Poverty is not a strange concept anymore. As the number of people living below the poverty threshold continues to increase, we can ask ourselves, what is happening in this world? Why even with all the scientific and economic advancements that we have, we still cannot defeat poverty? As declared by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: “… the number of people suffering from chronic undernourishment is still unacceptably high, and eradication of hunger remains a major global challenge” (FAO).
We always associate poverty with economic upheaval, but Doctor Theodore Dalrymple gave another perspective in his essay “What is Poverty?”. He claimed that the root cause of poverty is not just the economic status of a country. For example, in England, poverty is primarily caused by the lifestyle of its citizens and by the welfare system which promotes “anti-social egotism” to them. He said; “… a system of welfare that makes no moral judgments in allocating economic rewards promotes antisocial egotism”. (Arandia 181) On one hand, his argument promotes another angle about poverty. On the other, it provides a new thread of debate against egalitarianism. His work suggests that egalitarianism creates an illusion of equality among the people.
As the government tries to elevate the living standard of their poor citizens, the downside of this action affects the spiritual and moral growth of the people. If we will use Nietzschean philosophy, they will not pass on his standard for noble goodness nor with the slave morality. They neither have the heart to improve themselves the same way as leading aristocrats do, nor they have the gratitude to those who provide for their means..
England; the worst kind of poverty
Doctor Dalrymple used England and its poor population to illustrate his thesis. As one of the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world, its citizens enjoy the luxuries that a third world country could only aspire for. They have a free health care system which does not discriminate according to financial status. In addition, it has the resources and medical practitioners that can assure proper treatment and fast recovery. Furthermore, its citizens enjoy the benefits coming from government subsidies in terms of housing, education, bills, etc… All of these are absent in developing and underdeveloped countries, yet these are all taken for granted in this wealthy nation.
Doctor Dalrymple argued that the poverty in England is the worst kind of poverty. In this country, the people are not worried that the poor could not afford his/her medical needs, nor should s/he live in overcrowded tenements similar to poverty reduction programs in developing countries. Their problems revolve around their physical and material desires. The main problem here is not economics – like in third world countries – but the “spiritual, moral and cultural” growth of the people (Arandia 179). As I was reading the text, I was filled with remorse and disappointment. Although, US citizens are not new to the issues of suicide, unwanted pregnancies, illegitimate children, live-in partners, violence, etc… The very idea of people working tediously just to earn enough money to feed themselves, while there are people under the welfare system of rich countries like England and U.S., who are completely blind of how lucky they are to be sustained by their governments is frustrating. They don’t recognize the value of hard labor. Everybody knows their rights. Everybody knows the responsibilities of the government, but at the end of the day, they remain as egoist and immature as before. They cannot even clean the litters in their backyards (179). These reasons prove the arguments of Doctor Dalrymple that the worst poverty is in England. (181) The people themselves create their own squalor.
Cycle of abuse and depression
Another minor issue tackled in the essay is the unending cycle of abuse that most of the victims continue tolerating. In the essay “The Frivolity of Evil”, most of the patients of Doctor Dalrymple cannot distinguish the difference between depression and unhappiness. As far as they were concerned, they have depression. But what is depression? How can we point out a depression over mere unhappiness? Why is there high rate of depression in wealthy countries, where everything they need are within the reach of their hands. Nevertheless,suicide rate is also higher among the poorest citizens of England. Their lives have been sucked out of meaning.
It can be argued that even if the welfare system of the government is beneficial, but because of this easy access for everything creates fearless against hunger, thirst, and deprivation. As Doctor Dalrymple said: “”it has created a large caste of people for whom life is, in effect, a limbo in which they have nothing to hope for and nothing to fear, nothing to gain and nothing to lose. It is a life emptied of meaning.” (Arandia 181) If we will analyze the problem from this argument, we will see that poverty is a mere illusion. Created by the people who never learn how to work hard and attain satisfaction from their labour. Those people who can depend on an institution to support them, which eventually, makes them too dependent on the rights that they have without seeing the value of those things. In the essay, a conversation between Doctor Dalrymple and one of her Filipina doctors presented how Englishmen are ingratitude towards the service they received from the hospital(178). The Filipina doctor was uneasy because of the indifference of a patient after the doctors saved his life. For her, this action is overwhelming enough when done to a Filipino. Moreover, Doctor Dalrymple answered:: “When every benefit received is a right, there is no place for good manners, let alone for gratitude” (178).
We may always see poverty in the light of economic instability of a nation-state; however, through ethics, we are introduced to another angle that is significant to our study. As Doctor Dalrymple expounded on his essay, poverty is a consequence of the attitudes and perspectives of its people toward life. I agree with this argument, as I believe that through one’s motivation, s/he can move forward to reach his/her dreams. On the other hand, I think that some of the generalizations created by Doctor Dalrymple was an example of hasty generalization, wherein the image he drew in his essay sketched a bad image of the whole poor population of England.
The untidy nature of its citizens and over dependency of the people, creates an image that each and every poor citizen in England is like that. The essay also pointed that we must consider the importance of moral guidance to the people. Majority of the people living in urban areas, as well as, the victims of Doctor Dalrymple’s hospital are victims of chances. They are victims of time and opportunity. They did not chose to be born out of wedlock. They did not chose to be born with an abusive parents. Nevertheless, they must realized that they are not imprisoned to this chances. They can conquer it and live the life they deserve. It is important that the citizens will not just receive material support, but they must also gain access from activities which will teach them the importance of life, problems and spiritual and moral growth.
Arandia, Mark. Competing Visions: An Introduction to Moral Philosophy. Kendall Hunt Publishing, Co., 2013. VitalBook file. The State of Food Insecurities in the World page. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2012. Web. 1 June.2013