Opinion by Caterina Rossi
A distinct phobia has been rising in our society for a long time, and people do not seem willing to realise the severity of such a situation: fear of the poor.
We talk about fairness and justice, we claim everyone deserves equal opportunities, but we turn the other way when the homeless ask us for the neglected coins left in our pocket. We try to be sympathetic towards less fortunate people; we fight for a better world. However, when it extends to our everyday life, we all seem apathetic before the misery that other people suffer.
According to Social Metrics Commission, a group of experts who work to improve the way we understand and measure poverty, approximately 12.5 million people in the UK live in absolute low income. Shelter, a registered charity that campaigns to end homelessness and bad housing in England and Scotland, estimates that 280,000 people are displaced in England, an increase of 23,000 from 2016. It may seem a modest number compared to a population of almost 60 million people, but the UK is the fifth biggest economy in the world, and no number of people living in the street is ever too small.
Although we all feel compassionate towards these souls, we manage to go on with our lives without even considering why we live in such situations, and we keep on ignoring their cries for help. Even worse, society seems to be annoyed by them.
What is it that makes us so indifferent? What is it that sometimes even leads us to despise the poor? Our ignorance might play a significant role in shaping this behaviour. Prejudice is the root of all discrimination. We develop prejudices for those things that we do not know or do not understand.
When something is different from our reality, we find it hard to comprehend it. We prefer to develop a simplistic and naïve idea of something so distant from our existence rather than try to understand it because that would require a strong effort. How could we, with our privileged lives, comprehend a misery that has never touched us? Why should we spend time trying to comprehend the causes of something that do not affect us?
The other reason that might encourage our aversion against those poorer than ourselves, on the other hand, is driven by something far more intense than our lack of knowledge. We might dislike them because we do not know them, but what motivates the hate and cruelty that people often show towards this category is the similarity they find with the latter. We see ourselves in them. We identify with them, because, in the end, they are exactly like us.
While we are sure of our hair colour or height, our bank account is not something about which we can be completely confident, and we could all become a beggar desperately asking for money. We are terrified of being poor in a society where appearing wealthy has become fundamental. Humans have always been incredibly good at hating what they fear. This type of phobia arises from the refusal of what we do not want to be.
This type of phobia is not only a problem from a philosophical point of view. It needs to be fought and defeated because its consequences are incredibly dangerous and lead to an inhuman society where the idea of economic equality is often dismissed as an idealistic dream of naïve people.
If our generation wishes to change the world in a positive way, it needs to win this aversion. We must learn to fight the prejudice that shapes our mind, and we must be prepared to have our preconceptions challenged. We should not be worried about becoming poor but cruel and selfish. These are the first steps to build the more compassionate and healthier world we are all dreaming of.