I Would Not be Anyone Else

Todd May’s philosophical rumination on what we would do were we to aspire to be someone else:

We live in world in which the lives of those with more wealth or fame or recognition or influence or beauty are constantly placed before us as though they were something to aspire to. And, of course, there is nothing wrong with aspiration in itself. But to the extent these lives are presented to us as something to be hankered after, as lives we would certainly want if only we could have them, we are presented with an image that asks us to forget what is important to us. In an age of acquisitiveness, and one moreover in which the normative constraints on acquisitiveness have largely fallen away, it is comforting — and perhaps even imperative — to recognize that of all the personal histories that we might choose from, it is our own that would be our likely choice.

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Capitalism and Poverty

We often say that capitalism, or at least its excesses, breeds poverty. In his new book, “Evicted”, Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond proposes that poverty may not just be a side effect of violent capitalism, but an opportunity for capitalism to blossom.

Desmond’s book studies the lives of the urban poor–mostly black and women–in Milwaukee, to stake a claim that exploitation is innate to poverty and that the poor are poor not simply because they have been victims of an exploitative machinery, but also because they constitute an industry off which people get rich.

In an insightful review of the book Barbara Ehrenreich presents the following scenario from Desmond’s book to clinch the point that poverty too can be turned into an entrepreneurial venture, where the poor themselves become commodities:

The landlord who evicts Lamar, Larraine [two of the subjects] and so many others is rich enough to vacation in the Caribbean while her tenants shiver in Milwaukee. The owner of the trailer park takes in over $400,000 a year. These incomes are made possible by the extreme poverty of the tenants, who are afraid to complain and lack any form of legal representation. Desmond mentions payday loans and for-profit colleges as additional exploiters of the poor — a list to which could be added credit card companies, loan sharks, pay-to-own furniture purveyors and many others who have found a way to spin gold out of human sweat and tears. Poverty in America has become a lucrative business, with appalling results…

 

Poetry As Prayer

Yehuda_Amichai_2.inddFor Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai (he died in 2000), poetry could be like a prayer, as said by James Wood in the  New Yorker. Wood calls Amichai a “Secular Psalmist.”

Indeed a prayer needn’t be addressed to a God. In the one and only short poem I had previously read by Amichai–“The Diameter of the Bomb”–the object of the poet’s magnificent prayer is the bomb.

The poet asks the bomb to be cognizant of the particularities of the lives that it destroys as collateral damage of war. The bomb isn’t expected to miraculously rebel against the user and refuse to be used as a tool, but to understand the “diameter” of the loss it causes and to remember the specific identities it splinters.

Woods’ critique of Amichai’s poetry brings to light the hidden gem that poetry morphs into when the craftsperson is a natural.