Opinions & Editorials

On morality, ignorance and poverty

WRITTEN BY WALEED MAJID, GUEST WRITER

A very common idea brought up in regard to poverty in modern Western discourse is that individuals and communities are not poor because of their lack of money and resources. Instead, poverty is due to them exemplifying dishonorable qualities, which somehow causes the absence of wealth and the dissipation of these people’s integrity. 

According to this logic, a lack of morality is a causal factor in the creation of poverty. The evidence that is brought to support this claim, you ask? Racist and classist dogma and the promotion of hierarchy in our societies. 

To those who maintain these ideals of self-reliance and individualism, it is the people’s fault for being poor, and the people’s fault for remaining poor. 

But when the conditions of the people are so abominable that it would be foolish to claim that they should simply rise from their destitution, the only conclusion they can concoct is to point to the perceived unintelligence and intrinsic moral inferiority of these materially deprived people.

There is a village called Zinat, located 20 kilometers from my home city of Tangier. Here, like many villages in the snowy mountains of Morocco, the people lead difficult lives raising cattle and harvesting what little vegetation they can. They source their clothing from the backs of sheep and cows. They mobilize their hay and wood with mules. 

Even though their means are not plentiful, they still have the same priorities as any people, with one of the most important being education. The children trudge to the base of the mountain and wait for rusty buses to take them to the nearest school, which for some is over an hour away. 

Alongside education, another priority is basic survival. For them to survive, the men, women and children are all expected to contribute to the maintenance of the village, with little free time for themselves.  

The villagers speak the same languages, share the same culture and worship the same God as their more developed metropolitan counterparts in Tangier. 

Given these circumstances, what would be the most reasonable and realistic conclusion one can come to as to why their circumstances are so different? Are the villagers simply unwilling and unmotivated to better their conditions?

Surely it isn’t because the city people have garnered closer economic relations to Europe. Surely it isn’t because the metropolitan areas have diverse industries, which include agriculture, solar energy, wind energy and tourism. Surely it isn’t because Tangier is a port city while the village of Zinat is not. How preposterous.

From a logical understanding, suggesting that lack of virtue and reason are the only causal factors in the creation of communal poverty fails miserably at providing any solutions or preventative measures to poverty. 

Material problems require material solutions. There is no science that supports the claim that a community must simply make better choices if its needs are unmet. The ideal does not create humanity’s circumstances. The material, however, does, as material forces are at play when poverty is being maintained.

Let’s say that, in some way, we were able to provide a solution based on an idealistic understanding of why poverty is maintained. The analysis is that people need to make better choices. 

The only solutions must be scientific and material. The unfounded conclusion that bad choices and a lack of morality are the reasons as to why poverty exists is debunked because of one simple logical truth: you can’t make better choices when you don’t have many choices to make. The only choice a poor person has to make is whether to spend his last paycheck on rent or food.

If you couldn’t think of a reason to help the disenfranchised in our society, my only assumption is that you don’t want to help them at all. You’d much rather the hierarchy be maintained. You want the poor to be left dead in their homes as a form of punishment for their mere existence in a lower caste. You want them to be punished for their supposed sins, lack of virtue and financial irresponsibility simply because any implementation of every conceivable solution would go against your values. 

If that is the case, then the argument can be made that your heart is just as deprived of mercy as the poor are of wealth. With that being said, I wonder what material solutions can help you with that poverty.

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