THE BEST WEAPON OF THE RICH: THAT WE WANT TO BE LIKE THEM

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If the « fight against poverty » seems to embody a desire for change, the reality shows, despite the speeches, a worsening of the situation: more poor people, poorer poor people, but also more rich people and rich people who become richer every day. And what if, beyond appearances, the « fight against poverty » was not paradoxically, in a society that values the desire for wealth, the best way to assure the most affluent that they will not be disturbed?

Politicians, associations and the media constantly focus on « poverty », forgetting that it is, in our unequal economic societies, intrinsically linked to wealth, and that dealing with it alone, without linking them dialectically, cannot lead to any real change. To put it another way, we cannot eradicate misery (1) without abolishing wealth. Acting only on poverty, it will reproduce itself ad vitam æternam, the interventions serving only to relieve the poor, to give him the minimum of means of existence, a kind of social palliative containing the risk of a revolt of the mass.

Like the climate conferences that have seen CO2 emissions increase by 60% in the 20 years of their existence (2)We can’t better explain the increase of misery in the world ». even though major projects to help the poor continue to multiply and the economy has all the means necessary to at least ensure their survival « . (3). However, it would be naive to see this situation as an error or an accident, as the effect of a misdirection of policies that would have ingenuously mistaken target, but to locate in this spectacle of solutions the cause of the continuity. If, on the other hand, it seems difficult to put limits on wealth through various political measures in a capitalist economic system where excess is structural, the probabilities of seeing these limits materialize become even more remote from the realm of possibility as the desire for wealth spreads throughout society and colonizes the minds of all social classes, and particularly the poorest. For the goal of enrichment has not always been something valued but would originate in the sixteenth century, at a time when  » the merchant economy of Western Europe was literally boosted by the massive injection of wealth brought back by the great plunders of the emerging colonialism (…) It is from this period that we can date the beginning of the ideological intoxication of Western countries by economism, that is to say, by the obsession with enrichment, which was to progressively, generation after generation, invade the whole social body to arrive at the infection in the process of generalization from which we are in danger of dying today. Progressively, insidiously, to the fundamental values of civilization inherited from their history and which made obligation of principle to our predecessors to seek to carry out always more in their individual and collective works, the Good, the Just, the True, the Beautiful, came to be added the Rich one, value at first marginal which ended up becoming central and by supplanting or subordinating itself all the others  » (4).

Very quickly, therefore, the plundering of the colonies and the material wealth that it offered to the metropolis (one need only think of the shaping of Belgium by the colonial exploitation of the Congo (5)) instilled in people’s minds the instinct for profit. The fact that the Lottery originated in the colonies owes nothing to chance (6) and conceals a formidable ideological significance, notably in the foundations of our religion of progress. And this desire of accumulation of individual wealth answers the same psychic process as any desire:  » The desire is a purely psychic force which is born from the dissatisfaction of a need (…) If every lack was immediately and fully filled, there would be no more imagined pleasure, that is to say no more desire. But this danger is excluded, because there always remains a fraction of dissatisfaction from which desire will be reborn » (7). Desire is therefore never completely fulfilled and this is not in itself a problem, depending of course on the object on which the desire is focused: if it concerns food, sexuality or knowledge for example, one cannot see in a normal satisfaction framework something problematic. If, on the other hand, the desire is to possess more, implying an indefinite increase of money and goods, the satisfaction asking constantly to be renewed (whether by stock market investments or tax optimization for individuals, mergers, acquisitions or relocations for companies), in a finite world, enrichment can only be done at the expense of others, feeding on work and land.

