I would classify this (very common) kind of resentful attitude to poor people as a “consolatory narrative.” The consolation it offers is to reduce the itchy conscience that every human being feels when we witness unfairness. Even chimps perceive and resent unfairness, so it’s not surprising that we “higher” hominids are uncomfortable with it. And it is so obviously, spectacularly unfair that so manypeople live in precarity and poverty despite working hard, whereas others get sinecure jobs in Daddy’s business and pull down huge salaries for doing nothing at all; somewhere in between those two extremes we all exist, anxiously, not only fearing to fall from our insecure financial perch but also uncomfortably aware of the immiseration of those beneath us.

The “poor people are poor because they are stupid/lazy/improvident” narrative consoles us, numbing that itchy conscience. It’s the calamine lotion for a moral sunburn; it makes the discomfort go away. It reassures us that we deserve what we have, that we are solidly entitled to our good fortune, that we are actually — get this — more moral and righteous for being affluent and secure (and for not sharing any of that affluence and security with others if we can help it).

The New Testament, among other venerable sources, says quite otherwise. It is the anti-consolatory narrative: it inflames that itchy conscience further. It says that we have a duty to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit the incarcerated. It says that the poor are blessed, not that they are to be despised. It says “In as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” It tells us that every man is our brother and every woman our sister — not just those whose income is similar to our own. The authors of libels upon the poor (such as the Heritage Foundation piece discussed here) may call themselves Christians, but they sound to me more like paid-up members of the Church of Mammon. And it seems clear to me that their deep attachment to narratives demonising the poor is a kind of self-medication… against the sickness of conscience that we all feel in an age of such stark, grotesque, and cruel inequity.

Retired; ex-software engineer. Paleo-feminist. Sailor. Arduino tinkerer. Enviro. Libertarian Socialist (Anarcho-Syndicalist, kinda). Writer. Altermondialiste.

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