Friday, January 8, 2010

Fear and malice

In the comment section of a recent post (click here to see it), I mentioned "the occasions of actual fear and, sometimes, even malice, I feel toward those who have less than I." The commenter, laura(southernxyl), asked me to clarify: "Fear that they're going to harm you physically? Or something else? Malice - is that when they're obnoxious?"

Well, it's been a week or so and I've just now gotten back into blogging (I had been out of town visiting family). So I thought I'd answer the question now:

Fear: I experience fear in two ways.
  • The first and obvious is indeed fear of physical harm. I have heard that homeless people in particular are statistically much more likely to be assaulted than others, and I'm willing to accept that as true. Still, sometimes I just don't feel safe, and it's probably a good idea, right or wrong, to honor one's instincts.
  • The second is my white-liberal-guilty fear that a homeless person or panhandler, in asking whether I can spare a couple dollars or by him or her something to eat, will expose my avarice. Most of the time, I can indeed spare a dollar or two and a lot of the time I can spare the 5 dollars or so necessary to buy something substantial to eat.
Malice: This is a harder one to write about. I'll say it's the desire to see the homeless and the needy disappear.
  • I'm not referring to the kindhearted and altruistic wish that all people everywhere would have what they need to survive. I think most of us "want" that, at least on an abstract level. (At the same time, I realize it can be a bit presumptuous to assume that what the needy need and want what we need and want. All I'm saying is that it's hard to see people in want: witness people's repeated attempts to explain away the problem of homelessness by saying things like "oh, they just want to be homeless," or "that man looked young and healthy, he should be working instead of begging.")
  • Rather, I'm referring to the desire just to see these people disappear, to wish my fellow human beings out of existence.
  • I'm not defending this "malice." Indeed, I find it a baser impulse that ought not be indulged. At the same time, although I'll not hazard that all people feel this, I also suspect that I'm not the only one. That other people do it too (i they do) is not a defense.
Of course, one partial solution I haven't even discussed is volunteering at a soup kitchen or helping people in an organized way. That would probably do more good. But so far I haven't really done anything in that regard.

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