It’s Our Responsibility to End Psychological Warfare on the Poor

workingpoorIf human equality is to be forever averted—if the High, as we have called them, are to keep their places permanently—then the prevailing mental condition must be controlled insanity.

1984, George Orwell

Let’s be frank: The Elite classes (The 1%) use any number of tools to remain the 1%. There are probably as many and diverse tools to remain in power, to oppress and marginalize, as there are people to oppress and marginalize — and as many ways to employ them. But one of the most powerful and horribly effective tools of economic and political oppression and suppression is the widespread use of socio-psychological warfare — particularly the idea that the oppressed and marginalized deserve to be trivialized and oppressed. This is applied in any intersection, in any place where we see an oppressed people group — through sex, gender, race, ethnicity. For today, we will focus on class and economics — Psychological Class Warfare.

PCW is a cultural phenomenon conducted through cultural means: through language (particularly, but not solely, language adopted by libertarian and conservative movements and mouthpieces), through common practices of inclusion and exclusion, through movies and television shows, through advertisements, through music that lifts up lavish lifestyles while mocking those without means.

Let’s look at a small section of just the language aspect. The following are quotes ripped from a thread of a Christian group asking to raise the minimum wage. Like most of reactionary conservativism, notice there are no ideas, no plans but to stop progress and equality. These are just the quotes about how the poor are not worthy of getting higher wages. Other quotes about how minimum wage needs to be abolished or misunderstandings about the life of the very poor (many of which are fueled by or fuel the notions of the worth of poor people and families) will be discussed later. (Emphases mine):

  • The majority of minimum wage earners are teenagers, dropouts, retirees and people supplementing their income.
  • NO business is going to employ somebody who can’t EARN their keep.
  • Who’s to say what an unskilled, low information person is worth.
  • This is becoming another form of entitlement. Go to college and get a better job. Go to a trade school. But don’t expect me to pay higher taxes to pay you more money as the strength of my salary diminishes just so you can make more money without effort on your part.
  • If you are @ minimum wage, do NOT start a family…too many people today start having a family as soon as they marry, or in many cases do NOT marry. Having the ability to support a family, before starting one, is YOUR responsibility.. Not your employers…
  • As evangelicals, instead of promoting government force you could be promoting marriage and graduation.
  • Any one that thinks the minimum wage is for living on is a total idiot. You are suppose to move up the ladder not set back and do nothing but complain about your wages.
  • There is no point in raising the minimum wage when I already have to pay for the waste of America in my taxes anyway. And I am not saying that everyone who needs government assistance is waste but those who abuse the system can take a leap off a cliff and do a swan dive into a canyon. It would be cheaper on me and I would have more money to provide for my family.
  • The people with minimum wage right now get a lot of other benefits,with section 8 they end up making more money than the average person! With the earned income at the end of the year, Some get about 7500 8000 back on their taxes and they only put $1000 into the system.
  • Minimum work= minimum wage.

We have myths about how low-wage workers are lazy, how they steal from “tax paying” Americans, how they are baby-factories, deliberately unmarried sluts, their work is crappy… Low-wage earners are labeled wastes, drop-outs, incompetent, irresponsible, moochers, greedy, idiots, takers. According to PCW adherents and advocates, poor people are always looking for hand-outs and doing work deserving of the piss-poor wages they receive. They live off the government.

There are of course racial dynamics, associating the very poor with people of color and therefore dismissing them with the same racist maliciousness that White Supremacy gives to all people of color. This builds an outright hostility towards people in poverty as well as policies used to protect the poor. But it also demonstrates, again, the deep racial animus that thrives beneath the surface of much of White America.

And so we can reduce necessary food and cash aid by billions of dollars without batting an eye. We can subject minimum wage employees and welfare recipients to the humiliating act of peeing in a cup to prove that they’re not taking drugs — something no one would ever expect an executive to do despite the fact that they receive more benefits from the government in a month than the impoverished will even see — let alone receive through the government — through their entire lives. We can deny poor people basic amenities such as health care and housing. We can fire a bus driver for asking why a kid has to go hungry at school. We can demand that workers who dare go on strike should be shot. We can demand so much for so little. And not bat an eye, because our society has accepted the fallacy that the poor are less.

