14 March 2011

An American misanthrope: 'Boohoo the poor.'

You aren't going to find the misanthropy at the heart of America's "personal responsibility" ethic phrased as starkly but printably anywhere else as it is in a letter to the Troy Record written by one Monika Bove.

Boohoo the poor. In this blessed country nobody has to be poor.Stay in school, go to night school, get a job, get two jobs, get married, then have babies but only if you can support them.Never mind the millionaires, they don't owe you anything. Never mind the government. The government doesn't have money other than what they squeeze out of working people.I don't get a pension and I don't want to have to pay for yours. I pay for my own health insurance, you pay for yours.Get rid of Obama and his ilk — get rid of anybody who wants to get you dependent on government hand-outs. Those hand-outs come with a steep price tag.


Given that many Americans don't think it desirable to pursue full employment, Bove is probably wrong; some of us will probably have to be poor for that reason alone. Add to that number all those who'll remain poor despite working the two jobs Bove recommends. Is her remark an admission that many jobs in this country fail to pay a living wage? If so, it also shows her moral indifference to that regrettable fact. Moral indifference is the overall theme here, though Bove would certainly insist otherwise. Her morality, however, leaves out any sense of mutual obligation or even a mere commitment to life. Neither millionaires nor Monika Bove are obliged to keep people alive. Pay your own way through life or die is Bove's moral code. If we lived otherwise it'd hurt her somehow, it seems. It'd clearly offend her moral sense, such as it is.

It sounds monstrous stated so baldly, but millions more think like Bove. I don't doubt that people like her have struggled in life, but their struggles somehow leave them without sympathy for others whose struggles are harder still, and incapable of imagining alternatives to every woman struggling for herself. Their only satisfaction, it seems, comes in seeing themselves as superior to someone rather than imagining everyone as equals. What it'd take to shake that arrogant complacency is hard to say. Whatever it is, it'd probably be worse for those worse off than Bove, which makes me wonder whether it's worth wishing for.