Blog Action Day: Poverty

by Brendan Strong

Very late in a very bad day, but here goes a completely off-the-top of the head blog for Blog Action Day. I had notes, I did some research. I even started thinking about characters for a short story. All of this is left behind, perhaps to surface again. But for now, here is my contribution.

A few days ago, I commented – cynically – that the problem with “Blog” “Action” day was that the opinion based blog did not really tally with the action. A number of events have changed my thinking on this.
Today, my wife lost her job to the ridiculously bad management of the Irish economy and the government’s ‘call to arms’ about being patriotic. We’ve been wondering what we’ll do. Emigration has been mentioned. 
I’ve lived my life with an unhealthy fear of poverty – of not being able to afford things. Of losing the things that I have. These are the things you dwell on when you have a tendency toward self pity. But then, all this is swept away with the sight of my daughter; with the thought of my wife. This is no time for ‘dwelling’. It’s a time for ‘doing’. Sounds dreadfully American, I know. 
The next thing to come along in a flurry of texts from my family is the very good point: You have each other, you have your health. Remember, this is a chapter in a whole life.
And it hits me. I’m not facing Poverty. Because Poverty is not about being poor. It’s not necessarily about losing those things you built up with a strong line of unhealthy credit. 
It’s about being at the edges of life, with no way out. It’s about poor education, poor healthcare, little or no social assistance. 
I’m not a socialist. I believe in Money. By its finite nature, it will always gravitate toward the entrepreneur, the lucky and the cunning. It makes some richer, some poorer. That’s ineluctable, much like the modality of the visible. Attempts to control economies have proven that where the people outnumber the money, the people lose out. Stalin had 20 million losers.
The problem may seem like Money, but I it’s not.
Money is a tool of humanity; no more, no less. It allows us the time and opportunity to improve ourselves spiritually and socially. It provides a means to equalise everyone’s experience of life. But it is not doing this. Not right now. But that’s not Money’s fault. As a tool, it has no moral plane of its own. Any morality that may relate to Money and what it does has to be lain at the hands of the person working the tool. Remember: A bad workman always blames his tools. It made sense when you were a child, and it makes sense now.
The problem we face is that Poverty is caused by Money, which is wielded by Humanity. Humanity, which is imagined as much as the money it controls. Shelley once claimed “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” By this, he saw that poets captured, filtered and reformulated the way people imagined themselves and their society. Ads work like this – showing us dreams and letting on that a can of pop, a chocolate bar or a drink that tastes soft but knocks your socks off will make you the person who lives like that. The problem we face now, globally, is that we live in a world imagined by merchant bankers.
They imagined (and convinced the rest of us) that the world’s finite amount of money, viewed through a prism and mathematical sleight of hand could be seen as much more than it was. Infinite, you could say. This meant that the money that was made available to Bob as a loan was also made available to me. Two people, one bit of money. Bob and I pay back our money, and suddenly there’s two bits of money, where previously there was one. So now, they can lend to four times as many people. And given there was only one bit of money to start with, they can take the risk of lending money to some who may not be able to afford to pay it back. But then, it’s provided to accumulate assets – so they can always take back the asset. 
This is nothing new. Sadly, it’s something we’ve been reading for nearly ten years now. Reading, but ignoring; content to live in a world imagined by merchant bankers. By the way, the rhyming slang is fully intended here. And if you think about it, makes a lot of sense- self abuse, self delusion, ultimate emptiness of solipsism.
So, there’s all this money – real and imagined – sloshing around the place. But still, and for fifteen debauched, orgiastic, onanistic years we rolled in it while using to also keep others buried in Poverty. In both the developed and developing worlds. I don’t believe this was entirely intended (although I cannot say it was entirely unknown), but it happened.    And it happened because of the way we imagined ourselves. Building up our unhealthy debt; scratching our heads wondering “What can I do?” (if we had time to think of human injustice between the Nine O’Clock News and pints). But this inaction wasn’t simply inaction. It was a tacit choice, based on how we imagined ourselves. Many did take action – travelling to countries to teach English as a Foreign language or volunteering, and I can’t dismiss this. But these folks don’t represent the multitude, and it pains me to admit that they don’t represent me, who cowered in fear of Poverty – If I became a volunteer, what would it do to my career?  This selfish consideration to be soothed by the thought that Besides, they wouldn’t want me anyway. I don’t have the skills. 
Our choices are based on our imagined humanity. Poverty is real, it is killing people, it is causing disease, it is propagating itself. Much like we are. Perhaps we’ve imagined Poverty, made it in our own image. Perhaps our morality is impoverished; perhaps our imagination. 
Imagining ourselves differently – who we are, what we’re doing here, what we should do next (I owe Alasdair Gray for that formulation of the imagined self) is what is required. With the morality and courage to see ourselves sharing this humanity (not just as West, East or Developed and Developing, but as Humanity, globally) will be a start. After that, we will be guided by actions informed by a better self. It is the making of that self, the imagining of what we are and can do, that makes me realise why Blog Action Day is so important. 
Hmph. Perhaps I am a socialist after all.