Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Poverty and Civil War

LT asks,

"Philosophically speaking, what does it mean to be human? More specifically, when Victor Hugo said, "poverty dehumanizes the poor", what do you think he meant by 'dehumanizes'?"
Not being a Hugo scholar, I won't even begin to argue intention, but three possible interpretations spring to mind.

First, there is human in the eyes of others, that is, treated as Kant would say as an end not a means. We look on the poor as a lower life form, as animals, not as humans deserving the dignity we would reserve for ourselves and those like us.

The second notion is that poverty removes you from "the civilized world," that absent from the day to day life of those who are forced to live on the streets or among others in poverty are the sorts of rights and protections that we associate with human life. Life for the poor is more like a Hobbesian state of nature where they worry about survival in a way that people generally don't and therefore have to adapt themselves to this "uncivilized" state.

The third sense is more Marxist, that the poor become alienated from themselves as species beings, as individuals with projects who have the chance to create themselves through doing. I am a philosopher because I philosophize. I am able to philosophize because I have an amount of wealth that allows me the freedom to do this. The poor cannot realize themselves as the humans they would choose to be because their poverty limits their choices.

Other senses?

Gwydion asks,
"Is a civil war beginning to brew in America, and if so, how do the teams seem to be dividing up, and also if so, how can we stop it?"
Having brought up Hobbes' notion of a state of nature, we come to Gwydion's question which i believe predates the FBI raid and arrest of white supremicist, Christian nationalists who were plotting to attack police officers and then their funeral with the expressed intent of starting another civil war.

This fringe is growing. The Tea Party movement is the attempt of conservative power brokers in Washington to create the threat of violence. Is is expressly designed to create a mob. the rhetoric from the likes of Palin and Boehner, from Beck and Limbaugh regularly incites violence and uses overtly eliminationist references. They will claim to be speaking metaphorically, but they aren't. They are tginning up fear, bigotry, and hatred, then talking about guns knowing that they are putting Democrats in harms way from the lunatics they are whipping up. We have had a rash of bricks thrown through Democratic campaign headquarters across the country in the last week. This is not accidental. The Republicans are trying to create a hostile environment which likely will boil over into violence.

Will this spark a civil war? No. I think the words of Chomsky explain it best,
"So long as the economic system meets the demands of the middle class for more jobs, higher income, more consumer goods, and more recreation, and so long as the demands take these forms, the perennial questions about power and control need never be asked. Or, better, those whose demands are being met can be congratulated on having "power," for what is power but the ability to have one's demands met."
The middle class is far too comfortable to back any significant change in the culture. The civil war would threaten them, a black President who guarantees that their children won't get thrown off their health insurance doesn't.