But the epochal, monumental achievement of the ruling classes, of the 1%, of Boss Culture, is not just in spreading such underhanded thoughts about poor people among the middle class or bourgeoisie, but to have the poor internalize this notion themselves. The oppressive classes do best when they can get not just other groups to believe these lies about them, but when the targeted group itself begins to believe such rhetoric and ideas themselves — about themselves.

And so not only do we see such hostility or disregard towards the plight of the poor, but towards and even from poor people. We poor people know that these are lies, that they are not true statements about us. But we may believe such slights are about other poor people. But not only that, these beliefs can be so far ingrained that one can believe them about herself or himself, often in a subconscious form.

And so we fight against universal healthcare because we believe we’re not good enough to have any guarantees — and if we get sick, that’s just further proof of our unworth. We fight against raised minimum wage because we believe down inside that our work isn’t “valuable.” We don’t challenge slum lords or epidemic homelessness even though we know we may be next because we think only wealthy people deserve good things.

Nothing, however, can be further from the truth. The poor work hard at just surviving. They should be applauded for sacrificing their labor for menial jobs where they are constantly treated like refuse, despite the fact that McDonald’s and Walmart could not rake in billions in profits except off of the productivity and reduced, slave-like wages of their employees.

In fact, the poor should receive standing ovations when they question the employers who blatantly commit this Psychological Class Warfare on them and go on strike. We should be throwing parades for them. We should be honoring the poor for going above and beyond the call of duty while allowing lavish lifestyles for the 1%.

jasdye

When he’s not riding both his city’s public transit system and evil mayor, Jasdye teaches at a community college and writes about the intersection of equality and faith - with an occasional focus on Chicago - at the Left Cheek blog and on the Left Cheek: the Blog Facebook page. Check out more from Jasdye in his archives as well!

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  • Kuskus

    This was an amazing artical. It explains everything I’ve ever thought in a well organized manner! 😛 Yes, the rich wouldn’t be rich without the poor, maybe if minimum wage earners across the nation decided to just stop working they’d have more appreciation for us. They’d definitely be angry due to ignorance of course. To think you are more than the other guy just becaue your paycheck is higher is simply retarded.

  • Karen (KuJo) Turner

    Wouldn’t it be great if the person paying us paid us what their time is worth since we are doing for them what they chose not to do for their self.

  • Aimee Barfield

    I spent two years in college, decided it wasn’t for me, I did go to ‘trade school’ at the tune of $12,000. My tools for my job costs thousands of dollars, my continuing education costs money, my licensing, initial and bi-annually costs money and yet…I’ve managed to make minimum wage at my last two jobs in my industry. I am also fortunate enough to receive tips sometimes (not required but appreciated), I am considered the working poor. My last job considered a full time employee to be working 20-29 hours, I averaged 24 on a good week, on a bad week, full time or not 18-20.

    After leaving college and before becoming a hairstylist (yes it is an art no matter what one may think), I worked retail, in RTW, I worked for one of the only unionized companies in the state, Walt Disney World, and it was only unionized because Walt Disney himself insisted on it before his death. It was hard, very hard work and I was glad to do it. My union afforded me a little better then a living wage and a great benefits package.
    I have none of this as a stylist who spent 12k on her education, no benefits, no paid sick leave, maybe a vacation if I’m lucky, no personal days. I am not lazy.

    I can not tell you how many times I would read Yahoo articles at about low wage workers, oh how mean the comments were. Needless to say…Yahoo is no longer my ‘home page’. Get a better job, the commenters would type in all caps and I wondered to myself about these hateful souls what would they do with out a restaurant, cook? As if. They act as if a raise in minimum wage somehow takes something from them? How so? It puts more money back into our economy. And on another note, people working for a minimum wage very seldom qualify for ‘section 8 housing’, what a foolish statement.
    Even the working class among create divisions and those in charge are happy for the divisions, they keep us from fully organizing.

    A day will come when the made up divisions amongst the working class disappear and it will be a day of reckoning.

