I feel about Mark Mancini the same way that TLC feels about scrubs: a scrub is a guy who won’t get any love from me.
It was a nice gesture. A hand across the aisle. That precious moment where polar opposites discover common ground.
Yet, through the cultivation of that common ground, a difficulty is pronounced. In last week’s column, Mancini commented that “We should all, no matter our position on the political spectrum, first acknowledge that poverty is both socially, economically, and morally repugnant. [sic]”
All of a sudden my childhood and family are repugnant. We are distasteful, a counterforce to prosperity, the undesirable detritus of capitalism. An often invisible portion of New Brunswick is abhorrent or cringe-worthy. An even larger portion of the world is revolting, disgusting.
Mancini and I agree that a minimum income is a step in the right direction, a solution to financial destitution. Mancini was even kind enough to acknowledge that amidst my leftist propaganda there are a few cute sentiments. You know, us leftists are nice to the poor.
What’s disheartening, what I find repugnant, is that even if poverty as we know it becomes a thing of the past, society will still discover ways to ensure that there is a lower class. Minimum incomes? Awesome. But wait, then those who live off the minimum become the new underclass. The bottom rung. Capitalism’s stool.
Ideas of the poor as repugnant need to evolve. Notions of the poor existing below us, dirtier than us, and not as deserving as us need changing. Poverty sucks on its own. It doesn’t need university graduates deriding it.
Here’s my brotherly gesture: Mancini’s comments are perfectly timed. Oxfam released a report last week which found that 1% of the global population will own 50% of the wealth by next year. By next year, there are going to be even more repugnant people in the world.
That comments are being made about the poor makes me optimistic. There was a time that those in poverty were veiled by tenements, hidden by long work days, and left unacknowledged by political discourse. At the very least, today, we are addressing them — even if for the sake of ridicule.
There is an idea that poverty needs erasing, that it needs to be politely amputated from advanced society. Some individuals carry the impression that poverty is a disease, that those living in trailer parks, on the margins of the city, and in ghettos need to either be made to disappear or follow the unattainable steps towards the American dream (study, marry, spend and die).
But to get rid of poverty is to discover new and more elaborate ways to stratify humanity. A new poverty will arise. A fresh foundation will be built on which to propagate prejudice. What needs changing is Western society’s notion that poverty is a mold on the loaf of bread we call our nation.
Prejudice works on all kinds of footing, be it race, gender or belief. With poverty, it is class prejudice that justifies the derision of those who put sliced wieners on their pizza because pepperoni is too pricey. Class prejudice is a system where wealth equates to power and meaning while poverty equates to exploitation and futility.
Class prejudice is perpetuated by believing that those in poverty, whether they be the wholesome working class or the more often challenged underclass, are repugnant by their own agency, their own pathology, instead of through structural failures. Poverty is a characteristic of capitalism, not a hapless circumstance.
Western society and economy are based on hierarchies: the wealthy and the poor, the strong and the weak, the good and the bad. Capitalism, the haughty god of our nation, insists on hierarchies existing. It’s no mistake that a class of poor people are needed to prop up a rich class of people. It is in fact exactly how our nation was made to function.
We can hand out (or hand up?) minimum incomes — and yes, me and Mancini agree on that. However, mockery of those in poverty, those on the bottom of the economy, must end. Whatever space in society you inhabit is a human space. It should be recognized as such.
To acknowledge the poor as human, as a part of our society and not a repugnant facet creates a threat to capitalism. A threat to capitalism is not a scary thing. It is not a communist state. It is not a dictatorship. It is not leftist indoctrination. Threatening capitalism means the promotion of humanism. Challenging capitalism is a step towards radically promoting that every person, dirty or clean, rich or poor, repugnant or worthy, have a vital spark of human life in them that should never go unappreciated.
Finally, my dear co-columnist and colleague, to quote Carolyn Chute, one of America’s great poor authors, if you “treat us like dogs, we will become wolves.”
Mr. Mancini, and I mean this, thanks for starting the discussion.