THE RICH: TOLERATED BY HOPE

To silence this exploitation (for the benefit of the minority of the « 1% », but also for the others (8)), something wonderful has been achieved by propagating the idea that the rich are necessary to society and therefore to the poor, while the former, having benefited from political measures that were particularly favorable to them, have participated in the poverty of the latter, whom they say they want to help, after they have plundered them. To this favorable aura of the rich « savior » will be grafted a fascination for wealth that will exclude it from the outset when the etiology of misery must be made. This fascination and desire for wealth, however, although immaterial by definition, has very concrete effects on reality, and this is an essential point: the new God Money, the same for all, unifies all individuals in the same social body. The intrinsic causal relationship between wealth and poverty is erased by the same belief, the same desire to approach fortune, because by desiring it for oneself one comes to accept it for the other, or rather one must logically accept it (one cannot reproach the other for being what one would like to become). Tolerance towards the wealthy is therefore predominant if one expects to enjoy the same type of prerogatives as he does.
The illusion also remains, because the great subterfuge socially conveyed is that everyone could become rich. This illusion, based on the mental disjunction between wealth and poverty, rests on the same foundations as the ideology of development, which would have us believe that the « South » will one day be able to « catch up » with the « North » by adopting the same mode of production and consumption, even though the way of life of the North depends on the exploitation of the South, and that generalizing it would be tantamount to eliminating the advantages of the North, and is therefore impossible. As Simon Leys said about those who should be least suspected of conservatism:  » All left-wing parties in the industrialized countries are fundamentally based on hypocrisy, because they claim to be fighting against something which, in depth, they do not wish to destroy. They have internationalist goals, and at the same time they are determined to maintain a standard of living that is incompatible with these goals. We all live off the exploitation of Asian coolies, and those of us who are « enlightened » argue that these coolies should be liberated; but our standard of living and therefore also our ability to develop « enlightened » opinions require that the plundering continue. The humanitarian attitude is necessarily the work of a hypocrite  » (9). A semantic leap, but one that has its reasons, because just as it is a contradiction to imagine generalized individual wealth (« all rich »), it is just as absurd to imagine a « developed » capitalist world without misery and underdevelopment: the rich as well as the « developed » (and therefore the « Westerner ») need the miserable and the underdeveloped to be what they are.

The great lie of the possibility of catching up keeps the system in place and ensures that those who are most affected by inequalities come to tolerate them, convinced that they will one day fall into the class of the haves:  » [En 1996] Almost two-thirds of Americans (64%) aged 18 to 21 thought it was « very likely » or « somewhat likely » that they would become wealthy (…) Ten years later, they still were not: the share of the population earning $100,000 a year was around 7%. Of course, this particular cohort still has some time to go, but the fact remains: in a society where only 7% of the population earns $100,000 a year, the fact that 64% of this population imagines they can join that 7% is a profound misjudgment.  » (10) An error in judgment, which nonetheless has a considerable effect on how one perceives one’s group and social change. For the expectation of wealth, besides, as has been said, automatically generating an affinity with the rich, constantly postpones the struggle for equality. The self-perpetuating illusion scorns any possibility of social change in order to operate a retreat to individual social mobility alone (11). We are here at the heart of  » the ideology of equal opportunity and the self-made man: by dint of hard work and perseverance, the worker can become a boss, the elevator boy can become a manager and the movie actor can become the head of state » (12) ;  » The idea is that [en Amérique], you can be anything you want to be — the American dream!  » (13)

« The capitalist system functions not only through the exploitation, despoliation and oppression of the majority, but also through the adherence of the majority to the system that exploits, despoils and oppresses them, that is to say, it functions through psychological and moral alienation, maintained by hopes of individual success and personal accomplishment, most often fallacious.« 
Alain Accardo, Le petit-bourgeois gentilhomme, Agone, Marseille, 2009, p. 79.

The constantly renewed perspective of joining the class of the haves, whether in a national class relation or in a West/non-West relation, prevents the subject from thinking of himself as a perennial member of a subaltern class; it postpones him indefinitely in a fantasized class: he is there without being there. This desire also atomizes the community, creating individuals who are constantly waiting for the chance to seize that will propel them into the group they value. And indeed,  » The literature on social mobility provides particularly abundant material on idealized representations. In most societies, there seems to be a dominant stratification system, and in most stratified societies, there is an idealization of higher positions and an aspiration to move from lower to higher positions. This attitude does not simply reflect the desire to have a prestigious situation, but also the desire to get closer to the sacred home of established social values (14) « . The dominants know the paramount importance of this hope, all acquiescing to the reflexion of these two authors of a conservative think tank: » Equality of opportunity is a demanding principle (…) It is essential to the survival of our political system that people hold it to be a generally fair system. If this belief were to disappear, the repercussions could be considerable (15) ».

THE RICH LOVE THE POOR

 » Whether at the individual or national level, the social construction of poverty on a global scale serves infinitely more the cause of a productivist system favorable to the interests of the rich and dominant than that of the poor it claims to help  » (16). It is therefore necessary that the bourgeois and upper classes make a show of their love for the poor. In this sense, the social and identity-based violence produced by inequalities is met by a discourse of diversity and the fight against racism, which developed not without chance from the 1980s onwards, while in France and other European countries neoliberal policies inspired by Thatcher and Reagan were gradually being put in place, leading to the production of indecent fortunes and a formidable social breakdown, from which foreigners would suffer most severely. And while a distribution of income favorable to the richest is being built upstream, a spectacle of redistribution is being developed downstream, which basically has only two main goals:

- to manage the most violent social effects emanating from the political choices of a State submitted to capital;

- spread the idea that the rich are generous and that poverty is reduced because of them.