  • Eric

    Some questions to ponder about anyone who may feel that poor people are “beneath” “themselves” are included regarding some of the quotes brought on this article:

    The majority of minimum wage earners are teenagers, dropouts, retirees and people supplementing their income. (What are the “demographics” of the people making these “accusations?”)

    NO business is going to employ somebody who can’t EARN their keep. (what process does someone have to partake in to “earn” something?)

    Who’s to say what an unskilled, low information person is worth. (what defines an unskilled, low information person?)

    (how does someone obtain the capability of getting access to college, a better job, a trade school and how much effort would someone have to make to “do their part”)

    (if someone “at” minimum wage ALREADY HAS a family, do they get divorced, give their children up for adoption to support “their responsibility” and “satisfy their employer’s views? If that were the case, how much would it cost to do both and could someone making minimum wage afford it? Could social services make up the cost for supporting abandoned children and indebted adults?)

    As evangelicals, instead of promoting government force you could be promoting marriage and graduation. (Huh? WTF?)

    (what are the “average” IQ, education and training levels of someone who is on minimum wage? What law or social status quo states “you are supposed to” and if someone has the capability of “supposed to” what capabilities are required to live up to and support “supposed to”?)

    (If everyone “on” minimum wage were to “simply go away” as the complaint suggests, how much would it cost the local economies of numerous cities to process job openings, employ people to do job interviews for the people who would not want “minimum wage jobs” and how much will taxes go up if those jobs could not be filled because “someone” who is not “on” minimum wage does “not want a minimum wage job” when they are looking for work?)

    (What “benefits” do “people on minimum wage” get? what is the “average person’s” income level? How “much” does someone “on” minimum wage get?)

    (Can Minimum work = minimum wage apply to several members of our government and social upper class?)

  • Katherine Weaver

    I find it disgusting that they say if you make minimum wage you are somehow doing less work. Minimum wage is most of the service industry, which are the people who have to deal with these people who have a false god complex that they are better than anyone else. The number 1 thing about the service industry that makes the job horrible is dealing with people who degrade you every chance they get.

    Frankly, people who work in service do harder jobs than any other job there is. Usually they are physically intensive jobs where you are worked like cattle, prodded at by customers, and barely surviving. All because they didn’t have parents to help them pay for college, help them survive through college, and had to face the real world from the get go instead of extending their childhood by 4 or more years.

    Anyone who has enough money can buy a college degree, but it takes hard work to acquire knowledge.

  • Charles Vincent

    Wages are one of the biggest expenses a business has and when you’re dealing with say the service industry where profits are usually very meager raising minimum wage even 10 cents an hour can turn that small profit into a loss. It’s a sad fact. No one starts a business to lose money. In food service as a manager there are two areas you can control to ensure profit. 1) food cost and 2)labor cost at least that’s my experience with them being the main costs to control.

    • sandra1947

      My experience in food service is that the business owner is constantly looking for ways to let the public pay for his work force. Without his wait staff his product isn’t sold. They are constantly looking for ways to keep from writing a check to their wait staff. The wait staff has to put of with customers that look down their noses at them and expect personal service for a pittance of a tip and the employer that uses “their least expensive employee” to do the dirty work of the restaurant that isn’t subject to tips. While I realize that running a business is not easy their employees should be treated with the respect they deserve and pay that shows their importance.

      • Charles Vincent

        I think you’re confusing courtesy an decency with respect, respect is earned not given and treating people with courtesy and dignity is what earns respect and it goes both ways.
        The customer pays for everything the business is doing not just the labour, and yes employers use people to achieve results and if you’re not doing things that make your business profitable you won’t be in business long and when you go out of business you employees are unemployed. Don’t misconstrue that to mean employees should be treated badly because its simply not true. If you want an employee to feel important treating them well goes light years farther than paying them well.

      • ccaffrey

        Funny thing though, if workers are paid well, they have a tendency to spend money beyond essentials. They might even go out to eat at a restaurant like yours : )

      • Charles Vincent

        I am one of those low paid workers and I still find some extra cash to spend money on extra and luxuries. And what I call a luxury someone else might call an essential. In fact my first job paid 3.35 an hour and I still managed to pay my bills and have something on the side to have fun with.

