Most of us (people in my “network” anyways) have never been “poor”. Some of us have been “broke” or “bankrupt” a time or two, but compared to most of the rest of the world, we have never lived in POVERTY. In our circles, if we go “bankrupt”…even though it feels like poverty and the end of our known world to us…it is nothing compared to third world realities of impoverished living. Living in poverty is a mindset, a lifestyle, a tradition almost. While we admire and love the stories of those who have come from great poverty to attain great wealth, those stories are one in a few million compared to those who die pretty much in the same condition they were born.
Living outside a first world country for a while makes you a LITTLE more cognizant of disparity in the world. A larger majority of the people live in poverty while power and influence is held in the hands of a mi-nute minority who control everything with their money. The army/police, the media, the banks, food, entertainment…all these are controlled by the few that hold the money. I’m not talking here really about individual wealth gained from hard work and smart investing. I’m talking primarily about pooled funds in the hands of governments or corporations that are used to perpetuate the present and keep things “status quo”. I’m talking about “elitism” to the max.
It is very easy to manipulate the poor with money. We get them to do all our “dirty” work for a few dollars a day. On a grand scale, we come up with large government programs giving subsidies and welfare to the poor so they will be placated and hopefully not rise up in rebellion or outright revolution against us… the moneyed establishment who make and enforce the rules. Even democracy itself is tainted by money issues. Money buys influence, votes and perceptions. Don’t think you can hold public office unless you have moneyed people or parties behind you. In third world countries like the one I live in, $10 given to the impoverished police officer gets you out of most traffic violations, and a few hundred or thousand can buy a court judge or officer for more serious offenses. If you are poor, you go right to jail when charged. If you have money, you can buy your way out of most any scrape. We even see this often in the USA halls of justice (can you say “OJ”?).
There is much pride and prejudice in having wealth and power. Most people spend their whole lives and most their energy pursuing more of it…even if they have more than they could ever spend. Then every once in a while we are confronted with world realities that make us feel some level of guilt about what we have compared to 99% of the rest of the world. We pad our guilt with solid rationales like “we earned every penny”, “God blessed us and meant us to have this”, or we hold on to a certain amount of racial or class pride handed down from our ancestors without question. One term for that used in history is “manifest destiny”.
Some of us who have a conscience or are willing to open our eyes to this issue find it a great moral crisis of our time…and a lifelong struggle to come to terms with our fortune versus the pain and suffering we see all around us day to day. And if we look at things honestly and realistically, it’s hard to justify feeling depressed or anger at our receding stock portfolios and home values in light of the masses that have no home, have never driven a car, or gotten past the 6th grade in school. We bitch about the quickly rising costs of oil, food and Gucci shoes…without imagining how rising prices must affect the poor taxi driver, maid or farmer who makes less than $200 per MONTH.
These perplexities were brought to a head for me again last night while flipping through cable movie offerings and landing on a monologue of Vanessa Redgrave from the film based on the play “The Fever” (2004). It is the story of a rich woman coming to terms with government or establishment atrocities, and her self perspective in light of her exposure to the poverty and oppression. I will be looking to record this film next time it comes up on the schedule because I missed quite a bit of it…but what I did view was very affective. I was fortunate to find quite a large part of the script quoted online…and I close in sharing the most impacting parts to me from last night…
And my beliefs? Yes, yes - I have beliefs, yes - I believe in humanity, sympathy for others - I oppose cruelty and violence –…
Yes - poor countries are beautiful. Poor people are beautiful. It's a wonderful feeling to have money in a country where most people are poor, to ride in a taxi through horrible slums.
Yes- a beggar can be beautiful. A beggar can have beautiful lips, beautiful eyes. You're far from home. To you, her simple shawl seems elegant, direct, the right way to dress. You see her approaching from a great distance. She's old, thin, and, yes, she looks sick, very sick, near death. But her face is beautiful- seductive, luminous. You think you like her - you're drawn to her. Yes, you think - there's money in your purse- you'll give her some of it.
And a voice says - Why not all of it? Why not give her all that you have?
Be careful, that's a question that could poison your life. Your love of beauty could actually kill you.
If you hear that question it means you're sick. You're mentally sick. You've had a breakdown….
Answer the question, idiot. Don't just stand there. I can't give the beggar all that I have, because ...
because I - But - Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I have beliefs. There's a reason why I won't give the beggar all of my money. Yes, I'm going to give her some of it - I always give away quite a surprising amount to people who have less than I do - [Laughter] But there's a reason why I'm the one who has the money in the first place, and that's why I'm not going to give it all away. In other words, for God's sake, I worked for that money. I worked hard. I worked. I worked. I worked hard to make that money, and it's my money because I made it. I made the money, and so I have it, and I can spend it any way I like. This is the basis of our entire lives. Why can I stay here in this hotel? Because I paid to stay here, with my money. I paid to stay here. I paid to ... be served. That entitles me to certain things. I'm entitled to stay here, I'm entitled to be served, I'm entitled to expect that certain things will be done. Now, this morning for example, the chambermaid left my room a mess. The floor was dirty, there were no clean sheets, the wastepaper basket was left full. So I paid to stay here, I paid to be served, I'm entitled to service, but the chambermaid didn't serve me properly. That was wrong. …
…Why is the old woman sick and dying? Why doesn't she have money? Didn't she ever work?
