Too Poor to Pay Attention

On the streets of Asheville, North Carolina, most major intersections feature weathered individuals who are flying signs that read “Anything Helps!” At the break of each day, the doorsteps of small retail shops host sleeping people who have been conditioned to believe their entire net worth is contained within the knapsack they use for a pillow.

The demand among those who are self-medicating helps the drug trade thrive, while in plush offices overlooking the city certain inheritors, skimmers, and hoarders of wealth look down upon their victims with disgust. On a facebook group called WNC Common Ground, a recent post contains the crossed-out words “I want to help the needy.” Appearing just below is the statement “I want to help dismantle the systems that make them in need.”

At their initial briefing in March 1977, some members of the newly formed President’s Commission on Mental Health expressed their belief that economic cycles, war, racism, sexism, elitism, poverty, stigmatization, alcoholism, and an inadequate health system had each contributed to the prevalence of mental disorders within the United States.

Today, the lack of any unified structure for funding or service integration has forced many individuals with serious mental illnesses out of rehabilitative settings to survive in homeless shelters, on the streets, or in jails and prisons. Jimmy Carter’s Commission was created by Executive Order to recommend policies that would help us overcome obvious deficiencies in the mental health system. Its work led to the formulation of a national plan to provide much needed assistance for those with chronic mental illnesses.

The envisioned system of care and treatment for persons with serious mental illnesses was never created. The penny-wise, pound-foolish that masquerade in conservative garb won the day. And, in 1981 the Mental Health Systems Act was gutted. Mammon serving evangelicals have but one loyalty. They will work tirelessly to enrich themselves, in ways that work to the detriment of everyone else, with no accountability. They foment culture wars while siphoning every form of equity out from under the distracted masses. The quip “I’m too poor to pay attention” is not a joke. Poverty is, by design, a tool of the ruling class.

You may recall a story in which Jesus watched a crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. He saw many rich people throw in large amounts. Then a poor widow arrived and put in two very small copper coins, a contribution worth only a few cents. Jesus said, “This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.”

Today the richest of the rich like to characterize themselves as philanthropists even though their charitable contributions typically amount to mere tokenism. Even that is dwarfed by the amounts they pump into dark money political campaigns to undermine any meaningful progress the people who do the work might otherwise enjoy. The federal minimum wage has been stalled at seven dollars and twenty-five cents per hour since July of 2009. Typical worker compensation has risen only 12% since 1978 while CEO compensation has grown 940% during the same period.

One common refrain among workers is that “It’s hard to gain traction in this economy.” At some point we must ask ourselves if at least some of those we perceive as professional alms-takers have simply given up. Are they flying a sign or asking for change so they can live high on the hog in Lauderdale? A few maybe. But it is far more likely they lack work skills as well as coping and social skills to get ahead in an economy that’s geared against them. If you’re a beggar, and someone bigger and meaner doesn’t push you off your preferred street corner, it may be because they plan on robbing you of your entire haul at the end of the day. Skid row is not easy street. And even professional victims deserve a chance to grow out of it – to enjoy a better life.

In the mountains surrounding the City of Asheville, the Cherokee Indians had a functioning democracy long before a self-serving subset of We the People decided to march the region’s natives along the Trail of Tears. Skin pigmentation would be the disintegrating rock upon which such tyrants would center their pathetic claims of superiority. They have always been quick to pay lip service to democracy; as long as it wasn’t multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, or multi-racial.

Slavery hasn’t gone away. The pimp has sex slaves. Those with drug habits are slaves to others who keep them supplied. And, those who roll pennies so they can buy enough gas to get to exhausting and mind-numbing jobs are wage slaves to those who exploit them. 55% of the inflation we saw in 2022 is attributable to price gouging effectively enslaving the consumer. The street people are performing a valuable service. They are a constant reminder of the unmitigated selfishness attributable to those who gutted the Mental Health Systems Act and otherwise perpetuate poverty.

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