Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
There are more white people living in poverty in the USA than any other ethnic group. Not exactly, though. About 67-70% of people living in poverty are white, but that includes white people of Latino, Latina, LatinX identification. Somewhere between 34 to 40 million people live below the poverty line in the USA, and even just non-Latin white people still make up a whopping 40% of those living in poverty.
Steven Pinker, the famous popular writer of questionable brain-candy books, tends to rejigger all the figures he uses – inflating, or at best leaning toward the largest estimates of populations living in violence and poverty in past times, while both theoretically minimizing and leaning toward the minimal numbers of current rates of violence and poverty in order to prove his point that human history represents a trend of progress in material existence for all people.
So forgive me for being a little squishy while using the figures I’ve given above, but as I do so, I’ll be transparent about the process. White folk of northern extraction make up 40% of the impoverished in the US. 40%. That’s almost 50%. That’s roughly their percentage of the entire US population as a whole, give or take. There are about 40 million people in the USA living below the poverty line, and the poverty line is widely acknowledged to be a laughable gauge of what constitutes poverty, constructed as it is by people who aren’t poor. So there’s probably more poor people than official definitions indicate.
I’m going to suggest, with a Pinkeresque fungibility of reported statistics, that about 70 million people in the USA, about 20% of the population, are poor, including the functionally poor, which means people who have to pay half or more of their income for shelter, who opt out of necessary visits to health professionals for lack of funds, who have trouble affording healthy food, who have no choice but to work more than one fulltime job, or work one fulltime job that sucks, who have to work gig jobs but think they’re not poor because they sell their homemade jewelry on Etsy on the side, who go without medication, have severely limited if any time to themselves, or are burdened by snowballing debt due to predatory lending or predatory credit or a punitive civic system of fines.
Easily one in five people in the wealthiest military and financial empire in history is poor. They are vulnerable to being coerced into working unsafe and unfairly compensated jobs, vulnerable to being swayed by propaganda that says they’re better off than they actually are, vulnerable to being manipulated to disregard or even denounce class-consciousness that would lead to solidarity, in favor of accepting narratives that pit them against those with whom they have for the most part common grievances.
Let’s call that latter stuff the Pinker propaganda, although he’s not necessarily the origin of it, nor is he its sole or most clever practitioner. There’s a big surge of optimism right now because Beyoncé is wearing the Tiffany diamond that was dug up by black miners in South Africa and stolen from them within minutes. There’s also something related to that story about a Basquiat painting and some millions of dollars for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Some of the same people who adulate this as a significant step forward—and it is, for representation of black people among the very wealthy and self-congratulatorily philanthropic—the same people will also wax frustrated that black people in the USA don’t seem to have liberated themselves from the racist system of economic and authoritarian oppression.
Welcome to the world where the rich are held up as a great example, but the poor keep getting shafted. And if you’re shafted, there’s nothing wrong with you that a role model can’t fix.
You’re just relatively new at this, People of Color. Don’t worry, you’ll soon be happy just worshiping the wealthy people you think you could be someday with enough hard work, and all that cognitive dissonance will fade into the past.
Hey, that does sound like progress, doesn’t it?
I could say Beyoncé has joined the ranks of the Pinkers. And why not? Malcolm Gladwell’s a Pinker, and he’s black. There’s no rule that you can’t be both black and a Pinker!
What do Pinkers get out of their self-congratulations, exaggerations, half-truths, and Pollyannaism? It’s not difficult to see that they either imagine they gain something or actually gain something, because they go to such efforts to flog the narrative that civilization is at least on a path, however slow, to improvement for everyone.
The scientific data and observable evidence is that the Earth’s temperature is increasing, which will continue to increase the number and severity of catastrophic weather events, hinder food production, create forced migration and geo-political strife. That should go a long way toward negating the fairytale of an ever-ennobling humanity.
But maybe the Pinkers are those members of the bourgeoisies who are simply comfortable, and want to believe that, in the long run, their comfort doesn’t come at the expense of the dignified survival of others. No one need question whether their comfort is justified, because, in the fullness of time, life is getting better and better. No need to point to the class forces creating rape slaves and wage slaves, homelessness, capitalist violence, imperial commandeering of the resources of the Earth. Most of humanity is doing pretty well, and each year more and more become members of that majority. Have some patience, silly. Yes, injustice is terrible, and you should dance and sing about subverting it, but it obviously takes many centuries to improve conditions. We’re all doing the best we can.
And Beyoncé gets to be the first black woman to wear what looks like a crystal of solidified urine.
Well, as forests burn, the atmosphere’s CO2 content increases, species die off at a rate unprecedented since that last great extinction of sixty-five million years ago, and arable land along with forests and oceanic carbon sinks shrivel to nothing, the cheery outlook of the comfortable grows less and less persuasive.
Meanwhile, I’m pushing opposite propaganda. I don’t think conditions are getting better and better with each succeeding century. Some things are getting better. A vastly greater percentage of people are literate. But a vastly greater percentage of people now have access to misleading information and plain old attractive lies, so it’s entirely possible that whatever was good about increased literacy is annihilated by the crap information people are consuming.
I must be getting something out of peddling my doomsday scenario. Right? Why am I pushing my interpretation of history? Why do I think my spin on the fate of humanity is even worth sharing? I’m not making big bucks from it. I don’t get to wear an amulet of crystallized pee because of it. I’m not easing my mind, justifying my comfortable existence, unless you think being convinced the human world, best case scenario, soon will be firmly in one of its most tragic phases ever is somehow “comfortable.”
I guess, despite the fact that humanity is on a downward arc these days, these doofus days, these trash fire days, despite the fact that humans are the buffoons of the cosmos, as uncomfortable as it is to admit it, I am human. And lying to myself and to you about our current conditions would make me feel not human. Why is feeling human important to me? I don’t know. Maybe it makes me comfortable to feel part of this species, even a disdaining, finger-wagging, pitying, angry part. Maybe I just need to feel like I belong. Maybe I’m just another brand of Pinker.
The fact is, though, we’re in for a hell of a turd storm in the coming decades, and we brought it on ourselves. Pinkers notwithstanding. Pinkers are in for an unpleasant surprise if they think humans are going to get us out of this mess before there’s a whole lot of suffering.
Pinkers should join us humans and get prepared for the worst, or at least support the efforts at fighting the system of normalized selfish wealth accumulation and materialistic growth that keeps us going down the tubes. But perhaps that is not in their nature. Perhaps one’s soul transforms in some horrible way when one becomes a Pinker.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!