You tell yourself that you're doing it because you're sure that at some point you'll make manager, or build up your resume enough to get a better job, or maybe take night classes. But none of that has happened, or shows any signs of happening, and you know people who had that plan right up until they died of old age. Then you see your neighbor who isn't even bothering, and has roughly the same lifestyle as you. The system has clearly gone wrong, somehow. The incentives are set up to encourage this guy to do nothing!
Is that what you're mad about, though? Or are you really mad that incentives aren't set up to encourage you to do something?
Then you think about the deadbeat family down the street who declared bankruptcy ("They borrowed money and then didn't pay it back! That's like stealing!"), or the co-worker who last week quit without a notice ("How can you just screw over the people who were putting food on your table?"). Your scorn comes from the fact that they don't seem to feel the same shame you do. But ... corporations declare bankruptcy all the time, and your job sure as hell isn't going to give you notice before cutting you loose. They're certainly not ashamed of it. And you start to have that sneaking feeling that maybe you're the sucker.
Then you think about the time you got enraged because your jobless sister-in-law won $50 on a scratch-off ticket, and then spent the money on a butt tattoo of a penis with angel wings. How can she live with herself, when she could have used that money to pay off the $250 in overdraft fees the bank charged her because she forgot to write down a check that one time? How can she think it's better for her to have a tattoo than for, uh, Bank of America to add to its $100 billion in yearly revenue?
And then you realize that you're out here policing her behavior for ... who? The bank? Its shareholders?
Who are you fighting this battle for?
We Have To Believe People Deserve What They Get
This, I think, is what it all comes down to. Notice I didn't use the word "want" up there. We have to believe this.
I said earlier that Christians are more likely to judge the poor harshly, which I guess makes sense. Christians believe in a just God, and that people tend to get what they deserve (despite the fact that their own Bible explicitly says otherwise dozens of times). But it's also human nature. We want to believe that only bad people suffer, because otherwise something bad might happen to us! Whatever I think about the filthy guy living on the sidewalk, the one thing I can't think is that it could be me.
The system needs us to believe that, just as it needs us to believe that the slob who didn't bother paying his mortgage wasn't just screwing Wells Fargo, he was screwing us. After all, what if everybody stopped paying their mortgage, huh? What then? You know, that incredibly plausible apocalypse scenario in which everyone spontaneously decides they prefer poverty, because we weren't mean enough to the impoverished?
They need us to hate the poor because they need us to believe in a fair system, that anyone who fell through the cracks must have just done it wrong. If automation really is going to make all of the low-end jobs go away, then there will be more and more of these people, clamoring for our help. Everyone thinks this is coming, and if it does, then there is going to be a blame game. "Who caused this?"
Not the people at the top -- the system is already inoculating us against that idea. No, it's the ones at the bottom, with their lazy habits and greasy hair and bad manners and deviant sexuality. The word the "alt-right" uses is degeneracy. You're going to hear that a lot in the coming years. See, it's the degeneracy that's spreading, an epidemic of laziness. That's why half of your neighbors are suddenly out of work. It's definitely not the system that finally figured out how to write human labor out of the equation altogether.
Add it all up, and I'm thinking we're maybe five years away from a Christmas Carol reboot in which Scrooge starts off as a softy who's going bankrupt from his charity, and slowly learns to treat poor people like shit. "I'm repossessing this goose, you shiftless turd. These are for people who work on Christmas."
Walt Disney Pictures"No, it's Get A Job And Off My Street, You Mooching Little Shit Day."
If you want to hear David Wong talking about this subject with Alex Schmidt and John Cheese, check out this week's Cracked podcast!
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For more, check out 5 Reasons Why The Middle Class Doesn't Understand Poverty and 4 Things Politicians Will Never Understand About Poor People.
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