So tired of the poor being blamed for their “bad choices.”

poverty-in-america

I just read an article that isn’t really news. It was about how SNAP (food stamp) recipients tend to eat as many calories as higher income people, but those calories tend to come from prepackaged, prepared, and less healthy food that’s high in sugar and starch.

I think most people already know this to be the case. That doesn’t mean poor people don’t want to or try to eat better. Sometimes it simply isn’t possible. There are several reasons why a poor person may not opt for fresh meats, fruits and veggies and go for the Ramen noodles and Kraft macaroni and cheese instead:

1. Fresh food is generally more expensive. A few areas have “community gardens” where free fresh produce can be had for an hour or so’s worth of work in the garden, but only a few.
2. Fresh food cannot be stored for long. Many poor people don’t have access to reliable transportation and are forced to do all their shopping at once, whenever they can. If they don’t know when is the next time they can get to a store, they will tend to stock up on foods that keep well.
3. If you live in a “food desert” (an area where the only place to buy food is the local convenience store), your choices for healthy eating are few, especially if you are without a vehicle and must rely on public transportation or walking.
4. Less time for cooking and food preparation. Many of the working poor work more than one job, and in between jobs must spend time waiting for buses, etc. They may not get home until very late, and have little time or inclination to prepare a meal from scratch, especially if they are working parents who want to spend some time with their kids.
5. Lack of education about good food choices and how to prepare them. Maybe the SNAP program should include classes in how to prepare healthy, cheap meals from scratch.
6. Many of the working poor are simply too exhausted at the end of a grueling day at their minumum wage job(s) to be motivated to cook a healthy meal from scratch.

prepackagedfood

But the point of this post isn’t really the difficulty the poor sometimes have obtaining or preparing fresh food. It’s the condescending and sanctimonious comments that followed the article, such as:

1. The poor are poor because of their bad choices, so how is making bad food choices surprising? (If you’ve never been poor, you wouldn’t understand that poverty is never a “choice”)
2. If they’d stop spending money on lottery tickets, cigarettes, and drugs, they’d have more money for food. (Please. I am so tired of this lame stereotype, straight out of Reagan’s fictional “welfare queen driving a Cadillac” argument for cutting benefits to the poor)
3. Why do most of them have Internet? (Hello, access to the Internet is necessary to find a job these days)
4. The poor are too lazy and stupid to get a better education or a better job. (Absolutely not true, and a good education costs money, you dipshit).

Poverty-is-a-result-of-poor-choices-not-of-poor-luck

You get the idea. I’m so tired of this victim-blaming mentality that’s been brainwashed into so many Americans today. It’s a pervasive us-vs.-them attitude, regarding “the poor” as somehow another, lesser species of human, undeserving of anything better due to their crappy life choices. Being pretty low-income myself (although I’m not on SNAP), this patronizing, superior attitude makes me want to go break things. Usually, people who judge the poor so harshly have never been poor themselves, and don’t understand how exhausting, painful and debilitating such a life can be. If some poor people lack the motivation to “better themselves” (a phrase I detest) maybe it’s because they’re depressed. I don’t doubt mental illness is probably higher among poor people, but is it not possible their depression and other mental problems may stem from lacking the things that make life a little easier and more bearable?

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I’d like to end this post with this well written comment, written by a poor woman living on disability, in response to all the sheeple who cant get their noses out of the air long enough to see reality.

I get so tired of the sanctimonious attitude of some people who feel that poverty is limited to lazy, fat, irresponsible, stupid people. The truth is that poverty is a condition that is consistent with every society mankind has ever been a part of. Poverty cannot be overcome, food insecurity however can be. Before I continue understand that yes I am obese, yes I am poor, yes I am on food stamps, but, I am tired of being ashamed and embarrassed about any of those conditions. First I am not uneducated. I am a college graduate and worked most of my life in addition to caring for and raising my family. I became ill about 12 years ago and now am permanently disabled. I lost almost everything due to my illness and my husband’s illness and subsequent death. Those expenses wiped out every bit of savings obliterating me financially and now I live on disability alone. I am obese due to many contributing factors. First is medical, second is poverty, and third is mental. The mental issues I mentioned are simple. It is very difficult to make good choices when options are so unbelievably limited. I live in a small town (about 30,000) that does not have much to offer as far as grocery options. Walmart and Albertsons are about it. The food stamps I receive total $16 per month, I budget $80 a month for food. I have difficulty physically in preparing food so many of my options include simple foods like sandwiches. I have meat maybe once a week, and vegetables are like gold. When I have access to them I tend to gorge on them. I love vegetables but rarely get enough. I try to keep frozen veggies that I can microwave but fresh fruit and produce is a luxury. Years ago I started a large community garden that raises vegetables for our church food pantry, but that produce is only available at certain times of the year. I am not a drain on society, I volunteer when able and give back when ever I can. So before you make simplistic judgments about the poor, remember, you could be here too.