The poor will thus learn to love the rich and the rich to love the poor, thus ensuring the continuity of an unequal society in which both groups will remain co-present and united. Yes, the rich love the poor, because they need them. While the poor love the rich, not because they need them, but because they want to be like them. It is therefore better for everyone — those who are already rich as well as those who wish to become rich — to fight against poverty, an ersatz of the real, radical fight against wealth.

Alexandre Penasse

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Notes et références
  1. On confond volontairement les deux termes, misère et pauvreté, dans notre analyse, pour la facilité de la compréhension, bien qu’il soit important de préciser la différence fondamentale entre les deux : la pauvreté prend sa signification actuelle avec la société marchande, « très longtemps, les notions de richesse et de pauvreté n’ont pas relevé obligatoirement de la possession d’argent ou de biens. Le bien-être d’un individu ou d’une communauté se fondait sur des activités et des relations d’un tout autre genre (…) Cette perception du monde a évolué au fur et à mesure qu’augmentait la place accordée par les sociétés économicistes à l’argent, à la convoitise, et au « droit » de chacun à gagner sa vie sans avoir à se soucier du sort de ses proches. Ce changement provoqua, à son tour, une rupture radicale dans la perception de la pauvreté et de la richesse, rupture qui changea le sens de bien des mots qui, jusque-là, avaient servi à nommer le monde ». Majid Rahnema, Quand la misère chasse la pauvreté, Babel, 2003, pp.138–139.
  2. Michel Pinçon et Monique Pinçon-Charlot, Les prédateurs au pouvoir, main basse sur notre avenir, Textuel, 2017.
  3. Majid Rahnema, Quand la misère chasse la pauvreté, Op. Cit, pp.11–12.
  4. Alain Accardo, Le petit-bourgeois gentilhomme, Editions Agone, Marseille, 2009, p.86. Souligné par l’auteur.
  5. Pour se faire une idée de l’exploitation, lire notamment Les fantômes du roi Léopold, un holocauste oublié, Adam Hochschild, Belfond, 1998 ; pour réaliser l’ampleur de l’édification « congolaise » de la Belgique, lire notamment Promenade au Congo,Lucas Catherine, Aden, 2010.
  6. Voir l’article, « La loterie nationale : formidable instrument de conservatisme social », dans le Kairos 30.
  7. Norbert Sillamy, Dictionnaire de psychologie, Bordas, 1980.
  8. « S’il est légitime et salutaire de dénoncer la concentration du patrimoine et des richesses en France et dans le monde, il est en revanche fallacieux d’utiliser ce constat pour dissimuler tout rapport de classes. La dénonciation de l’accumulation du capital ne signifie pas que les 1% des riches sont les seuls à profiter des bienfaits de la mondialisation. Le système repose aussi sur une fraction importante de la société, notamment sur les catégories supérieures et intellectuelles (…) Cette contestation des « riches », du « capital » ou de la « finance » fait partie de la culture de la nouvelle bourgeoisie ». Christophe Guilluy, Le crépuscule de la France d’en haut, Flammarion, 2016, p.134.
  9. Simon Leys, Orwell ou l’horreur de la politique, Plon, 2006, p.48. Souligné par moi.
  10. Michaels, W.B., La diversité contre l’égalité, Éditions Raisons d’agir, Paris, 2009, p. 137.
  11. Le changement social concerne un groupe dans son ensemble ; la mobilité sociale un individu de ce groupe. Prenant l’exemple colonial, on pourrait dire qu’un changement social de la situation inique du colonialisme est un processus révolutionnaire qui se concrétise par un changement de statut de l’ensemble du groupe colonisé qui se libère de la colonisation ; alors que dans le même contexte  historique, un changement en terme de mobilité sociale, ne porte que sur un individu qui rejoint ou se rapproche du groupe exploiteur, dans ce cas ce serait un colonisé qui deviendrait un « évolué », par exemple.
  12. Rist, G., Le développement. Histoire d’une croyance occidentale, Paris, Presses de la Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques, 2007, p.137.
  13. Michaels, W.B., op.cit., p.140
  14. Goffman, E., La mise en scène de la vie quotidienne : la présentation de soi, Les éditions de Minuit, Paris, 1973, p.41.
  15. Dans Ladd E. and Bowman K.H., Attitudes towards economic inequality, Washington, American Enterprise Institute Press, 1998, ouvrage qui a mesuré les sentiments que suscite chez les Américains le fait que certains d’entre eux aient plus d’argent et de biens que d’autres, cité dans Michaels, W.B., Ibid., p.132.
  16. Majid Rahnema, Quand la misère chasse la pauvreté, op. cit., p. 196.
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