Thursday, December 30, 2010

Is the demonization of the unemployed immoral?

Is the demonization of the unemployed immoral? It certainly violates the UU second principle of "justice, equity, and dignity for every person".

David Sirota: Why the ‘Lazy Jobless’ Myth Persists - Truthdig:

"During the recent fight over extending unemployment benefits, conservatives trotted out the shibboleth that says the program fosters sloth. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., for instance, said added unemployment benefits mean people are “encouraged not to go look for work.” Columnist Pat Buchanan said expanding these benefits means “more people will hold off going back looking for a job.” And Fox News’ Charles Payne applauded the effort to deny future unemployment checks because he said it would compel layabouts “to get off the sofa.”

The thesis undergirding all the rhetoric was summed up by conservative commentator Ben Stein, who insisted that “the people who have been laid off and cannot find work are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities.”

The idea is that unemployment has nothing to do with structural economic forces or rigged public policies and everything to do with individual motivation. Yes, we’re asked to believe that the 15 million jobless Americans are all George Costanzas—parasitic loafers occasionally pretending to seek work as latex salesmen, but really just aiming to decompress on a refrigerator-equipped recliner during a lifelong Summer of George."

Sirota goes on to describe 3 reasons he thinks that people behave this way making negative moral judgements about the unemployed.

First is the Just World Fallacy. People believe that life is fair and people get what they deserve. Unemployed people deserve their lot in life and they could improve their situations if they would just pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

Second is narcissism. People like to make themselves feel good at other peoples expense. So people feel superior by calling the unemployed names like "welfare queens", "poor white trash", "slackers",  "loosers", etc.

Third is fear. People are anxious about the economy being in bad shape and they structure their anxiety by thinking that they can control things. The myth of the "lazy unemployed" gives people a sense of explanation for forces they don't understand. Since they are not "lazy" they fool themselves into thinking that they are exempt from social forces which they are oppressed by.

These ideas are political, psychological, societal, but most of all spiritual. We still live in a Calvinistic country that is judgmental about the poor as not being God's chosen people and somehow deserving of their own fate. Jesus never taught this. He taught the opposite that the poor will find it easier getting to heaven than the rich.

Unitarian Universalists not only value justice, equity, and compassion in human relations, we also have a profound respect and understanding of the interdependent web of existence. We are well aware that we are interdependent and the forces that contribute to unemployment run much deeper than individual motivation. As Sirota points out, there five or more applicants for every job from the most menial to the highest paid. The problem of unemployment is not individual motivation but the "system" which is skewed for the wealthy who run it at the expense of the working class.

As a member of the Brockport Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, I constantly speak up for the unemployed. I do what I can to support people who are going through a tough time. At BUUF we contribute to the Brockport Food shelf and help people going through unemployment in practical ways as well as moral support and social advocacy.

I was very distressed this week to learn that tax cuts were extended to the 2% of richest Americans creating huge deficits for current and future generations to pay. Moral behavior is not only a characteristic of individuals, but also a characteristic of groups, organizations, and nations. The extension of the weath inequality in the United States is not only immoral but will have dire consequences in the future of our nation.

As Unitarian Universalists we are called by the Spirit of Life to be the conscience of the nation. As part of that conscience, what I witnessed this week gives one pause in the search for justice and peace.

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