Famous Utah coward Jason Chaffetz went on CNN’s “New Day” to discuss the cost of healthcare, and he hit a homerun in fucktrumpetry when he stated, “Americans have choices…so maybe rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care. They’ve got to make those decisions themselves.”
This isn’t an original line; it’s a remix of other callous statements lobbed at poor people and/or people who are worried that they cannot afford a basic need. I’ve heard lawmakers and pundits shouldn’t be able to buy quality steaks or seafood with their food assistance programs, that they should stop complaining, because they have refrigerators, that they can afford to get a tattoo, so they shouldn’t be whining about money for their kids diapers….All of these arguments have to do with pointing out a “luxurious” thing that a poor person has to attack their judgement in prioritizing. I’ve heard this argument since I was a kid, so I am certain it goes a long way back.
It disheartened me to hear some of my erstwhile progressive friends somewhat agree with Chaffetz’s sentiment. One friend even point out that when one of their physical therapist friends does house visits, some of the patients have giant fuck-off super plasma TVs that serve as a support wall for the house and shoot lasers and do your taxes for you and what-have-you. Also there was a question of elective surgery that is covered under most insurance agencies. Should Medicaid, for which we ALL pay with our taxes, be used for something that is not immediately necessary but may alleviate pain?
All of these dispersions fall under the umbrella of lux-shaming™, where people point out the “nice” things someone in dire straits has to have reason to show disdain for them or show that they are “faking” their poverty in order to gain some sort of material benefit like booze/drugs, or food and housing. Seeing that even in Dickens, Ebenezer Scrooge did some lux-shaming™ when the question of charity was brought up, I wager this has been happening forever.
I have a confession to make: Though I have said it before, I wasn’t born poor. We didn’t become poor until I was teetering between 4 and 5. I just remember very little from age 0 to 4/5. We didn’t really become poor until my mother was diagnosed Multiple Sclerosis. I’m not sure of all the details, but we moved from a suburb of a city in a duplex house to a rural village in the middle of nowhere, due to cost of living. The property in the “village” was inherited land and summer houses from my grandmother’s deceased husband, so no rent! We were on welfare and/or disability the entire time, during the Reagan years, where he would designate my disabled mother a “welfare queen”. That said we were able to maintain a few nice things like a decent couch, an AWESOME vinyl record collection, and a nice stereo system to listen to those records, among other things. We didn’t buy any of these things with benefit checks. We just had them from before the medical diagnosis that cost my mother her job and extensive medical bills that cost us our home in a relatively nice city. Having our power shut off for days on end was still a regular occurrence since we could not afford the utility bill sometimes. No power meant no water, since we had an electric pump in a well. However, should we have hawked all of our electronics and furniture in order to avoid the disdainful gaze of “hard working” taxpayers? Keep note: take a look at our pay statements; even those benefit checks are taxed, so we were some of those taxpayers. Don’t worry, though. We lost all of that when we couldn’t even afford taxes on the land and the county took the property, so then we were “proper” poor.
When we moved to Baltimore, we were doing better, until my mother was laid off, and again, we were struggling. It was hard to get any social benefit since my mother had to prove that she was disabled, because apparently, the state doesn’t believe that disabled people are able to work at a sit-down job. We became homeless at the beginning of my senior year, and again, we lost pretty much everything. Again. We DID pack what we could into boxes and suitcases and were able to put it…actually, I don’t know. Friend’s houses? Storage? It was kind of a blur. I was couch surfing, and my mother went to various shelters, but through all that, I was able to keep my Walkman, four cassettes, and the “good” clothes that I could salvage before the landlords threw it out on the street. This was a time when I needed to apply to college, as well, so I needed to use what little money I had from a part time job as a stock boy to get some sort of suit for visiting schools. Every once in a while, I’d get myself a music tape or buy myself a nice meal, because I wanted to smile a LITTLE bit. But perhaps I should have just taken my suitcase of clothes I could salvage into a dumpster so that I would be the homeless pauper that lux-shamers™ expect me to be. But then they would point to my Walkman and 5-6 cassettes I had that cost $8-$10 each as proof that I COULD have afforded a decent meal every day, so I probably should have sold all of that, which I eventually did…but just the shitty albums. Even when we FINALLY got into Section 8 housing, we were still well below the poverty line, but we maintained, but perhaps we should not have gotten things like a really cheap computer to help me with my homework and help my mother try to get an accounting business off the ground, so that we wouldn’t be so poor anymore.
The problem with lux-shaming™ is that it is oblivious to actual details. So if you are tempted to do it, remember that you do not know a person’s situation. What if a person living in poverty now was rich a year earlier? What if they did what they could to keep as much as they could, but they lost their home? Were they in an abusive relationship and had to leave as soon as possible for fear of their lives? Did they suddenly fall ill or have a serious accident that deluged them with medical bills that eventually bankrupted them? Did they acquire their iPhone free with a 1-2 year contract, as nearly everyone with a cell phone nowadays does? Should the phone be simpler, and not a smart phone in that case? Should they not have ANY access to the Internet, even though access to the Internet has shown to help people in poverty gain jobs and education? Did the person with the giant laser beam TV get it open–box or extreme markdown, or even as a gift from someone?
And as for elective surgery, I get that surgery is expensive. Knee surgery or hip replacement or carpel tunnel surgery cost is through the roof. My insurance would pay for all of that. Medicaid pays for these, which means we all pay for these. Why is it frustrating that impoverished people can get the same surgery as a middle-income or well-to-do person with private insurance? These types of surgery are to alleviate pain. So should poor people just live in abject pain to match their abject economic situation? The people receiving the surgery are not responsible for the pricing, though. They have no hand in that. The ire should be aimed at the companies who hike the prices of medical supplies and prescriptions. They are devouring your “hard-earned” dollars that you then must give up to taxes.
The bottom line is that pointing out all of these material things that poor people have that you don’t think they SHOULD have since they are so poor is not about questioning their responsibility and priorities. It is much easier to see them as moochers who “took advantage of the system” than as people who, through little fault of their own, fell on hard times and need a little bit of help to get better. Claiming that people on food stamps should not be allowed to have organic food or lobster or steaks, that they shouldn’t be allowed to have elective surgery for pain, that they should be more responsible with their money instead of getting a smart phone or decent clothes or an entertainment system shows that this is not any concern for the plight of poor people. It is about seeing that poor people suffer for being poor. That is lux-shaming™. Fuck that noise.