You idiot, [Laughs] you pathetic idiot, of course, she worked. She worked sixteen hours a day in a field, in a factory. She worked, the chambermaid worked. - You say you work. Why does your work bring you so much money, while their work brings practically nothing? You say you "make" money. What a wonderful expression. But how can you "make" so much of it in such a short time, while in the same amount of time they "make" so little?...
The holders of money determine what's done - they bid their money for the things they want, and each one according to the amount they hold - and each bit of money determines some fraction of the day's activities, so those who have a little determine a little, and those who have a lot determine a lot, and those who have nothing determine nothing. And then the world obeys the instructions of the money to the extent of its capacity, and then it stops. It's done what it can. The day is over. Certain things happened. If money was bid for jewelry, then there was silver that was bent into the shape of a ring. If it was bid for opera, there were costumes that were sewn and chandeliers that were hung on invisible threads, and ....
And there's an amazing moment: each day, before the day starts, before the market opens, before the bidding begins, there's a moment of confusion: The money is silent, it hasn't yet spoken. Its decisions are withheld, poised, perched, ready. Everyone knows the world will not do everything today. If food is produced for the hungry children, then certain operas will not be performed; if certain performances are in fact given, then the food won't be produced and the children will die….
…So we have everything, but there's one difficulty we just can't overcome, a curse: we can't escape our connection to the poor.
We need the poor. Without the poor to get the fruit off the trees, to tend the excrement under the ground, to bathe our babies on the day they're born, we couldn't exist. Without the poor to do awful work, we would spend our lives doing awful work. If the poor were not poor, if the poor were paid the way we're paid, we couldn't afford to buy an apple, a shirt, we couldn't afford to take a trip, to spend a night at an inn in a nearby town. But the horror is that the poor grow everywhere, like moss, grass. And we can never forget the time when they owned the land. We can never forget the death of their families, those vows of revenge screamed out in those rooms that were running with gore. And the poor don't forget. They live on their rage. They eat rage. Huh, they want to rise up and finish us, and wipe us off the earth as soon as they can.
And so in our frozen world, our silent world, we have to talk to the poor. Talk, listen, clarify, explain. They want things to be different. They want change. And so we say, Yes. Change. But not violent change. Not theft, not revolt, not revenge. Instead, listen to the idea of gradual change. Change that will help you, but that won't hurt us. Morality. Law. Gradual change. We explain it all: a two-sided contract: we'll give you things, many things, but in exchange you must accept that you don't have the right just to take what you want. We're going to give you wonderful things. Sit down, wait, don't try to grab. - The most important thing is patience, waiting. We're going to give you much much more than you're getting now, but there are certain things that must happen first - these are the things for which we must wait. First, we have to make more and we have to grow more, so more will be available for us to give. Otherwise, if we give you more, we'll have less. When we make more and we grow more, we can all have more - some of the increase can go to you. But the other thing is, once there is more, we have to make sure that morality prevails. Morality is the key. Last year, we made more and we grew more, but we didn't give you more. All of the increase was kept for ourselves. That was wrong. The same thing happened the year before, and the year before that. [Laughter] We have to convince everyone to accept morality and next year give some of the increase to you.
So we all have to wait. [Laughter] And while we're waiting, we have to be careful. Because we know you. We know there are some who are the violent ones, the ones who won't wait. These are the destroyers. Their children are dying, sick - no medicine, no food, nothing on their feet, no place to live, vomiting on the streets. These are the ones who are drunk with rage, with their lust for revenge. We know what they've planned. We've imagined it all a thousand times. We imagine it every single day. That sound at the door - that odd "crack" - the splintering sound - then they break through the lock and run in yelling, pull us up from where we're gathered at the family table having our meal, pull our old parents out from the bathroom, pull the little ones up from their beds, then they line us all up together in the hall, slap us, kick us, curse us, scream at us, our parents bleeding, our children bleeding, pulling the children's clothes from the closets, the toys from the shelves, ripping the pictures off the walls. What will they do to us? we ask each other? What? - are they giving all the homes to people who now are living in the street?
Then terrible stories - shops torn apart, random killing, the old professor given a new job: cleaning toilets at the railroad station.
It seems impossible- can that possibly have happened? A mob of criminals- or employed louts - people who a year ago were starving in slums? Are they going to be running the factories now, [Laughs] the schools, everything, the whole country, the whole world?
