Forever Under Construction

Disappearing The Poor

Posted in Poverty, World by homeyra on April 16, 2008

How World Bank policies led to famine in Haiti, The Real News

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Jeremy Seabrook, The Guardian

As if to demonstrate that poverty is now a residual issue in the world, the poor are being slowly eliminated from the imagery of the busy global media. […]

If they have not yet been completely eclipsed, at least their wellbeing is now entrusted to NGOs, charities and international institutions, far more dependable custodians of their welfare than any self-help, or organisation on their own behalf. “The poor” have become an object of piety in a secular world. Who does not strive to raise them out of their misery? Is that after all not the purpose of wealth-creation?

Window-dressing is perhaps the highest art in the culture of globalism. In spite of appearances, poverty exhibits a disagreeable tenacity in the world. Since its removal would be an arduous process, it is, perhaps, easier to obliterate the representation of the poor in the world’s media than to wipe out poverty.

It may also be that the media vanishing trick prefigures something far more sinister, preparatory, perhaps, to more material disappearances. For their persistent presence remains a spectre at the global feast. What an agreeable place the world is – or would be – without them: nothing to mar the smiling imagery of plenty, the abundance of the display window and the publicity machine, the shopping mall and the showroom, the wall-to-wall entertainment and TV channels of endless music and laughter.

There are daily intimations of a more brutal dematerialisation of the poor. Wholesale clearances of city slums intensify whenever some spectacular event is to be staged – Beijing has unceremoniously removed its urban poor for the Olympics. Delhi has been cleansing its slums in readiness for the Commonwealth Games in 2010. Bengaluru is to become “slum-less” as a result of its “slum clearance with a mission” programme. On almost every map of the world’s major cities, the areas occupied by the urban poor appear as blank spaces, emblem of their future erasure.

[…] At least 140,000 farmers in India committed suicide between 1997 and 2007 […] “accidents of modernity”, people for whom nothing has replaced decaying structures of meaning. […]

[…] How simple for the state to shoot them down, and write off their no-account lives as an “encounter” with militants, ultras, extremists, and all the other inventive taxonomies devised to justify the elimination of those they have impoverished to the point of hopelessness.

Arundhati Roy sees preparations for a “genocide” against the poor […]

As if to support this grim scenario, the ghost of hunger is presently being invoked by the global information machines. […] The Malthusian insight, that no place is set at nature’s banquet for the poor, has been revised: no longer nature’s banquet, it is now a feast crafted by a global food manufacturing industry.

[…] In the perpetual artificial sunshine of the technosphere, within the global gated community in which all the inhabitants are rich, the poor have already ceased to exist. But it is one thing to banish them from the enchanted islands of plenty, that virtual reality of the fantasists of wealth, but quite another to erase them from a material world in which they remain an obdurate majority. Their refusal to go quietly into the oblivion for which they are apparently destined is likely to take unpredictable and malignant forms; since they are the footsoldiers of the militias, Maoists, mafiosi and militants who have flooded the spaces evacuated by governments for whom the poor no longer count. Read the article

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Pedestrian quotes Peter Ducker who explains the present trend:

“… we’ll plan for 8% of the world’s population … and, as if somehow, magically, the few NGOs … will take care of the remaining 92% …”

12 Responses

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  1. Pedestrian said, on April 17, 2008 at 1:18 am

    You know, reading Peter Ducker, it is very interesting how much emphasis he gives to the “third sector” in the “new economy”, “knowledge economy” or “globalization”. For instance, he says:

    “In the past twenty years the United States has begun to talk of a third sector, the “nonprofit sector”–those organizations that increasingly take care of the social challenges of a modern society.”

    Reading him – and many other proponents of the new economy and/or neolibrealism – they all somehow or other emphasize this third sector.

    To me, they are answering the critics (such as this article). They’re saying: we are taking care of the poor, the down trodden, the miserable … We’re leaving it to benevolent agencies that will take care of it. As if magically, “volunteers” can remedy the entirety of a world that was based and built on accumulation, greed, profits and capital.

