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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 18-Jun-17

 


Sunday 18-June-17

Poverty and the dysfunctional focus of chronic lack

When we have too little of something we need, whether this is time, food, money, love or whatever, we focus on it. And when this lack becomes an intense constant, it closes off our world, until all we are is that lack and we dysfunctionally act to sustain it. This is real poverty. It is constricting because it narrows our focus. It stops us thinking about wider issues and alternative possibilities as we obsess about the lack.

Poverty, in this sense, is not without its rewards. Indeed, it would not be self sustaining if there were no satisfaction, no matter how perverse. This inward collapse can boost our sense of control as it excludes much of the messy outer world. While we do not have the control to satisfy the lack, this is all we need worry about in those periods of painful focus. In this way, there can be a means-ends inversion as the sense of control that focus gives becomes a reward in itself.

Poverty can also find satisfaction in our sense of identity. When I think 'I am poor' I am attaching poverty to my core sense of self. Money is not me and can acquire a strange revulsive property. Likewise the lonely can come to hate love and the busy to feel twitchy when there is nothing to do.

There is a similar effect in addiction, where the intense pleasure of chemical consumption leads us to repeatedly seek it out, to the exclusion of everything else. Again, this in an inward collapse, where our functional world in replaced by a single point. Addiction and poverty can this be seen in the same light.

George Orwell said 'The essence of poverty is that it annihilates the future'. Not only does lack limit our choices, it stops us thinking about them.

A danger of poverty is dependency on kind rescuers. In our desire to help the vulnerable, we give, and so condemn them to dependence on us while entrapping our selves as perpetual saviours. Backing off is no answer either, as their suffering just continues.

There have been many government initiatives aimed at educating the poor and the addicted, yet few have much effect. Those that have the greatest effect change self-image through rewriting the stories the poor tell themselves about themselves. In other words, to raise people from mental poverty we should focus on their sense of identity.

A radical idea that seems to be gaining ground is of a universal basic salary. This would replace many welfare handouts that say 'you are poor' with 'you are the same as everybody'. In this way, at least the basic lack of food and shelter can be satisfied, helping raise the people to think about wider issues.


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