As I anxiously await the debate tonight, I am struck by an Facebook exchange on a friend’s Facebook page, which addressed one of the major issues that lies in the shadows, but is nonetheless very much present: poverty and public policy.
Anna Hsiao read Ayla Ryan’s wrenching autobiographical story, “What Being Poor Really Means,” and remarked:
I guess it’s easy to take money away from starving children when they aren’t yours. Right, Mr. Romney?
Eli Gashi, a mutual friend from Kosovo and a former student at The New School wondered:
How can people vote for Romney – I dont get it
Anna Hsiao responded:
It’s pure ideology… They’re voting for his money, because that’s somehow gonna make them rich, too.
Muma Honeychild, a friend of Anna’s from Poland, whom I don’t know, insisted:
but how, really?
Like it requires rational cause-effect thinking! We are masters of voting against our own interest – Bush’s two terms, hello….
While, Aron Hsiao, Anna’s husband and a student of mine, offered a different theory:
People mistake the absence of misfortune and a hindsight of fortuity for moral and ethical superiority. It’s a monotheist and specifically Protestant tendency, to my eye. “You’re suffering? Well, I haven’t suffered. God and the universe have punished you and rewarded me. Clearly, you have done something wrong and I have done something right.” That’s the morality of Mitt, and the morality of half of America. They will only develop “empathy” once they, too, find themselves shocked and crying out about the injustice of what has just happened to them. “Why do you failures not take responsibility for your own suffering!?” will become “Why has God forsaken me?!” and only then will they–at length–understand (and only some of them). It will only take another Great Depression to cause America to once again to loathe the idea of a Great Depression. The consciousness colonized by monotheism in most of its present guises cannot learn from mistakes, because the universe is an ordered space not of causality and physics, but of governance by fiat carried out by a moralistic, judging God. The rocks fall only on the heads of the sinners; those skulls that remain intact are the saved. They do not think to don a helmet or to place a “Beware the falling rocks!” sign; no mere helmet or sign can forestall God’s judgment.
To which I responded:
I find this exchange really interesting. I wonder. Would all of you mind if I reproduced it on Deliberately Considered? The question, repeated. The reference to a materialist and then a cultural explanation. I would add my wonder: the materialist explanation is inadequate because Romney is proposing an irrational response to the economic crisis, or at least is pretending to. On the idea of monotheism being the explanation: I would suggest my specification. Monotheism yields belief in one’s own truth, yes. A certain kind of Protestantism may be related to a lack of empathy for the unfortunate, but there are many other kinds. A good sociologist of religion might help us with this. Where is Weber when you need him?
Mine was merely a frustrated rant in response to what you call Romney’s inadequate and irrational response. I’d love to see a larger discussion on the subject on DC!
“The rant” opened up an interesting discussion. I will try to turn it into something for DC.
So here it is. Thinking about inequality and abject poverty, and the kinds of albeit inadequate assistance we now provide, how could anyone support Romney – Ryan, who propose radical cuts in government support for the poor? Is it possible to think about the poor, including the working poor, and understand their situation and propose an increase in their taxes and cutting food stamps? If you pay close attention, it is clear that they do, after all, have much more “skin in the game” than the super rich, who have no moral qualms about hiding their money in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands. Can charity do the trick for Ayla Ryan and her family and the millions of others who have suffered disproportionately during the Great Recession, but also the bubbled booms of the preceding years? And I wonder how does all the talk about the middle class relate to this?
I hope Jim Lehrer raises the issue of poverty and real human suffering in American tonight, but I fear he won’t.