Monday, October 7, 2013

Begging as Labor

I've been meaning to write, but there's a little pebble blocking my over hyper brain activity from translating into ideas that make sense rather than just floating concepts in my head bouncing around and of course as usual causing me anxiety that is stopping me from sleeping. This writer's block is being challenged as i write because i have been really meaning to write; about the following in specific.

Don't give them money, everybody shouts at you, it's a mafia, it's organized, you are part of producing it, you are part of why these kids are in the streets. Yes, i am talking about street kids beggars, beggars in general. There's a way inwhich kids in specific touch something deep down in our hearts when we see them homeless, those helpless docile bodies standing in the middle of the highways looking hungry and tired, sad or crying, begging from you some pennies for them to find something to eat. But to me, it's a similar feeling, the punch in the stomach, the lump in the throat, the guilt, the anger at the system that produces "us" and "them".... all these feeling are not only limited to children, it's the same feeling to the elderly, the young, the middle aged, and anyone from any gender or age range that is asking from you for money. People might get used to such views, i myself cannot, i've been seeing it for so long, but it never got normalized in my head, i hope the excessiveness of witnessing what we agree to produce as we agree to live in this system will never become "normal" to me, because i and you we are all responsible for it. That's not a trip of self scrutiny, it's more of a duty to be honest to one's self. But emotions are emotions and they lead nowhere, maybe some sympathy but who are we to sympathize other than another layer of privilege that fits into the hierarchy of this world?

I always catch myself overwhelmed with a confusing feeling of urgent sorrow, confused; what to do what to do, shall i give them money while most of the time i barely have enough for myself, shall i buy them food and buy myself with it some soothing feeling and tap myself on the shoulder, and feel less guilty? and even if i do, will it solve anything? will i be one of the reasons this person might come back to the street again? what if i didn't and they didn't make money and then they will be abused? What happened to us that we only remember extreme injustice the moment we see it? And when we don't we just get preoccupied with surviving....that's when i slap myself, and go back to thinking of political. Because political in a way disentangle from the emotional pity and therefore becomes more productive in at least discussing a social problem.

Therefore and in my trial to politicize the way i view begging it came out like everything else in this world, it is all mostly labor. well, of course labor unions are not ready to include in their fights beggars, as if an employee working 12 hours a day is less miserable than a beggar being in the street for 12 hours...there's of course some more privilege in having a monthly stable paid job, and maybe shades of gray in the misery and exploitation, but misery is misery, and ask most of the people you know if they are happy in their jobs and wait for the very unhappy answer!

Begging is a very specific type of labor, that includes exchange of emotions. When you see begging, if you are still someone who sympathize with beggars and view them as the perfect victims of who know what, the moment you are confronted with this type of mis-distribution of recourses that produces this injustice you immediately act by giving some pennies, which is buying yourself a better emotional state. Eventhough it's very complicated, to simplify it, the process is a simple exchange, the beggars try to sell you a better feeling about yourself by offering you a space to help, and you engage in this emotional exchange by buying yourself 1 minute of guilt free feeling, so we can forget and feel better about ourselves, because oh look we are "generous" enough to give money to the "unfortunate". Helping the poor gives you a better seat in heaven obviously, maybe a window seat where you can watch the world we live in and engage in an eternity of vomiting.

My other problem with this emotional feeling about beggars is that it cripples us from thinking, it becomes a very horrible problem that we need to solve right away, because we, the privileged (those who are not so privileged as well) don't want to see the reminder of the mis-distribution of recourses, because our privilege is based on it, and who wants to give away their privilege?

There's an author and i forgot his name who said something that got stuck to me as i was reading a book in one of my classes ""Le plus profond, c'est la peau." (google is saying it's Paul Vallery but i am not sure). Here how i view it is that the beggars are the visible skin of the mis-distribution of recourses in the world. They are the most visible materialization of one of the deepest problems, rooted in the system that produces all the hierarchies of power, privilege, distribution and access to recourses in the world, and that deserves more, much much much more than sympathy. 

I am not saying here don't sympathize, don't give money, or give money, or food or whatever you want to do, this is not your favorite platform for solutions, i am just trying to think beyond the limitations of the emotional that makes us want to "save the children" or the elderly or whosoever, and thus forget that poverty is the product of the circulation of capital in a very uneven way. The human capital, the money capital, the food capital, the access to recourses etc... 

I hope i reflected my idea in a clear way, this is only one angle of viewing begging, there are many other angles. Finally, and it's worth mentioning here that my favorite professor a year ago in one of our first classes stated that "there is so much food in the world to feed everyone, the problem is not in recourses anymore, but in the distribution of recourses". Given my fish memory, this phrase got stuck in my head and eventually grew to a deeper scope to analyze poverty ( which i like to refer to as mis-distribution) away from victimization, away from depolitcization....


Noha said...

I am glad you spelled out your thoughts on this regard. I personally struggle with this every single day. the reflection on being the privileged is rather disturbing, and puzzles me to the max. I can't help sympathize and I cant help getting angry when they are treated less than rats. Even the way they are ignored tells you something,the way through which people turn their heads away. we hate to see our own failures, and this kind of labor is indeed yet another failure of our capitalist societies..thank u!

Gabriela said...

Thank you Maya for sharing your thoughts!

Politicizing begging, seeing it as part of the system - the capitalist, uneven, exploitative system - would also be my way of reflecting about the kids I see in the streets of Delhi.

But there is an very immediate feeling that you describe as well an often I feel that politicizing does not help me here.
They take my hand, are almost stepping into the Rickshaw I'm sitting in or follow me through the streets - I cannot help but wanting to "save these children". And at the same time I know that they cannot be "saved" until the system is not changing.

But then, what to do? How to position myself? What are my own privileges? What would mean giving them up? Becoming a politicized ascetic? What would be the "right" thing to do without drifting into a hypocritical humanitarianism? As silly as these questions may sound, they are my response to a deep emotional confusion.

I want to hide from them and hide from seeing this poverty. But I will not.

Maya said...

Gabriela, i never have an answer to what to do,i wish social injustice-s can be solved with a simple mathematical equation, but obviously they don't. Begging is not only in Delhi, it's in a lot of other places sadly, and it's mostly the same scenario, same feeling! Similarly to you, this is a question that keeps haunting me, the what to do. But by politicizing the victimized, emotions can become actions, to think beyond this confrontation with mis-distribution of resources does not entail giving up on anyone or turning your head away at any level, it is just what it is, thinking from a different angle since begging has existed for centuries and we didn't see any "sum" of love in the world enough to "save" or change. Sometimes we all want to hide from the world, whether poverty, discrimination, our government's injustice towards refugees and to people in general, sexism, racism etc. but the luckily the world is not segregated enough to allow us to bubble in our privilege..that might be a real problem....