I’m taking a history class this semester that gives a historical treatment of how religions have dealt with poverty. In essence – they’ve done “their best” but ultimately end up rationalizing it. Is it acceptable for a religion to rationalize poverty? I don’t think so. Which is why I believe religions are a bad and harmful thing. God is good. Religions are bad. But if Nietzsche was right, then God is dead – so who the fuck knows anyway?
Anyway, if we can successfully non-violently revolt against the rich, then we can simultaneously stop rationalizing poverty.
What do I mean by rationalizing poverty? In very practical terms – we all rationalize poverty every time we pass a bum on the street and don’t offer our hand in help. We look at the bum and say to ourselves, “Life’s a bitch.” And then we keep on walking.
Or maybe we give them a quarter.
Or maybe we give them a dollar.
Or maybe we give them the address of soup kitchen.
Or maybe we volunteer our time at a homeless shelter.
Or maybe we do everything in our power to help those in poverty.
Ultimately, if poverty still exists – we rationalize it. Or worse, we look the other way. We must stop rationalizing poverty. And the only way to truly do this is to make it non-existent. We can do this in a world without money. Everyone’s needs will be met and poverty will truly be history.
The philosopher Niklas Luhmann (German system theorist) has a “radical constructivist position” to poverty. It may be helpful for us in understanding the complexities involved in rationalizing poverty.
– Identity is based on difference, or “making a distinction” (a subject is other than its environment)
– Free agents make these distinctions, are inherently unstable and contingent, and free agents know this.
– Such distinctions are also made on a macro-level, at the level of the social system overall, at a level beyond agents.
– This social -symbolic reality is created by the difference between the system and its environment, and the system generates itself by itself (it is “autopoietic”)
– Autopoeisis, the process of self-attribution, is an act of “communication,” which occurs through “generalized symbolic media,” communicative codes, shared schemes of interpretation, which distinguish “functions” (specific areas of practical interest), e.g.
a) function of economy: satisfy needs.
b) function of politics: make binding decisions
c) function of science: produce truth
d) function of religion: to make the world – which is “observed” as, i.e. known by the distinction of, definite or indefinite – definite [!]
– The “codes” distinguish these functions “communicate,” are particular to, and “close,” the particular sub-systems or function systems, such as: science (code: true/false), politics (code: power/weakness), economy (code: efficiency/inefficiency), religion (code: immanence/transcendence).
a) these sub-systems or function systems are potentially limitless
b) the “functional differentiation” of these sub-systems is an historical process
– Communication occurs by “media,” of two kinds
a) “disseminating media” : speech, writing, television, e-mail, i.e. media that involve limited numbers of people (even if the limit is a very large limit)
b) “success media” : symbolic media related to the codes of a function system by producing the “difference” that is basic to it. e.g money is a medium used in the function system economy. It is used to differentiate income and loss. e.g. power is a medium used in the function system politics. It is used to differentiate between winning and losing.
– The communicative code of the function-system economy – efficiency/inefficiency – does not make a moral discrimination, which belongs to its own sub-system, namely morality. When “economy” has been functionally differentiated as a sub-system within society (which Luhmann argues happened only in the last 500 years), it stands seperate from other sub-systems (the same holds for sub-systems, including religion).
Whew. Did that make any sense to you? It sort of makes sense to me. This is my short version:
Our culture has enabled and encouraged us to define ourselves and nature as “other.” This otherness is divorced from morality in an economic system. So moralists use the economy to rationalize poverty.
What I’m arguing for is to stop poverty forever and wipe its existence from the face of our earth.
It’s easy to do. All you have to do is stop believing that money is a good and helpful thing.