We have to prevent it, although the violent ones are everywhere already, teaching the poor that the way things are is not God-given, the world could be run for their benefit. And so we have to set up a special classroom for the poor, to teach the poor some bloody lessons from the past - all the crimes committed by the violent rebels, by the followers of Marx. Shove the lessons of history down their throats. History, history. The crimes. The oppression. The famines. The disasters. Teach the poor that they must never try to seize power for themselves, because the rule of the poor will always be incompetent, and it will always be cruel. The cruel are bloodthirsty. Uneducated. They don't have the skills. For their own sake, it must never happen. And they must understand that the dreamers, the idealists, the ones who say that they love the poor, will all become vicious killers in the end, and the ones who claim they can create something better will always end up by creating something worse. The poor must understand these essential lessons, chapters from history. And if they don't understand them, they must all be taken out and shot. Inattention or lack of comprehension cannot be allowed.
And in places where we find that the classroom is avoided, we must warn the poor that even the innocent are going to get hurt. We can't accept violence against the symbols of law, the soldiers, the police. We have to kill the ones who commit those crimes. But if the violence goes on for a long time, then the ones whose older sisters and brothers we've already killed may be so full of rage that they don't fear death. And to control those people, we may have to go farther - cut out their tongues, cut up their faces, force them to watch us torture their parents, watch the soldiers rape their children. It's the only way to control people who don't fear death.
And so we'll teach the poor that, yes, yes, we're going to give them things, but we will decide how much we'll give, and when, because we're not going to give them everything. …
… No, I'm trying to tell you that people hate you. I'm trying to explain to you about the people who hate you.
Why do you think that they would all love you? And what do you think they would love about you? What are you? There's no charm in you, there's nothing graceful, nothing that yields. You're simply a relentless, unbearable fanatic. Yes, the commando who crawls all night through the mud is much much less of a fanatic than you. Look at yourself. Look. You walk so stiffly into your kitchen each morning, you approach your cupboard. And you open it, and reach for the coffee, the coffee you expect to find on its shelf. And it has to be there! And if one morning it isn't there - oh, the hysteria! - the entire world will have to pay! [Laughter] At the very thought of the unexpected, the unexpected deprivation, you begin to twitch, to panic, to pant. [Laughs] That shortness of breath! Listen to your voice on the telephone, listen to the tone that comes into your voice when you talk to one of your very close friends and you talk about your life and you use those expressions - ", what I need to live on?" - "the amount I need just in order to live?." Are you cute then? [Laughter] Are you funny then? That hollow tone - "the amount I need?." - solemn, quiet, no histrionics- the tone of hysteria, the tone of the fanatic - well, yes, of course- it makes sense. Without ... you understand your situation. Without a place to live, without clothes, without money, you would be like them, you would be them, you would be what they are - you would be the homeless, you would be the comfortless. So of course, you know it, you will do anything. There are no limits to what you will do. Without the money, your face would become the face of a rat, your hands would be paws - sharp, nimble, ready to scratch, ready to tear.
Sure, sometimes you think about the suffering of the poor. - Lying in your bed, you feel a sympathy, you whisper into your pillow some words of hope: Soon you will all have medicine for your children, soon a home. …
…But during this period of waiting, waiting, this endless waiting for gradual change, one by one they come knocking at your door and they cry out, they beg you for help. And you say, Get them away from me. I can't stand this constant knocking at the door, these people who come with these ridiculous stories, who claim to be my sister, or claim to be my brother, all day long, day after day. And so all of these people are taken away, and they're made to live in places where they're teased, they're played with, they're lectured, mocked, until a few of them begin to rave irrationally and even laugh, viciously, and then, woah, their vicious actions fill absolutely everyone with horror. And then each one of these vicious people is taken by the shoulders and held down, and their head is shaved, and they're strapped into a chair, and they're executed, and the one they're being executed for is you, just as it was always you that all those people were talking about so many years ago when they kept on saying, "For our children's sake, we have to do it, we have to set this town on fire, this barn, this hospital, these forests, these animals, this rice, this honey," just as it's still you, because of how much you love those clean, white sheets and the music and the dancers and the telephone calls, for whom all those people with radiant faces are being tortured tonight, are dying tonight. …
…You remember that day in school when you were playing with those three other children, and the teacher appeared in the room with four little cakes, and gave all of the cakes, all four of the cakes, to that little boy called Arthur, and none to you or your two other friends? Well, at first all four of you were simply stunned. For that first moment, all four of you knew that what had happened was unjust, insane. But then your friend Ella tried to make a little joke, and Arthur got furious and he hit Ella, and then he went into a corner and he ate all the cakes. [Laughter] It was an example of someone getting away with something.
And your life is another example. It's the life of someone who's gotten away with something. And yet your fanaticism is so extreme that you won't let that thought come into your mind.
Certain things cannot be questioned. The coffee has to be there on the shelf, and no thought may enter your mind if it conflicts with the assumption that you are a decent person. So go ahead, think - think freely - think about anything you like. Think about your health, other people, the ones who treat you badly, think about the complicated ways in which you mistreat yourself, think about the children afflicted with incurable diseases who were interviewed in that magazine. Think of all the things which show that you are decent, which show that those who are like you are decent - your friends, your loved ones…