 

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Where I stand on “positive thinking.”

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Positive thinking taken to extremes is deluded thinking.

I’ve seen several blog posts about the problem of forced positive thinking lately, and since this is an issue that has concerned me for a long time, I thought I’d add my own take on it.

In recent years, there’s been an increased societal pressure toward “positive thinking.” I think two factors have led to this trend–the New Age philosophy that we can “be as gods ourselves,” and the continued glorification of the Reaganistic optimism of the 1980s. The signs are everywhere, in self-help and pop psychology books, in countless popular slogans and memes that appear on bumper stickers and coffee mugs, on motivational posters, on calendars, on the political campaign trail, and all over social media such as Facebook. The forced positive thinking brigade has even infiltrated churches. Motivational speakers like Tony Robbins and preachers of the “Prosperity Gospel” like Joel Osteen have gotten rich by telling us that if we only think positive thoughts, our entire lives will change for the better. They tell us if we let go of negative thought patterns, we can become happy, successful, healthy, and wealthy.

This is all fine and good, and personally I see nothing wrong with positive thinking for its own sake. Even if the outer trappings of your life rival those of someone living in a Third World nation, it’s certainly better for you if you can scare up a little optimism and hopefulness, and it’s definitely bad for you to dwell in hopelessness, depression and negativity. At the very least, seeing the glass as always half-full will make you more accepting of your sorry lot and therefore happier. That said, it’s incredibly difficult to see the glass as half full when there is barely a drop in your glass. That would be deluded, not positive, thinking.

For all its advantages to our psychological well-being, there’s a dark side to the positive thinking movement too, which goes hand in hand with the current societal glorification of narcissism and the nasty belief that selfishness and lack of compassion are virtues. While telling people that thinking positive thoughts is not a bad thing itself (because there is truth to the idea that negativity tends to draw in negative things–I have seen this dynamic for myself), the positive thinking movement has been taken to disturbing extremes. It’s led to victim-blaming and an overall lack of empathy for the less fortunate. The poor are blamed for their own poverty, regardless of the circumstances that might have led to it or keep them trapped there. They are told they are “not positive enough” or “made bad choices.” Even worse, some churches of the “prosperity gospel” ilk tell them they must have some moral failing or God would be rewarding them with material blessings. They are made to feel shame and guilt for their sorry financial condition. The chronically ill and disabled are likewise blamed for “not taking care of themselves” or “choosing bad habits.” It’s easy enough for someone who has never had to struggle with poverty or serious illness to thumb their noses at those who have and tell them it’s all their own fault.

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Is this the way Jesus would have acted? No, of course it isn’t. In fact, most of Jesus’ followers and disciples were the most financially and physically vulnerable members of his society. Jesus himself was humble carpenter and certainly not rich. He didn’t condemn these unfortunates or shame them for failing to be positive enough, or making the “wrong choices.” In fact, he seemed to love these vulnerable people most of all. Whatever happened to the “social gospel” of the late 19th and early 20th century? Oh, that’s right–it became “communism.” Somewhere along the way, compassion for the less fortunate and the culture of charity got twisted into “weakness” and “enabling.” The enormous popularity of Ayn Rand, who believed the greatest human evil was altruism, is disturbing, especially since her philosophy of “objectivism” has infected the minds of powerful politicians of a certain political persuasion, including many “Christians.”

While I don’t subscribe to some Christian fundamentalists’ idea that Satan is behind all this worship of greed and self-love and the denigration and victim-blaming of the less fortunate, I do think it’s a very destructive turn in the way our culture thinks, and it’s psychopathic in nature. Lately I’ve been seeing more blog articles criticizing this trend, and that seems like a good sign that at least a few people (usually victims of narcissistic abuse themselves) are finally realizing our society has become woefully empathy-deprived. Hopefully their message can break out of the blogosphere it’s currently confined to and begin to touch the hearts of The Powers That Be who are not yet completely brainwashed by the Cult of John Galt.

It’s absolutely fine (and desirable) to be a positive thinker, because positive thinking does tend to have its rewards, but blaming the misfortunes of others on their negative thinking or worse, their moral failings is just a form of societal gaslighting and is utterly evil itself. It’s also rife with hypocrisy– the Positive Thinking Powers That Be denigrate the emotions of guilt and shame for themselves, but they make sure those who haven’t been blessed the way they have feel plenty of guilt and shame for not having been “enough.” They never stop to think how impossible it is for someone who is struggling every day just to have enough to eat or with severe pain or illness to think in a positive way. It’s much easier for the already privileged and healthy to be able to say “life is good” and mean it. The well heeled Positive Thinking bots never stop to think of this–or they just don’t care, which is most likely the case, because those who haven’t been “blessed” with wealth or good health MUST have done something wrong to deserve it.

Any society that is empathy-starved is eventually going to self destruct.

For further reading, check out this article from The New York Times and also this one about empathy being a choice.