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Why Don’t the Poor Rise Up?

Stashed in: #TED, Economics!, Wealth!, Awesome, inequality, life, America!, Poverty, Freedom!, Economics, Poverty, Religion, Rich people get richer., Sociology, S, Good Ones

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Brisk, non-finger-pointing overview of one of the central conundrums of American politics: why doesn't the American middle class agitate for a bigger slice of the pie? Instead of blaming Fox News or the Koch brothers, this article takes a more sociological tack by looking at the process of "individualization" as an inevitable flipside of our national lust for personal freedoms and opportunities. Best factoid: the most successful political movement of recent years was not Occupy, but in fact the fight against the criminalization of "internet piracy" or content sharing.

So we don't rise up because we celebrate acting as an individual?!

Great article but it's still disappointing. 

I think it isn't CELEBRATING so much as... can you separate the freedoms we like (having sex, doing drugs, getting jobs based on personal merit rather than tribalism, cutting off our family members if they piss us off) from the alienation we don't like (raising kids alone, being addicts alone, being forced to look for jobs alone, not having family there for us through thick and thin)?!?? That is the question.

Yeah, freedoms and alienation seem to go hand in hand in America. Disappointing.

Joyce, Halibutboy and Adam... if you're truly interested in this issue I can share some points to further your understanding.  Having worked with poor communities throughout the USA and catalyzed them into social action that produced significant improvements I learned a great deal in the doing of it.  

What I lacked was the theory behind why such situations came to exist and persist in the first place (and fortunately, as a social innovator, I didn't need any theory to produce actual achievements).

Here are two significant starting points established by others far more capable than myself in exposing the theory and making a cogent argument for it:

How does change happen? A review of John Gaventa's Power and Powerlessness | Spirit of Contradiction How does change happen? A review of John Gaventa's Power and Powerlessness | Spirit of Contradiction

John Gaventa wrote an insightful (and groundbreaking to me) book  that "...discards moralistic and culture-based explanations for persistent social peace [among the poor], arguing instead that quiescence is produced and maintained by power relations. He adopts a ‘three-dimensional’ view of power, which sees power as residing not only in the capacity to prevail in political contests but also to determine what issues become subject to politics and, indeed, whether or not issues and problems can be identified as such by those they affect.*"

Simply being able to control what enters into or remains in the public eye is the strongest power of all.

And lest you think that social myopia and lack of intelligent public interrogatory are merely symptoms of the poor being controlled by elites, take a  few minutes and listen to Sharyl Attkisson, a former investigative correspondent in the Washington bureau for CBS News ... and you'll see that the power game is still being played this way well beyond Appalachia ... you might also never cite Wikipedia with confidence again:


If I understand you: The Poor are too busy surviving to organize and rise up.

And the politicians and media divert attention away from this because non-Poor people have other priorities. 

Yes Adam, that's accurate.

Media and the hoi polloi's superficial interests vs the enduring ones that produce substantive social change are an interesting dance. Any mob and revolutionary behaviors against the status quo often require both – a sustained and cultivated dissatisfaction against the status quo and then some superficial spontaneous catalyst to focus and fuel immediate, collective actions.  Think of race riots.

Ongoing charity, giving and philanthropy can't solve the problem for some very practical reasons. The first is that such support is capricious – giving money is what most people do as an exercise of personal exposition and satisfaction, i.e. "I give because it feels good to do it... it's the right thing to do!"  This belies the fact that too few of us do the right thing when it doesn't feel good to do it, i.e. improving our diets, stopping smoking, being nicer to people, being kinder and better to ourselves... etc.  So the emotional strains of appeals for more money wear off quite quickly for any social issue. The second reason is that most to all intermediary organizations are in business to stay in business, not to solve a social problem completely and then go out of business because they collapsed their market of need.  The March of Dimes was the last charitable organization of scalable success that went out of business by solving the national problem of polio ... and even then they reinvented themselves to tackle different issues after they left that industry.

Solving the problem of the poor (and any human centric social issue) is very doable and merely requires surmounting a twofold challenge:

1) catalyzing and engaging the capacity and readiness for the poor in their own best interests... this can be done collectively wherever they live as a local community of individuals – not as an abstract demographic of statistics – as well as by family and by individual. This is best provisioned as a temporary intervention towards their own self-desired, improvement milestones.

2) creating an environment around the poor that is aligned to support their initial and ongoing attempts at self-desired improvements.  This is best provisioned as a sustained alignment of resources, whether changed physical conditions and/or behaviors of resource providers and gatekeepers so all others can help fill any gaps, streamline and accelerate progress and engage the poor as might be needed along the way.  This is incredibly different than paying others to help the poor, or paying them to get started and then watching those efforts fizzle when the money runs out.  And it always does.

Ambitious Intentions, Clear Achievements, Sustained Resource Alignment by all concerned wins the day everyday.

I haven't stopped thinking about his stash since it was posted and I have a theory to add.

There was a sea change in American in the 70's with This theology implanted a subliminal axis of wealth (good) / poverty (evil) among Christian fundamentalists that twisted the traditional aspirations of the 40's - 60's to a hunger for wealth for wealth's sake.  Mega churches are built on the prosperity doctrine.

If I understand you correctly, religion stopped focus on helping the poor a few decades ago?

I've been thinking a lot about it too, and I too have a new theory! Look at this article:

particularly the graph of seniors' share of income changing since 1989. It shows a pretty drastic decline in relative poverty by the elderly, due to a combination of Social Security, Medicare, working longer, defined-benefit pensions, and the overall growth trend of real estate and stock values in the postwar years. A married couple who retired from good middle-class jobs, sold their house and moved to a lower-cost area like Florida, maybe took on a bonus career like flipping houses or driving a school bus... they could be living larger than their adult children in the prime of life.

It's laudable that senior poverty has been reduced by that much, but I think a major consequence would be to separate seniors politically from the struggling part of the middle class. Plus seniors have so much more time to get involved politically than people with demanding jobs and kids. In the Bay Area seniors are strongly at the forefront of every NIMBY movement that seeks to block more jobs, better mass transit, and an increase in housing stock. And at one level, why shouldn't they be? If you're retired, you personally only see the downsides of growth (traffic congestion seems to be the biggest one!) and none of the upsides (jobs, schools, housing).

You're right -- seniors are now a politically different group from the struggling part of the middle class.

This will have consequences for the 2016 elections, I believe.

Adam, what I meant was that Prosperity churches teach their disciples not to have an impoverished self-image.  They teach denial and encourage their parishioners to prove their faith in their own future prosperity by investing "seed money" in the church.

Oh shoot. Well, that sounds Not Good.

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