JD Crossan said Jesus had a couple of words available for saying "Blessed are the poor." One refered to people in a 'not rich, but we work hard and get by' situation. But what Jesus evidently said was "Blessed are the destitute" -- blessing the wretched, panhandling low-lifes, the 'sinners' by the Temple's reckoning.

I remember a pretty horrible conversation here a few years back, in which I was vehemently not nice about 'an important book' by a right-wing 'think-tank' employee; and many people here were decidely not pleased with me. I don't want to restart that; but I certainly do remember it.

So I'm wondering, what are the currently accepted Quaker ideas about the causes of poverty...?


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Actually the US has a very mixed set of legacies, from the every-critter-for-itself ethic of gold rushes & the like -- to neighbors helping each other out on large projects like a new barn. The deliberate policy decisions you mention -- and the habitual policy priorities that render such decisions virtually automatic -- seem to be driven by a massive propaganda-environment...

Maybe that's deliberate; I'm sure that there do exist people working to 'frame' poverty issues within stingy and punitive conceptional maps -- but much of that, too, probably results from the fact that people are so used to thinking of poor people and poverty with suspicion, hostility, the assumption that poor people lack information, advice and guidance --  rather than income.

I used to edit a monthly tabloid on poverty issues, to some extent focused on homelessness. One day I was approached by one of the Mayor's aides, who explained that he'd been assigned to read our rag. We had eventually convinced him that we were right -- and so, he said, he'd been assigned other duties and some other aide was now reading us. There are similar papers in many US cities -- but I don't think they've very much changed the policies local governments carry out, or the things said about such issues, whether by politicians, city officers, or the general public.

The sheer inertia of public attitudes -- made me inclined to believe William Stringfellow and Walter Wink's ideas about 'powers and principalities' shaping such attitudes, as if the institutions themselves had wills of their own -- almost regardless of the particular people involved.

I think Lucas puts it well. We've seen wealth distribution change in the US in the last 50 years as tax structures/policy/law changes, as unions weaken, etc. 

I'm willing to say sin creates and increases poverty, but that sin is on the part of those who hoard wealth. Greed is not a victimless sin.

I'm unaware of a single unified teaching regarding poverty, in Quakerism, other than the obvious one:  war with outward weapons is a sure fire way to lower living standards, even for war profiteers in the long run.

Quaker economist Kenneth Boulding, in advancing general systems theory (GST) as a way of questioning / challenging traditional / conventional Economics, did a lot to nudge at least a branch of Quakerism closer to the New England Transcendentalism of Emerson, Thoreau, and later Rufus Jones (AFSC) and Buckminster Fuller (Grunch of Giants). 

This latter school of thought tends to define itself in opposition to Malthusian fatalism which asserts insufficient resources for all as a premise, my own brand of satire a good example.

The primary cause of lower-than-necessary living standards would be ignorance by this line of thinking, a teaching consistent with Buddhism as well as many branches of Christianity.



http://grunch.net/synergetics/gst2.html (me again)

Rather than a 'unified teaching,' what I've often found has been a charitable distancing between 'us' and 'them.' This is certainly not a phenomenon confined to Quakers; I just found it particularly disturbing to find among us. Of the several poor people I've brought to Meeting over the years, most were disillusioned -- and sometimes badly upset by the clueless ignorance and patronizing assumptions they encountered among people they had initially found quite likeable (as we are, yes?)

The widespread support the 'Occupy' movement received from some Friends and some Friends' organizations [my Meeting among these] suggests that there has been progress -- but it can be very hard to 'read' what's going on in our minds... as I found when I first suggested a minute in support, found many of us insisting ~'That will never fly in this group!' -- then admitting that, yes, they agreed with it.

I grew up an expat in Rome where Quakerism was an intimately home-based practice, rotating the Sunday potluck-meetings among a few families, some connected to FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization), a multi-ethnic bunch. 

My family later moved to mostly Muslim nations after Rome (Egypt, Bangladesh), after a long stint in the Philippines, not as missionaries, dad a PhD urban / regional planner (University of Chicago), drifting to education planning by learning on the job (Bhutan, Lesotho), mom a community organizer. 