    Again, quoting Ducker:

    ” Even now churches are the largest single part of the social sector in the United
    States, receiving almost half the money given to charitable institutions, and about a third of the time volunteered by individuals.”

    To me, he’s saying: we’ll plan for 8% of the world’s population … And, as if somehow, magically, the few NGOs and American churches will take care of the remaining 92%. No sweat! Things’ll take care of themselves … That sounds similar to Seabrook’s “window dressing”.

    I always wonder: why such a huge emphasis on NGOs? The very people who send in tanks and guns and grenades by the hundreds of thousands … then send in these NGOs, take a few pictures, and expect us to feel that there is justice … I do not mean to undermine the work of these individuals … But that’s the thing: these are just individuals. The world order is what is causing the catastrophe ……….. Why do we constantly wolf down the salad dressing?

  2. پيمان said, on April 17, 2008 at 2:50 am

    I think somethings same as science fiction movies that imagined the future cities with above ground and underground,are coming true…
    So,why not?,why China and India couldn’t be ?
    These two new giants try to being in the front line in every manner…

  3. homeyra said, on April 17, 2008 at 5:24 am

    we’ll plan for 8% of the world’s population … And, as if somehow, magically, the few NGOs etc. will take care of the remaining 92%.”
    That resumes this and hundreds of other articles.
    One wonders if all the new surveillance systems aren’t somehow also motivated by the knowledge that sometimes something will go wrong, an anticipation of a probable revolt of the poor.
    I didn’t know Ducker, he seems to have said it all, thanks P.
    True Peyman, there is a parallel with these science fiction movies, except for now no need to spend to build undergrounds!
    By the way you can read the Brave New World online.

  4. Pedestrian said, on April 18, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    Homeyra, do you know Golnar Mehran? I was just reading her articles and wow! I love her work. I especially love her words. She does not point fingers or accuse or play around the propaganda machines.

    I was also reading Shahrzad Mojab … And I don’t know … I just hate rhetoric! No matter who it’s coming from. So I couldn’t really connect with her work.

  5. homeyra said, on April 18, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    I have never heard of them, I just googled. Mehran’s online articles need subscription. From UCLA to Al-Zahra University is quite an experience:)
    Mojab has a wiki page where it says that she “escaped” from Iran. I can guess an important difference in their world views.
    If you have knowledge of Mehran’s writings on the net let me know.

  6. Bluebear2 said, on April 24, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    Pedestrian,

    Here in the US, particularly under Bush, there has been this assumption that there is no need for the government to take care of the poor and starving. They are indeed counting on various benevolent agencies to take over the task.

  7. Linda said, on April 25, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    Bluebear2, I know that you already know this, and so do most other thinking people, but I just can’t let your statement about McStupid McBush go by w/o responding to it.

    Poverty, and specifically one of its symptoms, hunger, cannot be addressed meaningfully by individuals donating food, or clothing, or medicine, or whatever to the people in need. Poverty and hunger can only be addressed with fully-funded public policies that address their underlying causes: education, health care including comprehensive family planning services, and equitable resources distribution.

    Yes, we do need to take care of the poor, to use your phraseology, but we need to do way, way more than that. Simply taking care of the poor does nothing but perpetuate an endless cycle of more poor people, with the middle classes being who it is who disproportionately end up taking care of them, because we see them, they live in our non-gated communities, their children go to our neighborhood public schools, and they take up most of the emergency room beds at our local hospitals.

    Revolution, this time in the form of an Obama presidency, is what needs to happen in the US.

  8. homeyra said, on April 25, 2008 at 8:35 pm

    Since a number of unelected bodies (IMF, World Bank etc.) decide for policies affecting the entire world, I wonder what are the options of a new President.
    Somehow a choice has been made that people are too unreliable to base important policies on their votes!
    I was just looking at this series of spectacular photos by George Steinmetz: New surveillance.
    I can’t but wonder if all this isn’t also an anticipation of the likely back fires of increasing poverty.

