Everybody suffers during an economic downturn. Less profit for the rich, reduced luxuries for the middle class, and precarious living for the poor and minimum wage workers. But when the troubling indicators of the economy are replaced by what is often referred to in mainstream media as ‘strong fundamentals’, the rich and their social climbing apologists ridicule the poor for whining like ‘crybabies’ and helpless victims.
The poor are accused of flaunting their poverty and laying the blame for their tragic situation in life entirely on the government instead of accepting responsibility by finding work or livelihood. This is an elitist perspective but it is commonly used even by the middle class to mock the poor.
Indeed, the suffering of the poor is often highlighted to expose the failure of the economic system to uplift the conditions of everybody. But when the poor speak out about their miseries, they merely reveal what they endure every day. They do not assume to know more about the ‘inconvenient truths’ of modern living or how others are faring in life.
Contrast this to the rich and their ambitious acolytes who invoke the name of the poor every time they resist a government regulation or enjoin the public in ranting against various social evils.
The rich, not the poor, are actually guilty of complaining too much while raising imagined specters of unruly crowds to get what they want.
They want to have their cake and grab more cakes from everybody while pointing the finger at the hungry poor for desiring to eat some cake.
Consider how they react to the demand of workers for a wage hike. Capitalists manifest their resistance by painting a gloom scenario about the impact of a minimal wage increase. They warn about job losses, factory closures, and rising prices. They even claim that the proposal is anti-poor. Yet what they are not really admitting is that they refuse to cut down their earnings and allow workers to get a slightly bigger share of the company profits.
Perhaps the unspoken awareness of the inequality that they are perpetuating makes them fearful of a coming retribution. It drives them to highlight the deteriorating peace and order situation caused by the alleged anti-social activities of the poor. They spread hysteria over rising criminality which they use to justify the implementation of overkill and repressive police measures. They normalize segregation in society by building higher walls and stronger fences, and installing ubiquitous Big Brother instruments all over the city to monitor the suspicious behavior of the poor. They succeed in redirecting public gaze over what the poor are doing instead of the supposedly victimless crimes committed by their friends.
Mention the breakdown of law and order and the first thing to be emphasized in media reports, school papers, and government advisories are the petty crimes that the poor are doing. Not the plunder of our nation’s wealth, not the displacement of small farmers and indigenous peoples from their lands, not the smuggling and trafficking of banned goods.
Recently, even the harmless act of being a ‘tambay’ was criminalized and endorsed by a paranoid ruling class which considers it as a preemptive strike against what the vengeful poor might do to the sons and daughters of rich families.
It is also convenient to blame the poor for the social problems which cause suffering to everyone. For example, the rich pretend that they empathize with the common tao when they condemn the worsening traffic and pollution but their preferred solution is to evict the poor from their homes.
Complain about ‘Carmageddon’ and then convince the riding public that it’s the effect of motorists, pedestrians, and street vendors lacking discipline; and not because of the importing of too many cars and the absence of a reliable mass transportation system.
Raise alarm over garbage pollution and then highlight the dirty lifestyle of the poor in the streets and informal settlers living near waterways. Ignore the factories producing industrial waste, real estate projects that flatten hills and pour cement over our coasts, and prime investments that target our forests and watersheds.
Instead of cleaning up their acts, the rich express concern for the environment by feigning helplessness over the seeming indifference of the poor about the garbage they are producing.
Then, if the poor understand how their impoverishment is linked to bad governance and class oppression, they are quickly repudiated by reminding them that they are responsible for selling their votes to incompetent politicians. Their bad voting decision is compared to the supposedly intelligent voting behavior of the rich and educated. The poor ‘bobotante’ get what they deserve but they also prevent the rich from electing visionary leaders who can lead and transform the country for the better.
But what choices do voters have? Political dynasties, despotic landlords, warlords, and greedy capitalists? Besides, the voters might be more than wise enough to know that their votes don’t matter anyway in an electoral and political system designed to uphold elite rule.
It is the rich who are the real ‘bobotante’: campaign donors of trapos, enablers of political patronage, cronies, and influence-peddlers.
Defending the privilege of the rich is legitimized by glorifying the lives of some tycoons. They claim that they became wealthy through hard work and by making a lot of sacrifice in life. The poor are told that self-pity is futile and that they should be inspired by the success stories of some self-made billionaires.
What is wrong and unfair in this assertion is that it depicts the poor as lazy simpletons who are not dreaming or working hard enough to overcome their poverty. It reinforces the propaganda that the poor have no one to blame but themselves if they remain trapped in the intergenerational cycle of destitution. It denies the existence of structural causes that allow the rich to accumulate more riches at the expense of the working poor. It buries the long history of how a cabal of ambitious and money-hungry individuals conspired with other powerful blocs in society that led to the systematic pauperization of the working classes.
Since they own and control the opinion-making institutions, the rich project their fears by persuading the rest of society to share the same sentiments. They condition our minds to distrust any attempt by the poor to dismantle the forces that institutionalize inequality and injustice. They constantly warn about the destructive mob, the anarchy from below, and the need to quell discontent.
But we should ask ourselves this: Who benefits from aligning our interest with the aspirations of the wealthy who had all the resources and opportunity to remake society but failed or refused to act, and instead chose to thwart all the grassroots challenge to the present by demonizing it as a threat to so-called modern peace, prosperity, and social harmony?