I rejoined my Portland scene in young adulthood (post Princeton, post Jersey City, Brooklyn, Queens, Apple Valley NC) but have not lost my expat sense of distance, which I've actively cultivated.  I like being the Martian.

As for Occupy, I was part of the Food Not Bombs (FNB) logistics team that claimed the Pioneer Statue in downtown Portland, planted the Cascadia flag, and set up a kitchen, such that by evening the camp was well established.  I continued providing food, though Food Not Bombs set up its own tent, being somewhat grossed out by the habits of mainstream Americans (especially around trash and diet). 

Although FNB cooked in the Quaker meetinghouse that one year, it's non-sectarian and our whole neighborhood is dubbed "Buddhist Ghetto", the whole of Portland being more Little Lhasa than Little Beirut in some dimensions (they used to call this Little Beirut in the Bush Sr. days because so unruly, Cascadian nationalists that we secretly be, many of us).

FNB also helped spread the word that we were agreeing to quit the park, not being forced to leave, and by the time the last tents were cleared by police the next morning, all the heavy hardware, including the generator and restaurant quality cooking equipment, were gone, ready to fight non-violently another day.

Perhaps we need a Quaker idea about a remedy for poverty.

I typed myself a short story a week ago about a college movement called "house" which taught a weekly club of students how to make wise decisions using "house rules".  So after playing around with tiny decisions, several members got the courage to rent their own apartment.  Then they were bulk buying staples from a "community" truck that came along once a month.  My protagonist, a social work major, was interning with the Community's social work co-op.  Also, to earn cred she was organizing a club chapter at the next college. 

When we organize, when we occupy this place called leadership, we get a more closed circle,  sustainable economy within the group.  A single loner in this economy is always at risk of failure but an extended clan is a bit more stable.  The larger the private group, the closer we get to a 100% closed circle economy.  It turns out that in our modern technology we can make all that we want with remarkably little work output, so such a closed community could soon afford zero unemployment and good working conditions for all.  The community would keep absorbing more people, the teeming refuse of society, who in fact have worth and can be trained to do something.  Even a grandparent can read a grandkid a story at night.

So, as with Habitat for Humanity, a movement could expand until everybody on earth had a job and a comfortable bed.  Why not?

In my blogs I write about the importance of the "safety net" concept (not a new idea).  Especially as people live longer, they need to keep learning and retooling, acquiring new skills. 

But when is it safe to learn in middle age?  Losing one's job is cast as scary and to be avoided, especially if dependents are in the picture.  But what if the job is a dead end?

I think about police for example.  Some enjoy the work, but some are miserable.  Ditto other jobs. 

We want people to take the risk and switch careers if they find what they're doing is not a good fit and unlikely to become so.  We want people around us to like their work. 

The savings to our economy, in giving people the space to re-organize, would be worth the expense, in terms of higher living standards all around.


I think that's an argument for a strong safety net that makes sense to people.  We need to institutionalize "down time" when a person is "between gigs". 

It's not like we get all the learning out of the way by young adulthood, then have a job, then retire on savings or, if that's not what we do, we're somehow failures.  That life script is waaaay out of whack with the realities.  Learning is integral, and so I write about "work / study" as an integral thing.


Work assignments at Oneida were evidently based on one of their founder's principles: "If you don't get into a rut, the Devil won't know where to find you." People switched around a lot, got practice at many tasks, and by all accounts got a lot of fine work done.

The disadvantage was that no one there was desperate for a chance to slave in wretched insecurity, doing tasks they hated under someone who'd bully them and pay the least compensation he could. Hence, they missed out on a key element of the modern US economy... (And the bullies there must have suffered dreadfully?)

Paul Klinkman, what you're talking about makes a lot of sense. Would need to market something to the outside world, at least at first -- or you'd end up trying to maintain a Kilkenny Cats system. 

