Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Wealth, Poverty, Stereotypes, and Snidely Whiplash

You'll probably never read a story about a poor but honest victim of society. Not because writers don't use stereotypes any more, but because I combined stereotypes from two storytelling traditions.

"Poor but honest?" There's a tacit assumption there.

'Poor But Honest'

I remember when the phrase "poor but honest" showed up occasionally: generally, as I recall in spoofs of old melodramas.

The stereotype "poor but honest" character, threatened with eviction by the rich and greedy villain of the piece - sometimes complete with stovepipe hat and black opera cape - made for some good stories. In my opinion, that is: Tales of Dudley Do-Right and Snidely Whiplash aren't for everyone.

I doubt that many folks took the Rocky and Bullwinkle stories seriously. Not as 'relevant' drama, that is. I haven't seen "relevant" used in its old '60s sense for a while - and that's almost another topic.

Imprisoned for Stealing Bread

Another stereotype is the starving victim, forced into crime by poverty. Some folks took that stereotype very seriously indeed when I was growing up. Still do, most likely.

I think that, like all stereotypes, there's some truth to it.

It's a fact of life that some folks have fewer resources than their neighbors. Sometimes a whole lot less. Depending on the culture, those resources might be measured in cattle, gold, or credit score. And that's almost another topic again.

Poor is Okay; Rich is Okay

Do I think it's wrong to be poor? Or rich?

No. I've been over this before:
More to the point, the Catholic Church has something to say about material wealth and poverty. Quite a bit, actually. Also the condition that's called 'poor in spirit.' I've gone over this before, too (February 4, 2010):
" 'Blessed are the poor in spirit,4 for theirs is the kingdom of heaven....' "
(Jesus, Son of God, quoted in Matthew5:3)

"The kingdom belongs to the poor and lowly, which means those who have accepted it with humble hearts. Jesus is sent to 'preach good news to the poor';253 he declares them blessed, for 'theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'254 To them-the 'little ones'-the Father is pleased to reveal what remains hidden from the wise and the learned.255 Jesus shares the life of the poor, from the cradle to the cross; he experiences hunger, thirst, and privation.256 Jesus identifies himself with the poor of every kind and makes active love toward them the condition for entering his kingdom.257"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 544)

"Love for the poor is incompatible with immoderate love of riches or their selfish use:
"Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have killed the righteous man; he does not resist you.238"
(Catechism, 2445)
There's more, of course. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 915, 2443, 1934-1938, 2833 for starters)

I don't think it's very far from the mark to say that poverty is okay, wealth is okay: and that what matters is what a person does with either condition.

Greed is Not Nice

Greed? That's wrong. In my opinion. And, much more to the point, greed is wrong according to the Catholic Church. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2536)

Let's see: where was I? Snidely Whiplash, thrown in prison for stealing bread, stereotypes. Right.

Stereotypes: Good Enough for a Story?

Definition time:
  • Stereotype
    • Noun: "a conventional or formulaic conception or image"
    • Verb: "treat or classify according to a mental stereotype"
    (Princeton's WordNet)
I don't think there's anything intrinsically wrong with stereotypes. Provided that they're recognized as such. Trouble starts, I think, when folks confuse a simplified image for the reality it's intended to reflect.

There's a ripping good yarn about some dude who's thrown in prison for stealing a loaf of bread, and what happens to him after that. It's called Les Misérables. Victor Hugo made a name for himself with that story - and others - about a century and a half back. So far, no problem. Not as far as I'm concerned, anyway.

Making a "formulaic conception" of  'thrown in prison for a loaf of bread,' and assume that everyone in prison is there because they're poor and had to steal bread?

There, I think, we've got a problem. Particularly in countries like America, where public opinion can get translated into national policy. Which is another topic. One I've discussed, sort of, in another blog:

Stereotypes and This Catholic

Since I make it fairly clear, in Another War-on-Terror Blog, that I don't think America is to blame for just about everything, I'm 'obviously' an unfeeling conservative.

Just as I'm 'obviously' a bleeding-heart liberal because I think America doesn't need the death penalty. (October 2, 2008) A willingness to treat criminal behavior as a serious problem, yes. And I'm drifting off-topic again.

I've discussed Catholic teachings and today's mores before, too:

"And may I Never Recover"

One of my favorite quotes from Fiddler on the Roof is this exchange:
"Perchik: Money is the world's curse.
"Tevye: May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover."
I think that one reason that I don't think it's unfair that some folks have a bigger line of credit than I do is that I wouldn't mind being fantastically rich, myself. Which doesn't mean that I assume that what rich folks do is always right. Yep: I've discussed that sort of thing before, too.

"Poor in Spirit" is Something Else

I take what my Lord says seriously. Like the beatitudes.

As far as I can tell, being "poor in spirit" isn't something I can measure with credit scores. Wouldn't you know it, there are posts in this blog about that, too:

"Poor But Honest?!"

I'd heard the phrase "poor but honest" for years before one of the implications hit me. "Poor BUT honest?!" You mean that folks who are poor generally aren't honest?

Maybe the "poor but honest" phrase stems from something like 19th century social Darwinism: the notion that folks who weren't rich were also deficient in virtue. Sort of like contemporary jokes about "trailer trash", except using longer sentences.

And yes, I know: "social Darwinism" was more specifically built around the idea that "survival of the fittest" was a principle that should be extended to how people treat each other. More topics. Lots more topics.

Is the idea that folks who are poor 'deserve' to be poor, in a moral sense, true? I don't think so. But I could cherry-pick quotes from the Bible to support either side of the argument. (Exodus 20:5, Ezekiel 18:20, Mark 2:1, Luke 12:1, John 5:14, John 9:3, and that's just following one thread a short distance)

I've touched on what the Catholic Church has to say about being poor earlier in this post, under the Poor is Okay; Rich is Okay heading.

Related (?) posts:

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I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.