Sunday, June 12, 2011

Is the crime begging or admitting to poverty?

So sad, the way the SF Chronicle can fall for the worst in human nature when poverty is the subject. Today's Letters to the Editor are still embargoed as of this writing but they'll be available here Tuesday. In them, a Mr. Kurtz (no kidding) from Wisconsin complains of people "shamelessly begging" on Fisherman's Wharf. He wants to know "Where are the police?" and says the city should be "ashamed" of allowing begging.

What cruel nonsense. What the city should be ashamed of is its crime of maintaining income contrasts that cause people, inevitably, to beg.

It brings up the thought that abuse is often an expression of denial. It attacks individuals or groups of people or whole social categories of people for the "offense" of telling or showing a truth that doesn't fit a cover story (including by involuntarily making the truth visible). With poor people in particular, the crime is the offense of making poverty visible -- of beggars "shamelessly" failing to hide their neediness, thereby contradicting a false public image of civic prosperity. More generally, for any person or group of people assigned to a descriptive category either by open bigotry or by a dominant self-image mythology (even if the mythology itself seems benign), the crime is the offense of being recognizably fully human in ways that overflow the limits of the category.

Maybe you already knew this. Maybe I've even read these words somewhere before (Alice Miller?) and not understood them fully. Anyway at the moment I'm finding it provides a unifying theme for several kinds of indignation in my own mind, many of them expressed on this site.

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In (sort of) mitigation for that awful letter, the Chron also has a brief sympathetic photo-caption feature today on a man living in his car and trying to get by. I only wish they hadn't given too good a description of the car and where he parks it, which the police can follow in order to wreck whatever chance the guy has

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