  9. Linda said, on April 25, 2008 at 9:10 pm

    Re “what are the options of a new President” To inspire people to change how we look at things. The IMF, World Bank, etc. will not change until we change, because the people who work for those bodies are us. Change from the inside out, which won’t produce overnight results. And because it won’t produce overnight results, people must understand that our efforts now are important and meaningful because of what they will produce decades from now. This is what Obama is talking about, in part, when he says that “we have to change the mindset” that got us to this difficult place in the first place.

    Re “a choice has been made that people are too unreliable to base important policies on their votes” That choice has been and is being made by people who want to base policies on their special interests. It’s about power, for selfish interests. Only we the people can change that, by participating fully and effectively in our democracy.

  10. Pedestrian said, on April 25, 2008 at 10:17 pm

    I couldn’t agree with your more Linda:

    Poverty, and specifically one of its symptoms, hunger, cannot be addressed meaningfully by individuals donating food, or clothing, or medicine, or whatever to the people in need.

    Poverty is not a result of one single action, and thus, can not be suppressed by another counteracting it (namely, charity). Poverty is one consequence of a mentality that has been slowly gnawing away at the world. Even to developing countries, the message is wide and clear: embrace neoliberal policies to be given a chance to enter big business and thus, we may award you a small slice of the pie.

    It is the world order that is the dilemma. A deliberate, long term attempt by policy makers set out to implement the theories created by Schools of Austria and Chicago. And thus, replace and disintegrate the Keynesian welfare state. Quietly, we embraced everything they offered us in the form of capitol, consumer choice, freedom, poverty, etc.

    70% of world trade is being conducted by 402 multinational companies. This did not take force over night. Nor can it be wiped away in that same time span. It is bigger and more powerful than any politician or policy maker. It is the way we think, eat, work …That’s why I always doubt whether anyone, in whatever position, could really change much.

    Of course, believing this would confine one to one’s couch. “nobody can change the world, so I might as well sit at home and watch TV.” That seems nothing but couterproductive.

    I have strong sympathies to the left, but I’m not a communist either. I think that ultimately, it is a combined system that will yield the best results. I think the greatest way that things slowly can change is by educating people about the way their system really works. Most people don’t know how capitalism really functions, how, why or what ways the world economy is working, what globalization really is, and how we are all partly contributing to our world’s disintegration.

  11. Linda said, on April 25, 2008 at 11:28 pm

    Re “I have strong sympathies to the left, but I’m not a communist either.”

    Part of our mindset that’s holding us back is this labeling. How perverted that we feel like we have to DEFEND ourselves when we talk about solving a problem like extreme world poverty. We will never be able to simply identify the root causes of a problem and then solve it by addressing the root problems when the guns get turned onto those who are trying to do this by negatively labeling them as being dangerous. Of course no one WANTS to be a communist. This is where education comes in. People need to be able to respond to accusations of supporting a communist system by knowing what communism is and then being able to show how providing people with education, health care, and equal access to resources is NOT communism at all. It’s simply the right thing to do. Conversely, people need to know what capitalism is, so they can draw lines between it and solvable problems such as extreme poverty and world hunger.

    This either/or thinking is just so unproductive. I’m so sick of eight long years of “you’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists,” “you’re either a free market capitalist or you’re a comunist/socialist.” That is what happens to people who are being fed propaganda. It’s the antithesis of education.

  12. Pedestrian said, on April 25, 2008 at 11:45 pm

    “you’re either a free market capitalist or you’re a comunist/socialist.”

    You can say that again! As soon as you begin talking about government spending on education, health care, equal access to resources, labor unions, problems with free trade, etc …….. Many people associate you with Stalin!

    So I always feel the need to make it clear: I believe in these things, I even believe in some Marxist ideology, but I don’t believe in a communist state! In fact, why are my beliefs always connected to one? Why do I always feel the need to make that clear?

    You give a beautiful explanation.


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