Monday, January 17, 2005

Tsu-tsu-tsunami and the Deserving Poor

Confession: I have to admit that for the past few weeks, I have had Canadian animated-pop band Prozzak's song "Tsunami" playing constantly in my head.

Disclaimer: The tsunami was a disaster, and international aid is needed to help its victims.

Historical Rant: I've been disgusted by the manner in which normally tight-fisted Canadians and other countries have been tripping over themselves to send money to cope with the tsunami. Every time in the past month that some megastar donated $1M, or $5M, or the proceeds of her Mother's Day concert, it makes the news. The last figure I saw from the Canadian government was $425M. Where are these people, governments, and their money when it comes to fighting AIDS in Africa or at home (not just to find a cure, but to deal with public education campaigns, to pay for drug treatment, etc.), to fight urban poverty here at home, or to deal with any number of other crises in need of funds.

Here's your history lesson. It comes down to the concept of the "deserving poor". When the Canadian welfare state (and that of other nations), was in its infancy - and we're talking pre-WW2 here - there were two categories of those in poverty, those deemed deserving of assistance and those who were not. The deserving poor included those with severe disabilities such as blindness, widows, young children. Eventually the elderly managed to get classified as "deserving". What this concept basically means is that one was in dire circumstances through no fault of their own, and that they could not be expected to pull themselves out of poverty without the aid of others. If you were an able-bodied man or woman, had contracted a disease through licentious sexual activity, etc. it was considered to be your own fault that you were poor.

The response to the tsunami disaster reflects the fact that these attitudes are still prevalent today. The victims of it were hit by a natural disaster, and thus no "blame" can be attached to them for their circumstances. That makes them the perfect recipients for the benevolence of governments and private citizens alike. Others in need, such as those I mentioned above, suffer from being not nearly "pure" enough in their misery, nor trendy enough, and get left behind. The worst excesses and downsides of the Protestant work ethic persist today, and judgement abounds. Welcome to charity in the 21st century.

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At 9:50 am, Blogger Sarah said...



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