Poor is a relative condition. And as such it is has become a nominative virtue which one can easily ascribe to one's own condition. It is also a negative ascription which is based primarily on our identification of another who is deemed to be rich. By negative ascription I mean that we name ourselves poor only as not being rich – like they are. And as such we bestow upon ourselves the merit of a position that refuses to identify with excess. Filthy rich – we say. And we mean rich as wasters of money.
The hummer is an example of a symbol upon which this image has been transferred. The vehicle itself – while vaguely envied – is seen as an excessively expensive to purchase with a horrible fuel consumption waste. It is not uncommon to hear it referenced with statements that speak of our impending environmental crisis predicated on over consumption. Because the vehicle is both a symbol of a bourgeois lifestyle and it is associated with something evil like climate pollution, it transfers onto the 'rich' status an even greater negative connotation than the 'snobbery' of being rich could connote on its own. We gladly drive our 95 Chevy Astro.
But if we are poor because we are not rich then we are also not very poor by the same process. We again negatively assess our condition in the light of not being as poor as others we can clearly identify. This again is a valued position because we suggest to ourselves that there is merit in avoiding the wretchedness of the very poor. In this we are appealing to our sense of accomplishment or achievement. And as Max Weber would correctly deduce we are ascribing our virtue through identification with the symbols of a material status. Our work ethic has once again proven just who good and up right. It is important therefore to own and have available those material possessions that allows us to avoid dependence on others. Examples of this are seem in the 'need' of every dwelling to possess a lawn mower or every child in household to have 'their own room'. This concept can be seen just as clearly in third world slum where ramshackle 'homes' may lack any amenities whatsoever but a television set is prominently available.
We, the proletariat, wring our hands in frustration and despair at the 'plight of the poor'. We point easily to the immorality of the rich with disgust. We are quietly and vaguely heartened that our ethic has kept us from the agony of the desperately poor. So it is with exasperation and relief that we approach poverty. And as long as poverty is framed in the context of virtue we are condemned to inaction and ultimately to failing the real needs of our human companions.
"Blessed are the poor…"