who prefer beggary to work and filth to cleanliness.
Still, the guy was a Facebook friend, and an actual friend to many of my actual friends. I did my (admittedly limited) best to be diplomatic.
I pointed out, in what I thought was a reasonable way (with an attempt at humor), that Florida’s program had been less than successful: not only had it been struck down by a Federal judge back in February, but even when it was active it cost the state of Florida more money than it saved (small surprise, since it caught almost no one – turns out that drugs cost money, and poor people don’t have much of it).
His response: “Something has to change. I’m tired of the people on assistance living better than I do.”
My response: “So you envy poor people and want them to suffer more. Is that what I’m getting here?”
It only got uglier after that. Once we’d made it clear that neither of us liked the other any better than we had back in the day, I got in the last word and unfriended him before he could respond, because I’m petty like that.
Still, satisfying as it was, a Facebook screaming match doesn’t actually solve anything. Of course, neither does bloviating on my own blog. Neither does what I’m about to do, most likely. It’s not like the good people at Cracked.com need me to point traffic their way. Heck, as far as I know, everyone reading this either is or has been poor, and are rolling their eyes at the privileged upstart preaching about something he knows very little about. Still, if you can reach even one…
You see, as always, what shocked me the most was the sheer resentment directed at The Poors. It’s hardly a new thing to believe that poor people are poor because of their own bad choices or moral failings – that they’re low, vulgar, lazy wretches who prefer beggary to work and filth to cleanliness – but modern America seems to have added a new twist: that The Poors are low, vulgar, lazy wretches who prefer beggary to work and filth to cleanliness out of spite. That these low, vulgar, lazy wretches are taking advantage of me (yes, me personally).
That doesn’t make even a little bit of sense, but it seems to be a very popular opinion in America today. With that in mind, I think what might be needed is a bit of information, a bit of perspective.
Now, Cracked.com is hardly a scholarly source, but it’s (usually) well-sourced, it’s an easy read with low risk of tl:dr, and most importantly, some first-person perspective on the topic.
To start with, this article explains a lot of the pit traps and catch-22’s that make escaping poverty a whole lot harder than “just pull yourself up by your bootstraps”.
Follow that up with this article, which explains how it actually costs you extra money to be poor. This is one where I have a little bit of experience myself, middle-class white boy that I am. When I was fresh out of college, there was a period when I needed to make use of check-cashing services, and thank all the gods of wealth and prosperity that that didn’t last for long. I’ve also spent significant chunks of time (including right now) without health insurance, because COBRA would cost me most of my monthly income and not all temp agencies offer it.
And I’m lucky.
Of course, neither I nor the folks at Cracked are going to argue that poor people are perfect. This article right here describes some of the bad choices you can make and bad habits you can develop being poor. Some of them wreck your health, some of them just keep you poor. And all of them develop for a goddamn reason, which makes them resistant to “just stop doing that, then.”
Finally, this article talks about where some of these stereotypes come from. Namely, politicians and other public figures – wealthy public figures – whose primary source of information on The Poors is their own echo chamber, but who can use their bully pulpit to influence millions who really should know better. Note how #2 refers back to the beginning of this entire conversation – i.e., that poor people have less access to expensive recreational drugs than you might think.
As a final bonus, I’d like to include this article for a bit of discussion about the other end of the spectrum. The article describes “things rich people need to stop saying”, but most of the people I’ve heard these things from are far from rich. America worships its rich people. With no noble class of our own, we had to create one…which may be the source of the whole problem, because in a country where wealth is a sign of virtue, poverty is the surest sign of vice.