Via Alternet comes this quote from Victor Hugo in Les Miserables:
Victor Hugo described this war with the poor in Les Misérables as one between the “egoists” and the “outcasts.” The egoists, Hugo wrote, had “the bemusement of prosperity, which blunts the sense, the fear of suffering which is some cases goes so far as to hate all sufferers, and unshakable complacency, the ego so inflated that is stifles the soul.” The outcasts, whose persecution and deprivation was ignored until it morphed into violence, had “greed and envy, resentment at the happiness of others, the turmoil of the human element in search of personal fulfillment, hearts filled with fog, misery, needs, and fatalism, and simple, impure ignorance.”
The same as Dickens, Hugo made distinctions between the economic classes of their time which eventually led to violence as all favorable outcome was lost. One of these days, I will finish mine. Please excuse the lack of editing and cohesiveness of this portion.
While many US citizens still believe in the American Dream, Tom Hertz noted (“Understanding Mobility in America,” 2006 Table 1); of all those born into the lowest quartile of income, 46% had a more likely outcome of remaining there as adults. If black and born into the lowest quartile, the likelihood of remaining there was 63%. James Gilligan takes it a step further in his study (“Reflections on A National Epidemic – Violence” Gilligan); quoting H.A. Bulhan’s reference to structural violence. “For every 1% increase in unemployment in the United States, there was an increased mortality of 37,000 deaths per year (natural and violent) including ~2,000 more suicides and homicides than might otherwise occur.” Or explained in simpler terms, for every 1% increase in Unemployment, we can expect to see increases in the mortality rate by 2%, homicides and imprisonments by 6%, and infant mortality by 5%. Since WWII, the unemployment rate for blacks has been twice as high as that of whites. (Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression; H.A Bulhan; Mental Illness and the Economy, M.H Brenner). Hertz points to a decrease in income mobility and Bulhan points to higher crime, violence, and death rates due to unemployment. Both Hertz and Bulhan point out the impact for those of the lowest income brackets and black minorities even more so. The resultant increases in violence, homicides and imprisonments can be attributed more so to poverty relating imprisonments as a result of being tough on crime. Hypertension amongst those living in dangerous urbanized environments is also higher when compared to those of high income environments. Given the last 8 years of poor economy; is it any wonder that death rates are higher due to violence or natural causes, more people are going to prison, more of those going to prison are black minorities, and more are going and staying longer in prison due to stringent sentencing.
For the poor white man in the 19th century, poverty added the injury of being socially invisible when compared to a man of wealth or prominence. Society not acknowledging their presence created a class of insignificance effectively shamed into oblivion as a class not worthy of notice. Adams did not speak of the black man and Slavery took it one step further creating a stigma worst than that of poverty and more shame inducing. Slaves were economic chattel to be disposed of at the discretion of their owners without observance of their being at a separate class lower than that of the poorest white man. While not as overt in the 20th century, the distinction of black slave versus poor white man has kept the class system alive and well in the US in the development of a discriminatory informal caste system. This distraction of a class level lower than the poorest of the white has kept them from concentrating on the disproportionate, and growing, distribution of wealth and income in the US. For the lower class, an allowed luxury, a place in the hierarchy and a sure form of self esteem insurance.
Sennett and Cobb (1972) observed that class distinction sets up a contest between upper and lower class with the lower social class always losing and promulgating a perception amongst themselves the educated and upper classes are in a position to judge and draw a conclusion of them being less than equal. The hidden injury is in the regard to the person perceiving himself as a piece of the woodwork or seen as a function such as “George the Porter.” It was not the status or material wealth causing the harsh feelings; but, the feeling of being treated like dirt, with no status, and the resulting shame. The answer for many is violence.
Tocquelle observed that the French Revolution occurred when conditions were improving for the poor. Again in the sixties as conditions were improving for blacks, the rates of crime increased. The underlying basis are expectations greater than the actual achievements creating a larger gap than before. As of late, criticism of the Clinton administration has been made of not doing enough even though employment increased well beyond what is considered full economic employment then and exceeding the Bush numbers of today. Many of the poor and blacks enjoyed a better income status as the rising economic tide lifted them also; but, the gap was not closed between the lower and upper classes and incomes. They perceived themselves as being no better off. The “Horatio Alger” myth made many feel that their failure to rise in class and close the gap was their own fault caused by issues of personal inferiority.
So the answer is to avoid rising expectations?
And how to you propose to “close the gap” without eliminating “the rich” in which case you will have only “the poor,” and of course layers and layers of junior bosses.
The persistence of the problem since at least the time of Hugo and Dickens… when it was more clearly not a “race” issue… though being of the wrong race is the surest way into poverty… should suggest the problem is more fundamental than “racism” and is not likely to be cured by simply “taxing the rich.”
I think we made a pretty good beginning in this country and Europe following the 2nd world war. moreover i don’t think the apparent failure of that beginning has had anything to do with the faults of ideals of that time (government regulated capitalism and earnest public education against racism and for a better life), and has had much to do with the gradual subversion of our politics by a criminal class who now control the banks as well as the politicians at all levels.
i guess the moral i am reaching for is don’t stop… or even start… with condemning racism or “the greedy rich.” Identify the criminals and the crimes and organize to recover the government from them. It won’t be easy. They already have the money and the power.
and don’t expect “equality” to be the answer. maybe “more equality,” but far better to rescue the culture from its worship of money. we need “enough” money for a decent life, but money itself with no human values (the “culture” that used to sustain poor people who had no expectation of becoming rich) will leave you, and society, sick.