Be a man.
It is a simple imperative, repeated over and over to men, starting when we are small boys. The phrase usually is connected to one man’s demand that another man be “stronger”, which is traditionally understood as the ability to suppress emotional reactions and channel that energy into controlling situations and establishing dominance.
Be a man, then, typically translates as: Surrender your humanity.
To be a man, then, is a bad trade. When we become men — when we accept the idea that there is something called masculinity to which we should conform — we exchange those aspects of ourselves that make life worth living for an endless struggle for power that, in the end, is illusory and destructive not only to others but to ourselves.
(Robert Jensen, Getting Off)
There are of course many ways to become poor; some people are born into poverty, some people achieve poverty, and some people have poverty thrust upon them. Usually (I suspect) it’s a combination of factors. Suggesting that someone being poor is entirely about their lack of personal responsibility is as ignorant as suggesting someone being poor is entirely the fault of “society.” Speaking from personal experience, one indeed must make the conscious decision not to remain poor and affirmatively work toward the goal of a better life. Speaking also from personal experience, one does not often escape poverty without the help of others, both as individuals and as one’s larger society. Without both, the possibility of leaving poverty becomes dramatically smaller.
What I generally find implied from people who suggest poverty is wholly a personal flaw of character is the following thought: “Since you are entirely reponsible for your poverty, I have no responsibility to help fight poverty in the United States.” This is akin to someone comfortably standing on the deck of a ship looking over to see another person splashing in the ocean, asking for help, and deciding not to throw them the life preserver that’s hanging on the railing on the grounds that clearly that person decided to go for a swim and therefore it’s their responsibility to make it back to the ship before they drown.
Well, possibly that person went for a swim; possibly they fell overboard because they had too much to drink; possibly a sudden swell knocked them overboard; possibly they were shoved into the water. The thing is, a more rational person will wait to examine the root causes of that person being in the ocean until after they’ve thrown the life preserver and helped to haul that person back unto the ship. — John Scalzi, Being Poor Additional Comments Thread
As someone who was homeless for two years, and had to listen to judgy well-off people going through whatever verbal or logical contortions they could to avoid having any compassion for people like me, this really resonated.
“While I can see… that people can and do interpret recognizing the relative ease of one’s own difficulty setting and acting on that recognition as a hardship, or coming at personal cost, I am baffled by that view. I see it as coming at great personal gain. When I recognize my advantages, and work to offer them/ensure that I am not denying them to others, I am sharing in the success of a much wider universe. I can’t think of a single excellent thing that I have in my life that would be better for my being the only one to have it, and many excellent things that are made more excellent when I get to experience them with people from all sorts of different difficulty settings, whether I think those settings are easier or harder than mine. My world is better shared than hoarded.” – Commenter “Sigh”
I developed conventional liberal politics in reaction to the conventional conservative politics of my father and his generation. But in a more basic sense, I grew up depoliticized — like most contemporary Americans, I was never taught to analyze systems and structures of power, and so my banal liberal positions seemed like cutting edge critique to me. After college I worked as a journalist at mainstream newspapers, which further retarded my ability to think critically about power; reporters who don’t have a political consciousness coming into the field are unlikely to develop one in an industry that claims neutrality but is fanatically devoted to the conventional wisdom.
— Robert Jensen
This is from Jensen’s piece “Consciousness Rising, World Fading”, and you can read more about it here on Julian Real’s excellent social-justice blog.