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Archive for June 3rd, 2013

The words of a prophet

Posted by Charles II on June 3, 2013

This is from a 2010, DemocracyNow interview of Manfred Max-Neef, a Chilean economist who won the right livelihood award. I call him a prophet, because he was denouncing austerity in 2010:

MANFRED MAX-NEEF: …I understood poverty because I was there. I lived with them. I ate with them. I slept with them, you know, etc. And then you begin to learn that in that environment there are different values, different principles …

And you learn extraordinary things. The first thing you learn, that people who want to work in order to overcome poverty and don’t know, is that in poverty there is an enormous creativity. You cannot be an idiot if you want to survive. Every minute, you have to be thinking, what next? What do I know? What trick can I do here? What’s this and that, that, that, that? And so, your creativity is constant. In addition, I mean, that it’s combined, you know, with networks of cooperation, mutual aid, you know, and all sort of extraordinary things which you’ll no longer find in our dominant society, which is individualistic, greedy, egoistical, etc. It’s just the opposite of what you find there. And it’s sometimes so shocking that you may find people much happier in poverty than what you would find, you know, in your own environment, which also means, you know, that poverty is not just a question of money. It’s a much more complex thing.

I think most of the unhappiness associated with wealth is that you think you ought to do such-and-such or have such-and-such. If one can get over that and take the losses and disappointments when they inevitably come, it’s possible to be happier.

But the creativity of poverty is an interesting point, too. As any artist can testify, creativity has a powerful effect on mood. When one can’t create, it’s miserable, whereas the moments of creativity are as beautiful as deep love. If one constantly has to work at creativity, it can be elevating. But there’s also the situation in which, despite all of one’s creativity, the situation is so bad that success is not possible. Poverty in the U.S. has elements of the liabilities of wealth–that is, poor people see so many people succeeding and imagine that they are failures–and, for many, success is impossible. It is, for example, essentially impossible for a felon to become a successful businessman at any legal enterprise, even a small one. It’s almost impossible to get a job except at construction or restaurant work. And now the Senate is going to deprive them of Food Stamps.

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