      • Aaron Chrislip

        Right, but when you were making 3.35 an hour, how much was a gallon of milk, what was the going rate for an apartment, how much was a loaf of bread.

        My first job was minimum wage ($4.15 an hour I think), more than half of what minimum wage is now. At that time bread was $0.25 a loaf, milk was only a buck something, you could get a crappy studio apartment for $200 a month, and gas was about $0.90 gallon… this was less than 20 years ago. Today, it’s a dollar a loaf of bread, $4 per gallon of gas or milk, and the exact same studio apartment is $350 a month… Then only expense that has scaled well is the apartment.

      • Charles Vincent

        Well rent really varies , it didn’t scale well here. And the rising cost of goods is due to over regulation the majority of the time gas has gone up due to supply and demand forces primarily because there are very few refineries here in the us converting crude oil and also because the price of crude is up but we could fix that by increasing oil supply which would push the price down again it’s about supply vs demand. Also I am still close to minimum wage and I can still afford some luxuries.

    • It’s a horrible economic model based on greed and ignorance. If most of their expenses are based on paltry, substandard pay of waitstaff and that staff is still making minimum wage without benefits, then perhaps it’s time to close shop. Free market and all that…

      • Charles Vincent

        Have you ever owned and run your own business? The free market model works. Historically when we were closer to the free market model mobility from one economic class to the next one up was much easier in fact the lower class was shrinking and the middle class was growing and the upper class was growing but to a smaller degree. There will always be wealth inequality some people are luckier or smarter or more creative when it comes to finding a way to make money. What we want to see is that over all everyone’s situation is improving. Think about why people immigrated here during the great melting pot era. Why were people coming here from their native country? They came here because this country presented them with better opportunities than they had in their native country.

      • I don’t believe in this Great Spaghetti Monster you call the Free Market. I’ve seen it in action, I’ve seen its results – it’s based on exploitation.

      • Charles Vincent

        What you see happening isn’t free market Hong Kong more closely resembles free market economics. Is it perfect no nothing ever will be. And as far as our country we haven’t been close to free market economy since 1910.

      • Charles Vincent

        It also seems that you might be confusing capitalism with imperialism.

    • Nathalie

      Which is why programs like tax breaks and other incentives for small business are provided by government to help these businesses post profits and compete. But what’s the excuse for Fortune 500 companies? Most of them are posting record profits; they are more than able to afford to pay their workers more and provide better benefits, but it’s all about their shareholders and the bottom line.

      • Charles Vincent

        Costly regulations and specialized personnel are needed just to wade through the mountain of government red tape in order to insure compliance all of which eats up profit by expanding a companies overhead. There is no doubt that corporate management eats up a large portion of profit and what they don’t take is quickly absorbed by middle management leaving the average worker with nothing but that is a distortion of the actual free market function. But that’s a separate issue in my mind. Corporate welfare is what those tax breaks and incentives should be called. Largely I think what we se now isn’t free market but crony capitalism where large corporations use government to squeeze out small business and competition and politicians get campaign funding in return for creating regulatory monopolies that allow Fortune 500 companies to dominate markets. Sorry if I rambled a bit hope I answered some of the questions you posed.

  • jfletch

    Amen. “Let them eat cake” didn’t work out so well the first time for the greedy rich. Sooner or later, it won’t work out here either.

  • Tony Bartlett

    Wow, how did I stumble on to this crazy website.You people are nuts! Your pay, your worth in $$, is determined by the market. Ask yourself “how many people can do what I do?” if the answer is a very high number you will make peanuts, if the answer is a very low number you will make a fortune. That’s life, get over it and do what you need to do to increase your value!

