I was listening to Air America last Friday, and the Jerry Springer show was just replaying some excerpts from Rush Limbaugh's show on Thursday. Countless angry callers were dialing Rush up, eager to get on the air and bitch about how the New Orleans refugees had "hit the jackpot" by having their homes and neighborhoods wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. A little later, while listening to KOOP 91.7 FM, and there was some young conservative guy who was bitching about the hurricane evacuees and all of the "free handouts" that they were receiving. This guy was angry because, in his mind, most of these people were poor before the hurricane, and now they're going to get their government disaster relief ands just go out and blow that money rather than getting jobs or trying to start their lives over in some meaningful way.
I was struck by two things after hearing these radio conversations.
First, it seems that there is a certain segment of the population which just doesn't like poor people.
There is a segment of the population which believes that poor people are inherently different than themselves, and that poor people are intrinsically lazy, parasitic, and deserving of their lot in life. This same segment of the population, by contrast, tends to see the wealthier echelons of society as somehow entitled to higher positions in the social hierarchy. In the case of the young conservative on KOOP radio, this is all the more perplexing, because (due to his young age) it's clear that he's still a student, in school, and probably not a self-made millionaire- a guy who most likely derives the vast majority of his wealth from his family. And there are many out there like him. Angry and relatively rich by way of not much more than good fortune. It's clear that this young guy largely believes that the fact that he has been born into fortunate circumstances, into an middle class to affluent family, somehow makes him superior as a person to the people who have less than him.
It's the classic hole in the conservative ideology- the presumption that there is a fair starting point somewhere in our lives where everyone is given an equal chance at being successful in life, and that from this point the most clever, resourceful, and talented among us will rise to the top in order to enjoy the bounty of life which they so richly deserve.
But that's bullsh*t. We don't get to chose who we're born to our what cricumstances we will be surrounded with when we enter the world. We aren't born at a common starting point. I, myself, was fortunate enough to be born into a family with two parents who both wanted the best for me in life, and who encouraged and aided me in my studies, paid for most of my college, and who made sure that I was clothed and fed and who made sure that I stayed out of trouble with the law and drugs. Less fortunate people may be born into situations where they may have only a single parent (or end up being raised by extended family), they may have parents in prison, have little or no emphasis on education (let alone money for college), drugs may be abused within their household or openly within their surroundings, and in which low wage jobs (or even crime) may be more urgent than schoolwork in order to keep the bills paid and food on the table.
All I'm saying is that we stand on the shoulders of our family and our community support system when we make our way in life. Some people are handicapped more than others right from the beginning. Yes, parents should have the opportunity to hand down the bounty of their labors to their children, but the right of wealthy parents to bestow blessings onto their kids does not make their segment of society inherently superior to a poorer segment, and the kids who are born without such gifts need to be given a chance to succeed as well. We all have weaknesses and vices. Rich people are just as likely to be doing drugs, committing crime, and a hundred other vices as poor people- they just snort powder cocaine instead of doing crack and take part in white collar insider trading or embezzlement schemes instead of robbing the local liquor stores.
So we're more alike than different, but we start in different places and we work with what we've got. Such is the philosophy of Steanso.
Which brings me to my second point. These radio people seem angry that the New Orleans evacuees are receiving disaster relief, but they seem angry not because these people didn't genuinely suffer, but because the victims of Katrina were poor in the first place, and now they might get a new start that would allow them to wind up better off than they were before.
I gotta ask, is that a bad thing? New Orleans has been a city which has been home to a large contingent of poor, mostly black families for a long, long time. This city has been in need of educational and vocational programs that might increase the living standards of its residents for a long, long time. People in New Orleans need to be more highly educated (in order to attract new business to the area and drive the economy) and there needs to be a higher rate of employment in the city (maybe some of these patriotic, American companies could move some of their manufacturing out of China or India and put those jobs back into our economy- a move which some claim would hurt American business, but which probably wouldn't hurt American business nearly as much as feared if the federal government would legislate some trade protections for our country). Basically, the hurricane has just drawn attention to the fact that these people were suffering before the floods and that the current administration has never had any interest in taking any steps to improve their lives. When a hurricane can take away everything that you have, but people start to tell you that you're probably going to be better off, what kind of f*cked up country were you living in in the first place?
Of course some critics will say that the evacuees will just blow their disaster relief money and go back to being poor. And for some, that may be true. It would probably be a good idea to make disaster relief contingent upon some showing that the recipient is looking for employment, entering school, or whatever, but even if people don't use their disaster relief money constructively, aren't they deserving of some kind of relief in order to make up for the fact that they have just lost everything that they owned? (it may not have been a mansion with a Lamborghini in the garage, but they did lose their home and belongings, right?) As with the possessions that they had before the hurricane, the disaster relief should be theirs to do with as they please. This shouldn't stop us from encouraging them to use the money to improve their lives, though.
Well, I'm tired. Those radio comments just kind of got me thinking about how this whole Katrina disaster has put American political philosophies under the microscope, though. Isn't there some famous quote about the way that a society treats the most downtrodden of its members being the true measure of that society? It just amazes me that some people seem to think that the evacuees are undeserving of support because they were poor in the first place. It's almost as if to say, "Wait?! We have to help these people? I thought we got rid of, I mean, er... were done with those people a long time ago.... I mean, Bush is still in office, right?"
Now let me get down off this big soapbox before I slip and break my neck...