This is a guest post by someone I am delighted to host on my blog, Sarah Luczaj. I always find Sarah’s posts both well written and thoughtful.
This is a response to the post Ending Poverty, which I commented on so extensively that Evan kindly offered me a guest post so I could stretch out, kick my shoes off and say what I really mean. Or something like that.
So what was it that got me so riled up? I was reacting to a phenomenon (which for the record I don’t believe Evan is part of) that I have noted in the media over the past few years, of presenting individual solutions to world scale structural problems that verge on “feel good” positive actions for the middle class.
I am all for empowering the individual and all for more action, involvement and joy. I believe that all change starts with and in the individual. I also believe that every little helps and it is better to do that one small action rather than choose not to do it on a lofty principle. Revolutions start with individuals.
What makes me angry is the way that any structural analysis of the situation – even one as basic as the statement that inequality, which means poverty for some, is an intended consequence of a capitalist economic system – has been somehow eliminated from the discourse. The system comes to define the terms we think in and talk in.
And so anger about the lack of social justice that creates and maintains poverty is eliminated from the discourse too. If we are not careful we can end up individualising the problem, blaming ourselves for being poor, or, if we are not poor, we can end up feeling guilty for even existing. This sort of liberal guilt is deeply counter-productive.
It is as though only the positive side is allowed to be expressed, and I think that is a dangerous situation psychologically. This attitude also belittles the role of the intellect – it is so obvious that in ‘eradicating poverty’ we are up against economic, legal, political systems with a lot of power and money invested in them.
Enough complaining, what do I suggest? Do all those small actions, buy fair trade, sponsor a child, donate to charity, volunteer. But keep your facility for critical thinking in top gear. Ask yourself constantly, why is this happening? In whose interest is this? What is the context? If I help this coffee farmer, what about all the rest? Why can’t they get a decent price? Feel angry when you find out? That’s great. That’s participating in the world with your whole self, your intellect, your sense of justice, your anger, your compassion, rather than buying the fair trade coffee on auto-pilot, because you know it is the right thing to do. It may lead to some protest action, the kind which is no longer so fashionable, which we should have ‘grown out of’ by now, in the post-modern world, beyond dualism and opposition. That reality does exist, but extremely stark, simple power differentials exist too. Particularly in the world you inhabit if you are poor.
More of this kind of conscious participation is needed, linking awareness, intellect, protest and compassion. Because consumption and control are not our only ways of being, and poverty is not just about not being able to consume or control enough. It’s about being used – being abused.
Not only changes in patterns of consumption and control but changes of consciousness are needed in order to ‘eradicate poverty’, or in other words, change the world.
Sarah is a British person centred therapist/counsellor living and working in private practice in Poland. She is also a translator, poet (Chapbbok “An urgent Request” forthcoming from Fortunate Daughter Press) and bad Buddhist. She offers online counselling services at My Therapist.com