Thoughts on an image of poverty – a perception of alienation – with some thoughts on poverty in general

While thinking one day, an interesting thought came to me which amounts to this:

Over the years I have always questioned the image of poverty.  I’ve often felt that what people think of as poverty is not really poverty.  I speak, especially, of western societies (such as the U.S. and Britain) conception of poverty.  In some cases, the image of poverty is true . . . but not always.  It seems that there is another perception of poverty that has less to do with wealth, and well being, than what it may at first seem.

While watching some footage of people that were portrayed as living ‘in poverty’ (namely, a primitive tribe) it occured to me that what made them appear “poor” is the fact that they did not have many man-made things.  Because of this, they appeared to ‘blend into the land’ and be a part of it.  Their dirty faces seemed to be an extension of the earth.  Their clothes were just skins and leathers taken from animals.  They used things made out of natural wood, such as tools as well as on their homes.  There were few straight lines, circles, curves, or designs.  In other words, they looked a part of the earth, the land, as if they were a part of it.  Because of this, it gives the illusion of “poverty”, at least to the more ‘civilized’ people. 

Closer observation shows that many of these people are not, in reality, “poor”, and are often a capable and deep people, living a full rich life,often in conditions that ‘civlized’ people could not survive in.  Interestingly, they are often more ‘happier’ than the people living in ‘civilized’ societies who see them as “poor”!  I’m not the only person to make the observation that just because a person lives in a mud hut doesn’t mean he’s miserable. 

But, to ‘civilized’ people, they appear often horribly poor and wretched.  The ‘civilized’ solution:  more man-made stuff!  More organization, more economics, more ‘defined’ beliefs, more education, more machines, more technology . . . more, more, more.  All they need is more and they will live happily ever after.  That’s the solution!

What this more or less says, is that to get out of “poverty” they need to engross themselves in man-made things which will steer them further away from nature (which makes the ‘poor’).  This shows a tendency, in ‘civilized’ mentality, to see this opposition:

nature<<<<<>>>>>man-made things

In the ‘civilized’ mentality these are diametrically opposed to each other and are viewed as being at odds with each other.  In general, in ‘civilized’ societies, nature and man-made things are generally viewed as incompatible.  And so, the more a person lives in nature the more “poor” they are perceived, only man-made tings will take them out of poverty.  Sometimes, these two are even viewed as if they are at war:  man versus nature!  This point of view makes it so that nature is often perceived as a threat to humanity.  It also places it so that man-made things are the ‘answer’ to everything . . . much of the basis of the myth of ‘civilized’ societies. 

This makes it so that ‘civilized’ societies viewpoints of poverty generally is viewed with qualities such as these:

  • People are lacking in some way.
  • People are miserable.
  • People are not human.  Oftentimes, they make it out as if these “poor” people are not human at all, but are more akin to beasts. 

This shows that the ‘civilized’ point of view makes certain assumptions:

  • A general worship of man-made things over nature. 
  • A fear of nature, and that it degrades humanity.

This creates a general idea that man-made things “make” a human person, and that nature turns them ‘unhuman’ or animal-like.  As a result, it creates a particular view of humanity, of a humanity-by-man-made-things.  In many ways, this is the ‘civilized’ version of what a human person is. 

One of the reasons why man-made things are looked at in such an important way is that it makes humanity distinct from nature and gives humanity an identity removed from nature.  In other words, this viewpoint gives us a ‘defined reality’ and ‘place’ in the world.  I can say “I am here . . . nature is there” and know that I am something in nature, a distinct someone.  Without this distinction and definition, we lose a sense of who we are in the world and ‘blend’ into nature, as if dissolving into it.  In short, it helps us from being ‘swallowed up’ by nature.  This ‘swallowing up’ is often viewed as a ‘poverty’ because we lose our identity which makes us feel deprived. This condition, in ‘civilized’ peoples minds, makes people think that people who live like that are miserable and wretched, hence the myth.  Because of this, it seems that the fear of nature, hidden in this viewpoint, is not really a fear of nature but a fear of a loss of our identity, of being ‘swallowed up’, so to speak, by nature, which is frightening to the ‘civilized’ mind and, accordingly, is viewed as wretched, horrible, and ‘less than human’ . . . poverty. 

But, as many of us know, humanity and man-made things cause a type of alienation of its own.  In fact, alienation-by-man-made-things runs rampant in ‘civilized’ societies.  In other words, the ‘solution’ has become the ‘disease’.  This is why there is a tendency, in ‘civilized’ societies, for people to want to ‘get back to nature’, as if to ‘undo’ the effects of man-made things.  What we see, then, is an alienation with too much nature and an alienation with too much man-made things.  In effect, man-made things and nature become two extremes, both causing alienation and both as harmful as the other.  As a result, these extremes actually create two forms of alienation:

  1. Alienation-by-nature
  2. Alienation-by-humanity

Humanity is in the dilemma of standing inbetween, wavering, uncertain as to which side it belongs to.  Much of life, really, is finding a ‘happy median’, to have a little of both, in the quantity and way that suits a persons character.  Generally, a person will lean more to one side or the other.  That is to say, some people will be attracted to a more nature-oriented lifestyle.  Other people will be attracted to a more man-made-oriented lifestyle.  To live too much in one extreme isn’t good.

