Anyone who has lived in North America throughout their whole lives, and taken any subtle interest in the social safety nets can attest to one thing over the past 30 years. That one thing: The rise of the narrative of deserving/undeserving poor. It was seen most sharply in Canada during the Ontario Harris’ years and Klein years’ here in Alberta where social services (i.e. welfare, disability support; etc) were designed to be exclusionary, not inclusionary for those needing the services.
Why does this matter?
Simple, it becomes a narrative of understanding when those who are on the lower end of the socio-economic scale vote for wealthy elites who do not hold their voters interest or care at the forefront? In simple terms, why do those who would be seen by the outside as poor vote for the billionaires who only care about supporting their wealthy friends and dismantling the safety net designed to aid them?
Because in the narrative of deserving/undeserving we create a falsity–a lie (of the kind that would get one’s mouth washed out with soap when I was a youngster) that people choose their economic class. That if they just worked harder they could have a better life. That in true independence it is up to each person to always be healthy, never be injured, addiction and disability are a choice; living in shelters or social housing-choice…getting the vibe yet? That’s right, if you are seeking aid of the state then it is because of poor choices on your part, not because of intangibles in life. As such, you should be happy with what ever form and rules the hand out takes, no matter how dehumanizing it can be (think the drug tests for welfare) or to qualify in some cases for social services all assets have to be liquidated so that you can qualify for a below the poverty line monthly amount, in essence the system not being a hand up or a bridge to sustain while the next opportunity comes, but a what can be a punitive measure to create a poverty cycle.
Why does this system issue matter? If you cannot see the simple ethics, for my preponderance today it is how many of these “fiscal conservative” policies (sorry folks, Tommy Douglas was a socialist, and kept balanced books and built a social safety net that included public health care, but I digress) come from a social conservative value set. Not saying it is right or wrong, but with this “Religious Right” they may have missed the point of another narrative.
Now before I take this path and people just set me aside as another non-religious progressive, what I want to point out is both my B.A. and M.A. that equipped me in theology come from conservative bible based schools, and y’know what I learned there?
Much what Ecclesiastes wrote:
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
(Ecclesiastes 1:9, New International Version)
For what has been seen, and supported by a certain meta-narrative, has missed the point of the cultural narrative/value set that is clung to in Judeo-Christianity. It is the story of the rise and fall of the Davidic-Solomic Kingdom. Where wealth and greed corrupt the monarchy…that split the kingdom, caused the exile. In fact for real Biblical geeks it is the driving force behind the stories of the Judges— people on track in a just society taking care of all–sin/ego/greed (insert your term here) disrupts causing catasrophe and lack of community-judge inserts gets community back on track. In the prophetic books, it is not about the future, it is messengers bringing this focus of community and justice back to the people, so that crass independence does not supplant communal care.
So…the lie of deserving/undeserving poor is nothing new, back in the day it was much more spiritualized as those blessed/cursed by God…and time and again it was shown that was not the case rather it was a false system designed for the power of a 1%…that is the story of the Hebrew Bible (and taken further in the Christian Testament, but that is a post for another time).
So dear readers, for those of you that espouse the biblical story being a staple of your life, truly embrace what it means to be in loving community with one another, and speak out to end this lie…for all deserve the simple things in life: home, food, belonging, purpose, good health, education…and we as a society can make the choice for that to be our reality.
Which story do you choose? The lie or the one of love and belonging–the one of community?