We're Taught To See Ourselves As The Victims
I've known people with movie theaters in their homes and four cars in their garage who are convinced that society is against them, that life is a gloomy parade of suffering because their property taxes went up a bit. That's stereotypical rich people behavior, but it's there in the middle class too, in subtler ways. I live in a city where the economy revolves around a boom and bust industry, so people tend to make good money while complaining about taxes for a few years, then get laid off and go on government benefits for a while, and then get a new job and go back to complaining about the government. And if you watch the cycle, you see the same "us against the world" mentality, just with fewer BMWs in the mix.
You're off the hook today, Prince Baron von Money.
When middle-class people get laid off and go on welfare, they blame the economy, or their former employer, or the government. They never blame themselves. And they shouldn't! Much like a whale's erection, economies are big, confusing things that can't be controlled by the average person. It's not like they left photocopies of their asshole on the boss' desk. They paid into the welfare system with their taxes when times were good, and now they're using the system for exactly what it's intended: helping you out when you're unlucky. It's bridging the gap until you, a hard-working person who just caught a tough break, gets another job.
Except when poor people use the system, it's none of those things. Suddenly they're not getting help; they're just dumb, lazy leeches. Plenty of middle-class people are more empathetic and generous than I'll ever be, but the worst instinct of the middle class is to blame the system when the system fails us, then lecture poor people when the system fails them. I've heard the condescending explanations about how the world really works (which usually come out after a few beers when no actual poor people are around because the speaker would never be brave enough to say it to their faces) more times than I can count.
"Now who wants to hear my thoughts on immigrants?!"
The middle class has a weird relationship with the rich -- we alternate between complaining about them and wishing we were them. Money can't buy happiness, but a yacht certainly wouldn't hurt matters. Even if we don't like the rich, there's always the pipe dream that we could be them. But no one dreams about being poor, unless you're into an incredibly specific kind of role-playing.
Being poor is a problem (practically, not morally), and a problem is either the fault of the person or the fault of circumstances beyond their control. The latter means we in the middle class might have to do something about it -- or, God forbid, reflect upon our lifestyles, which is just the worst. It's much, much easier to assume that we're fine, that ultra-rich politicians and celebrities and investment bankers are the ones being condescending and awful to the poor, but also that poor people could probably stand to work a little harder. So, uh ... sorry about all of that. I'll donate some food at Christmas, though!
Mark is on Twitter and has a book that's made him rich in experience.
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For more check out 5 Things Only Poor Teens Understand About Poverty and 4 Things Politicians Will Never Understand About Poor People.
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