Each of the two forms of alienation are unique and different.  It seems to me that alienation-by-nature tends to make a person feel ‘lost’ in nature, a sense of disappearing in it, as if it is going to engulf us.  Its not uncommon that, nature being so massive and mysterious, gives this quality of being in an abyss.  Often, even when people go camping or go out into nature they will often make references to this sense of ‘being lost in the abyss’.  They may lose a sense of who they are and marvel, or even be terrified, at their ‘smallness’.  This can cause problems for some people, making some people hate nature.  Its not uncommon that, because of this, many people will need to bring up very ‘human-centered’ things in the midst of nature.  They “have to” think about things they are familiar with and “have to” make camp ‘human-like’.  In other words, they bring their ‘human world’ into nature to stave off the sense of being engulfed by the abyss. 

Alienation-by-humanity, on the other hand, tends to make people feel ‘detached’ from themselves.  They seem like they are not themselves and, in some cases, will struggle with who they are.  They may also feel they don’t belong nor are they a part of things.  This is all quite ironic as you’d think humanity would make people feel more human but what it really shows is that there is more to being “human” than the “human”.  Interestingly, this condition creates a form of ‘poverty’ all its own but its generally not viewed as a ‘poverty’, at least by the ‘civilized’ minded.  They generally tend to as if disregard it, treating it as if it is nothing (as a result, alienation generally runs rampant in ‘civilized’ societies, with nothing to check it).  But, for those of us that are not ‘civilized’ minded, it can and has been described as ‘poverty’.  Its not uncommon for the ‘civilized’ people, who suffer from alienation-by-huamanity, to be described as ‘culturally poor’ or ‘spiritually poor’ or some other thing, by people who are not ‘civilized’ minded.

We see a tendency for the people who are ‘civilized’ oriented to often view people in nature as ‘poor’ and the people that are ‘nature’ oriented often to view ‘civilized’ people as ‘poor’.  In other words, what constitutes ‘poverty’ depends on where a person stands.  It is a perception a person takes, not a reality, nor does it necessarily describe a condition.  This fact has created all sorts of myths and misconceptions about poverty and what it consists of. 

Its for this reason that I have become skeptical about what poverty is.  Too many times have I seen people described as ‘poor’ who are not.  Many people in the world barely make ends meet but, yet, live happy content lives.  Many people live with very little too, but are happy.  In addition, some of the most miserable people in the world are the wealthy as I, myself, have seen (though they may have the ‘luxury’ to think that they are not).  Because of this, I generally use other ways to describe poverty.  To me, there are many forms of what generally constitutes ‘poverty’ as well as many levels.  Its not as easy or clearcut as it sounds. 

In its simplist wording, I would describe poverty as a condition when people are in need of something.  But we are all in need.  Life, really, is nothing but being in perpetual need (food, warmth, companionship, etc.).  As a result, humanity is poor by its nature.  Much of life is nothing but trying to stave off this need, this poverty.  But, normally, it does not overwhelm us.  This means that there is a ‘healthy poverty’ where, though we are poor, we are not overly poor.  In other words, since we are all poor by nature, it is the extent of the poverty that is the problem, of how far and extensive it goes.  This shows that there is a spectrum to poverty ranging from ‘healthy’ to ‘unhealthy’, with many gradations inbetween.  The question of where ‘poverty’ becomes ‘unhealthy’ on this spectrum is not as easy as it sounds.  In many cases, its a question of point of view.

To begin with, there are many forms of being poor:  materially, spiritually, socially, etc.  Each form of poverty has its ‘badness’ to it, and can be devastating to a person, even to the point of killing a person.  Material poverty can be just as deadly, for example, as social poverty (which may cause suicide) and spiritual poverty can cause as much misery (despair) as having to save to buy food.  This means that the different forms of poverty can all go to an extreme form causing great suffering and even death, though in different ways.

Poverty also affects the population differently.  Sometimes, poverty is a personal issue, something an individual person fights.  It could be a specific family that suffers a poverty or it can be a specific group in a society.  In some cases whole societies or even countries can suffer from a specific form of poverty.  Because there are so many forms of poverty that can exist in a society there are generally many forms that generally exists in any society. 

Poverty generally causes a misery and suffering.  These, though, tend to be subjective.  What one person is misery is, to another person, a slight discomfort.  Some people, and societies, are very hardy and can handle much deprivation and difficulty.  Other people, and societies, may not be able to handle it as much.  As a result, they become ‘poor’ more easily.  This only makes the question of what constitutes poverty even more fuzzy.

With all these variations, spectrums, and differences, its often hard to define what ‘poverty’ is and who, exactly, suffers from it.  There is generally a point, though, where it is obvious, namely when people are dying or on the verge of dying.  That’s the only sure certainty.  By that time, though, it has gone to the extreme and is too late.

This entry was posted in Dehumanization and alienation, Life in general, Philosophy, Psychology and psychoanalysis and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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