    • ccaffrey

      Your naivete about the market is astonishing. It is not, nor has it been for a long time, a “free” market. It is very much a fixed market and , since employees are “expenses” there is a race to the bottom among businesses about how much you can get for how little. THAT is the essence of running a business with ONLY a profit motive AT ANY AND ALL COSTS. It has no ethic beyond maximum profit. Then to justify its own practice it denigrates people even further to make people believe that they only deserve whatever crumbs are thrown to them. We’ve got millions of honest, hardworking people trying to support their families who are being referred to as low-lifes, while we’ve got bankers and corporateers who’ve broken so many laws we should have thrown them in jail and tossed away the key. Yet they not only run around free but are celebrated as paragons by virtue of their wealth and power alone. Much of that wealth and power has been built on the backs. It should tell you something that worker productivity has increased steadily in the past several decades but wages are stagnant! It’s the problem with making profit your god, at any and all costs. Read the book Blaming the Victim. It’s been around for, oh, 40 years or so.

      • Charles Vincent

        I think tony is talking about the law of supply and demand in which case his assertion would be correct in that if the supply of labor for a particular job is high then the wage paid for that job would be low.

      • Tony Bartlett

        Yeah you really don’t understand supply and demand so it’s impossible for us to debate from the same vantage point. Here is a really simple exercise for you: Open a lemonade stand, hire some employees and base their pay on your sense of “fairness”. Pay them based on their needs and not on a profit motive. See how many hours pass before you are out of business and/or bankrupt. You can accelerate the effect by applying the same senseless methodology to setting your prices. Set the prices based on your compassion for the poor or some other noble cause that has nothing to do with realities of the market. Assuming you have a day job, don’t quit it because I can assure you that you are not going to be successful in the lemonade business if you actually put your ideas into practice at a real business.

  • Michelle Silva

    Middle class has been dropping out for years. Truth is, many of the larger corporations that could be raising wages don’t, and other big names often break laws and do everything possible to pay employees the wages they were contracted in to earn, such as Teleperformance and Burger King. They will do anything to cut your hours, cut any and all benefits you MIGHT have had, and will cut your pay as short as they can. They work you like dogs and toss you out as fast as they can, and that red mark on your job history makes obtaining a job that much more difficult. While some people ARE poor because of their own idiocy and inability to manage money, others are doing absolutely everything they can to make rent, often forgoing food and walking ten miles OR MORE just to get to work or come home from it as they can’t even afford a bus ticket. It’s freaking ridiculous.

    And Vincent, shut the fuck up, you’re just making excuses for the rich. Try working for a big-name corporation that hired you on at a higher wage for full time, then turns around and pays you minimum instead and works you MAYBE 20 hours a week just so they can hire four others to do the same job, have them scream at you all day while you also smile at the customers’ screams, and try and put food on the table for you family and have enough to cover rent and transport . No. It’s just not fucking possible. This shit needs to end. In this world, you either don’t have enough experience / education or you have too fucking much, and you’re lucky to even land a minimum wage job that saps you for every bit of strength you have.

    • Charles Vincent

      Well if you’re talking to me, no I won’t shut up and I do work in that situation already and in fact it isn’t new to my situation to work in the conditions you described. If not please disregard this post.

  • A dear friend of mine is a master woodworker and has owned his own business, literally for as long as I have been alive (I’m close to 40). His work is high-quality and he’s always got someone willing to pay him for it. And yet, he is BROKE. I don’t know if he has ever carried his own health insurance and it’s worth his life if he ever gets sick because not only can he not work while that is going on, but doctors will either refuse to see him or will hound him after his treatment and not let him make payment arrangements on his bill. (These are small-town doctors, mind you. City doctors can be and often are more open-minded.) He owns his property free and clear but he is still struggling. He’s exactly the type of guy, aside from not being Christian, that the Republicans and libertarians are supposed to be championing, but because he’s not independently wealthy, they’ll decide he’s worthless.

    And the sad part is that to become part of the 1 percent you have to learn to divorce work from wages–you have to learn how to leverage your money to make more money for you. If you read any legitimate how-to-get-rich book it will explain that to you. Even the Millionaire Next Door books get into this subject matter. So it’s obvious that after a certain level of income or a certain level of held wealth, it’s not actually work helping the person hold that position. So these jerks KNOW that having great wealth does not mean working terribly hard. But the myth persists.

    Hell, slaves worked harder than anybody in the antebellum period and they didn’t get paid at all!