Saturday, May 2, 2015
“Poverty is the ultimate threat to stability in a globalizing world…The widening gaps between rich and poor within nations, and the gulf between the affluent and the most impoverished nations, are morally outrageous, economically wasteful, and potentially socially explosive.” – Andrew Simms
I included the quote noted above in a paper I wrote for graduate school some five years ago. The wisdom contained in those words is still as timely as ever. Indeed, I think the topic of poverty and social discontent is perhaps even more compelling today than it was five years ago.
What is one reason I would make such a claim? If you dig deeply into the recent stories from Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland you can see a certain common thread underneath the story of African American men dying at the hands of law enforcement in their local communities. These stories are indeed more than stories about racial profiling, bias and the integrity of the law enforcement community. I would wager that to fully understand what led to these men dying untimely deaths you also must look at the issues of disenfranchisement and lack of opportunity. You have to look at the grinding toll of poverty and lack of opportunity. And you have to look at how perceptions we carry of people different than ourselves affect how likely we are to include them or offer them opportunities we may have the power to offer to them.
I do not have personal experience of what it is like to be a racial minority. But I nonetheless do have experience of what it is like to be a minority by virtue of being a gay man. I have experienced prejudice and exclusion. I know the sting of intolerance and willful human ignorance. Add an economy that does not offer significant opportunity to well educated professionals like myself and you indeed have the recipe for an immense amount of social discontent. I sometimes marvel that there are not more protests unfolding across this country given the continuing lack of significant opportunity as well as the amount of polarization that has occurred between the wealthiest and the poorest citizens of this nation.
The Great Recession did not batter American citizens equally. And the amount of time people needed to recover from the economic implosion is also not equal across different income groups. This is clearly rendered in many articles on the subject. Top earners have recovered much more quickly than the middle class and the poor. Read this article for more details. I found the following paragraph to be the most telling:
The economy remains depressed for most wage-earning families. With sustained, relatively high rates of unemployment, businesses are under no pressure to raise their employees’ incomes because both workers and employers know that many people without jobs would be willing to work for less. The share of Americans working or looking for work is at its lowest in 35 years.
The American Dream no longer appears to be a valid element of our national mythology. Consider this article in Salon Magazine. I was not surprised to note that the pessimism people have regarding their own futures and that of their children is concentrated among the white working class and African-Americans. But what is contributing to these difficulties? Bad policy. And who is primarily responsible for such bad policy making? If the Salon article is to be believed it is the GOP. I tend to agree with this assessment. As I have noted elsewhere in my blog the new mantra of the GOP seems to be 'Governance by Obstruction'. I would personally like to see a greater spirit of cooperation in our political process. Will we rediscover such days in the future? I don't know.
So what does poverty, lack of opportunity and the unfortunate experience of marginalization have to do with trauma? I believe all these factors make it much more difficult to remain motivated, get up each morning and seek to make a living for yourself much less make some sort of contribution to the broader society. Why would you want to bother to put yourself out there if you (rightly) feel the deck is already stacked against you? It's just another obstacle you must somehow overcome. Why work when the institutions that have a significant influence on the quality of life in your community are rudderless and amoral? Why keep trying when injustice is so prevalent?
I have struggled with these questions as I have journeyed through my own healing. We can heal our own individual lives of the psychic scars we carry by doing any number of things including working with a therapist, eating well, exercising, spending time with friends and the like. But so long as the institutions that influence our lives as well as the direction of our society continue to be filled and affected by the rot of corruption and apathy it seems quite likely that people will continue to feel victimized and hopeless. There will continue to be suicide. There will continue to be policy brutality, disenfranchisement, hopelessness, addiction and anger.
Recovering from trauma is no small task. Once you restore your own life I wonder if it's only natural to want to somehow improve the broader society. That is what I want to be about now. I want to create a better world. I want to use my time well. I want to love my life and love what I do. I want to love the people in my life.
So here is a bit of a personal update. I plan to titrate off my sertraline over the course of the next sixty days. I picked up what I hope will be the last refill of my prescription this past week. I am feeling confident about my readiness to take this step.
It is May now. The world is turning a beautiful green outside. The ice completely disappeared off area lakes weeks ago. This weekend will feature warmth typical of June. In the spirit of this new season I feel an immense urgency to move on and create a good life for myself.