Quick Thought: Let Them Eat Cake (No Thanks, I’m on a Diet)

“The world’s most ‘primitive’ people have few possessions, but they are not poor. Poverty is not a certain small amount of goods, nor is it just a relation between means and ends; above all it is a relation between people. Poverty is a social status. As such it is the invention of civilization. It has grown with civilization, at once as an invidious distinction between classes and more importantly as a tributary relation.”

Marshall Sahlins (1930 – )

There is a distinction between poverty and being poor. Wealth is not merely a measure of how much money or stuff you have. Material wealth has been created as a function of civilization to create a hierarchy, to put certain groups above other groups. The higher people scramble up the ladder, the more power is being hoarded at the expense of others. Sahlins almost implies that class distinctions is the product of an age old conspiracy.

Hold the phone. A “conspiracy” implies that the creation of poverty, classes, class warfare was consciously planned. However, it seems that whatever was planned in the beginning (if anything was planned) has spiraled way out of control. While the big wigs, corporations, the powers that be may be manipulative scumbags, it is not too far-fetched to believe that they don’t have a clue about this “plan” anymore than you or I do. Forgive them, for even they know not what they do.

Toti Cerda painting - happiness in poverty

Toti Cerda, Contemporary Art Phillipines

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9 thoughts on “Quick Thought: Let Them Eat Cake (No Thanks, I’m on a Diet)

  1. I live in a third world country and agree that poverty is not simply material deprivation and labour vs management politics aside, I also don’t think it’s all a big conspiracy. I’ve had very happy but desperately poor friends and the other way around. Interestingly on the happiness debate, there is research showing that wealth and happiness are not the same thing but having enough money to have your basic needs met does play a role. Check out the very readable happiness hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. Think you’ll enjoy his TED talk too 🙂

    • I have read The Righteous Mind, also by Haidt, and found it very insightful and eye-opening. You are the second person who has recommended the Happiness Hypothesis to me and I’ll be sure to check out his TED talk, as well. Thank you very much for your comment.

    • First of all, to be transparent, I was ignorant of the IMF’s and the WB’s functions until about 20 minutes ago.

      Secondly, now that I am an expert on this subject after having read up on it thoroughly *cough*skimmed*cough*…

      The full IMF/WB definition of poverty does appear to cover material and social needs. And I respect their acknowledgement of the different definitions of poverty from country to country. According to their official definition, “Social deprivation widens the concept of deprivation to include risk, vulnerability, lack of autonomy, powerlessness, and lack of self-respect.”

      This is definitely a good start and I have yet to look more into the specific actions the WB has taken to “reform” poverty in certain countries. However, this is what I am merely guessing. I posit that IMF/WB “reforms” poverty in the mold of western civilization. That is nice that the WB tries to open access to education, food, cleaner living conditions, etc. But are their methods sustainable?

      Looking at us in the “first world,” do our methods help make us happy or even content? I honestly do not know. It’s hard to see the forest for the trees from where we are standing. This doesn’t mean that what the WB is doing is bad. I just don’t know. Poverty – material or social – is hard to fix currently. It is like pouring water into a hose and letting it all fall through the other side.

      • Thanks for a quite detailed response.

        In parts of Africa, the WB and IMF introduced SAPs. Some of these programmes have seen the privatization of parastatals that were formerly managed by the government. They have also insisted that governments come up with laws to check corruption mainly in the public sector. On reduction of proverty, I can’t say I have followed that up much. Maybe I could read on it and become an expert too.

  2. This is the problem with grand conspiracies: human just aren’t smart enough to pull them off. Sure, people can dream something up, but actually implementing it? Fat chance. We simply can’t keep a secret for a year, let alone across generations.

    • And even if we could pull it off (which I actually don’t put past our abilities), like you said, we wouldn’t be able to keep it a secret. This is the age of information. Nothing is a secret – at least not consciously. There are plenty that we still keep secret from ourselves that sit right in front of our big, denying noses.

      • Plus, if you have a cross-generational conspiracy then you’re continually having to “educate” new people on the scam… not to mention new governments. Impossible.

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