Never plan to change the status quo, plan to ameliorate the effects of inequality because poverty is a source of social dynamism.
Last Monday morning I went to my neighbourhood library. I was already out by 8:45 and thought I could make use of the morning by going to use the computers at the library. I arrived at the library by 9 am. It was closed and I remembered it would open at 9:30. I have had some very interesting conversations at this library. Public libraries are social hubs and contributes to creating a free society.
On the bench at the bus, just outside the library, stop one of the friendly faces I have become acquainted with was also waiting. He is a tall man with a bushy communist beard, a friendly face and soft spoken. We started talking. He is from the binary area of my backyard neighbourhood area and he is interested in genealogy. He called me Miriam, I corrected him with Mariam and he told me that it has Spanish origins. Well, whatever the origin, I just stick to the Arabic origins of the mother of Jesus. Now, in a half an hour conversation you can cover quite a lot of information exchange. He kept talking about Pakistan and gave me an update of the flood repercussions there. I reminded him that I’m not from Pakistan, I just have origins there and that I’m European. He did remember I told him that and told me that people from the third world all think the English always had the rights and privileges. He said “some 300 years ago we were a feudal society and women did not even have the right to vote till 1922″. He told me that “the floods in Pakistan were the wrath of God for not believing in the commands of his son”. Now, I have already had a similar conversation with others on this before so I had an idea of where the conversation would be leading and said “well I’m Muslim and I believe in Jesus, but not as the son of God. We believe in him as a prophet of God”. I don’t discuss religion with people because things get misunderstood and you might offend someone without the intension of doing so. Whatever you believe in, the basics are the same, we just interpret it differently. Thus I managed to somehow change the topic.
Later on a common friendly face along too. By then we were talking about surnames, again the genealogy topic. Friendly Face #2 agreed with Friendly Face #1 that the surnames all indicate a certain economic group or area which you belong to. For example he said everyone with the name of Smith belonged to generations of blacksmiths. Wiltshire means you belong to that region. So the caste system exists even in Europe and everyone knows it, but unlike in the developing world is does not define who you are anymore.
Going back to talking about Pakistan he started talking about the Pakistani feudal system. In a nutshell he told me I should go back and work towards changing the system there, he even started giving me a strategy. I asked him why he didn’t become a consultant to DFID and get them to implement his ideas ? He said: “but that’s the problem, no one will listen to me”…
The trick is to avoid playing dirty politics and yet work within the system. The purpose is to bring about change without reforming the status quo because no one will let you and you will just be labeled a radical or a threat. As Caroline Moser (1978:1061) says in one of her articles on the informal sector, the point is to highlight issues and bring positive change without disturbing the power structure. Hence;
“policy-makers who wish to propose solutions within the existing capitalist political system must realize the need to focus on more specific problems at the grassroots. There is still room for measures at this level, many of which still remains to be accurately defined, but it must be recognized that their function is no more than to alleviate some of the worst anomalies, not to change the overall structure”
Essentially, the formal sector depends on the informal sector and vice versa. In others words, you need to keep people down in order to sustain opulence. In so saying: the persistence of poverty is part of a dynamic system of production and consumption.
Therefore, it is important to have sufficient and updated statistical information to properly evaluate realities on the ground because desktop policymaking is equally a waste of time and resources. Hence, it is better to accept that poverty will persist, the key is to understand the phenomenon and its effects in order to understand a misunderstood segment of humanity better. They are people just like the commonly spoilt, ungrateful and boring rich people, but their surroundings and the dynamism which characterizes their way of life is just as vibrant and absorbing as the person who has everything money and power can buy…if not more interesting.