GENE ROBERTSON: Poverty is an absent topic in political discussion

Friday, October 12, 2012 | 4:44 p.m. CDT; updated 8:58 p.m. CDT, Saturday, October 13, 2012

Poverty is noticeably absent from the political discussions even though it permeates the landscape of the country. It manifests itself in no or low employment, homelessness, empty houses, hunger, and limited health and education options.

Poverty looms overhead unspoken but not unfelt. We may deny it just as we deny racial issues, but they remain ever-present. The occupy movements were instrumental in focusing attention on poverty and those who now or will soon feel this condition. We all are adroit at denying it to others and ourselves as long as we can.

Along with poverty comes a psychological condition, which is akin to the mental feelings of hopelessness that slaves felt. Certainly there are few physical chains and limits, but the mental chains of hopeless poverty can be as debilitating, and are harder to address while we deny they exist. It is only when we lose property, employment, income or our means to acquire employment by which we judge ourselves and our status that poverty and mental slavery become real to us.

Unlike slaves, poverty-stricken people don’t have value to the one-percenters. The one-percenters can increase their income from offshore employment and investment. Only the judicial and prison industrial complexes have a need for unemployed bodies. The votes of the poor have a temporary value. The vote is only a temporary currency to many in politics. We need to spend this currency wisely.

This new poverty and mental slavery discourages independent thinking and self-reliance. It leaves its victims emotionally distraught. The loss of the material goods, which were falsely associated with power, results in feelings of powerlessness, disunity, anxiety, victimization and stress. Time must be spent justifying our existence if we have no material to show for it.

Poverty is not a character flaw. It cuts across all groups and parts of society. We can undo our poverty. We must first undo many of the material-based notions of status. We must ascribe status based upon behaviors rather than possessions. We must participate in the decisions that affect our lives. We must educate ourselves so that we can vote for candidates who will address the needs of all people rather than an economically influential minority. We must hold our representatives accountable for their behaviors. This means we must become cognizant of their behaviors.

We might never become economically wealthy, but we can exchange the slave mentality for a sense of efficacy that will empower us.

William E. "Gene" Robertson is a Columbia resident and a professor emeritus at MU. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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