How you'd navigate between giving somewhat marginal people the slack they'd need, without having them take advantage could be tricky. When I was selling a monthly tabloid through homeless vendors, it proved impossible (at least for me) to charge them any reasonable percentage of their take. They'd spend the reserves this would require, ask for credit, take off when they'd run up a tab. (But such a system did work in other cities, where there were more people willing to buy street newspapers, easier profits from selling them and less need to spend money earned before buying a batch  -- and perhaps the leadership was better.)

While that's a particularly marginal population, I suspect their alienation is typical of many poor people. One vendor told me: "Don't let them know this is honest work; you'll hurt their pride. Tell them it's a great scam for panhandling without getting busted for it."

I dunno, it isn't that these people were unwilling to work; some of them were eager to pick up any odd job they could get -- and a significant number were regularly employed, just unable to meet San Diego rental costs. I just think you'd encounter a mixture of hurt pride and discouragement that could make recruiting for the kind of arrangement you're talking about an emotional minefield...


I believe we could recruit buff, college-oriented, ambitious youth to "slave" on Siberian railroads if this were clearly an academic work / study program and the hours were not too onerous.  Physical activity is good for one, after all.  Too many academics avoid the benefits of hard labor, to their detriment.  Sedentary lifestyles are hard on the heart, we've learned.  Other muscles need to do their fair share.

As a railroad worker, you go home every night to your comfortable quarters with plenty of bandwidth, and your co-workers are like you:  scholars of history, eager to learn the language and / or gain experience in one of the most stereotypical forms of engineering.  Some will stay in railroad building but, statistically, most will move on.  Some drive trucks, from Istanbul to Kabul for credit towards a PhD (maybe Harvard's?).

That's how to get "dirty jobs" done:  make them for credit in some "Global U" context.

My own training in questioning authority leads me to shout out my congratulations to the X billion humans alive right now:  good for you proving Malthus wrong at least up to this moment; he had no idea we could be this numerous (he didn't even envision the difference refrigeration would make; part of his doom-saying was owing to primitive / antiquated notions about food preservation). 

The carrying capacity of the planet is where we need to start, and not with the knee-jerk assumption that we're "over populated" (says who again?).  More likely we're just "thinking badly" (judging from history).

There's what humans call "work" (doing a job, getting compensated -- being social and part of the solution) and there's what physics calls "work" (just breathing, matter in motion, any energy expense). 

According to physics, local Entropy could well still decrease a lot more i.e. living standards have not hit their ceiling and no apocalyptic end times is dialed in.  Fatalism of that brand has no real basis in science.  Humans could go for many more centuries, in principle.  So why do we live on the edge so much, tempting fate? 

We basically have the enviable cosmic position of getting to surf a stellar gradient, energy for free, fusion power.  Those savings get passed on inequitably, so true.   Humans get in the way of other humans, but ultimately we're well provided for by this Planet.  The premise that the planetary resources available to us are somehow fatally insufficient is what to question, first of all.  Not questioning that premise makes poverty seem inevitable.

Here's a very old manifesto that I wrote in my 20s (I'm in my 50s today):


I still think along similar lines, though I think "manifestos" are for one's youth. 

With age comes more time to refine the message. ;-D


Forrest Curo said:

Work assignments at Oneida were evidently based on one of their founder's principles: "If you don't get into a rut, the Devil won't know where to find you." People switched around a lot, got practice at many tasks, and by all accounts got a lot of fine work done.

The disadvantage was that no one there was desperate for a chance to slave in wretched insecurity, doing tasks they hated under someone who'd bully them and pay the least compensation he could. Hence, they missed out on a key element of the modern US economy... (And the bullies there must have suffered dreadfully?)

I have invented a better greenhouse, and so I understand that food can probably be grown on almost any land.  This would greatly increase the earth's ability to carry more billions of people. 

I know that some day we'll still have to deal with the population explosion.  Albert Einstein was asked, what is the most powerful force in the universe.  "Compound interest," he replied.

Um, Newton say that when one has already stepped out a high window, it is a poor time to be speculating about the possibilites for anti-gravity.

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