Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Class Conflict and How to Fish

The gap between the rich and the poor in Brazil, one of the most promising of emerging economies today, is so vast that the population representing the middle class becomes an insignificant statistic. For the most part the individual is either filthy rich and controls much of society or he is dirt poor and lives in conformity with the established system.

Among the “have nots” there are different kinds. One could be simply poor and trade his services for a certain level of comfort. Those who earn minimum wages struggle to meet basic needs and on the very bottom of the ladder are those who are extremely poor. Those usually do not make any wage and live in extreme misery and abandonment.

Growing up in a big city like Sao Paulo, it was not uncommon to be in close contact with people in such circumstances. They lived completely disengaged from society and roamed all over the place, especially in downtown areas. It was literally impossible not to notice them. The shocking reality is that most of those people were children of both sexes.

Some of them were begging others trying to sell all kinds of stuff to drivers at the traffic lights as their vehicles came to a full stop. Not surprisingly a few of them were just preying on people and waiting for an opportunity to steal their belongings. That was a very sad and scary picture. What led them to end up living on the streets like that is one thing that I could not help thinking about.

Almost three decades have passed since I left Brazil and the situation has not gotten any better. I see it on the news sometimes. Yes, it is true that Brazil has become an attractive market for foreign investment and the country is much better off today economically compared to decades ago; however, that status does not impress me. The country’s wealth is still retained by a very select group of people and the poverty rate is astonishing.

That trend translates into more people roaming the city streets, begging or hassling drivers at stop lights or waiting for an opportunity to steal someone’s watch or a pair of sneakers. That sounds awful and it kind of hurt my pride but it is a fact and it happens more often than one can imagine.

During my younger years I do not remember things being so bad. I had never heard of people scavenging dumpsters looking for leftover foods. Maybe there was but because the media was not as efficient back then those things were not as visible to the public eye as it is today.

Recently I saw a scene on the news in which a few people defended their space in a landfill as if they were in a goldmine. They looked for anything that may be converted to money, such as, scrap of metal, soda cans, corrugated boxes, and anything which appeared to be useful to them.

In other scene, individuals were scavenging the garbage in search of food. To get to the point, it is obvious that these people either did not have choices in life or did not have the strength to fight for something better. While lack of opportunities leads some people to do unimaginable acts such as this to survive, others simply follow a path of illegality in order to get the things they want.

People are generally considered a given society’s best asset, provided they are educated and have good support from the system. However, how can society expect anything good from an individual who has a bad start in life? It is possible that such an individual will lead an antagonistic life and pose a serious threat to the community. The probability that an individual with such a profile will turn to crime is actually quite high. One way or another he will eventually become a charge to the state.

Who is to blame? According to Karl Marx the roots of human misery lay in class conflict. And class conflict is the very essence of society. Throughout the course of history we have learned that smarter people manage to establish themselves in life and build economic mobility for themselves and their generation much easier than a person who has fewer resources. We all know that historically, inequality is what makes society what it is. This will never change.

However, an ignorant individual with no family struture roaming around the city will serve no purpose to society either. On the contrary, it creates an environment of instability because when people have nothing to lose they will endanger the lives of themselves and others and create an environment of fear. They will turn to deviance in the blink of an eye and will not hesitate to take someone’s life for very little.

With regard to the situation of children being exploited and marginalized, especially in cities such as Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and others, there is not much that can be done on the part of federal government to minimize the problem. It is primarily an issue which needs to be dealt by local authorities and affected communities.

Society should mobilize itself and become more proactive in educating and supporting individuals to exercise their rights of citizenship. The state should be more forceful and educate people to have a better planing when the subject is bringing children to this world. There is a chance such measures might minimize the problem of children roaming on the streets and end up being a public charge.

Education is one factor which will motivate and help people to have a sense of purpose in life. While it helps boots one’s morals it also pushes individuals to become part of solution and not the problem. Eventually they will be engaged in society’s growth process and not simply be considered as a bad statistic.

Another factor to consider is that the elite do not run the country by themselves. They dominate because they own the capital and industrial processes. However, they are very much dependent on the support of people of technical expertise who meet a certain level education and professional training in order for them to generate revenues and grow their capital.

People with no family structure, lack education and do not have any kind of guidance in a competitive society like the one we live in, are counterproductive and more likely to become dependent on others and on the system. The odds that individuals with such profile will be involved in wrongdoing and become a charge to the state are much greater.

I tend to believe that individuals who are engaged in a path which gives them hope they will become motivated enough to keep doing whatever they need to do to improve their quality of life. If they feel they have a shot there is a stronger possibility they will embrace the cause and be less tempted to turn to deviance.

The price of ignorance is very high indeed and society suffers when large portions of its population live in poverty and illiteracy. Teaching the least privileged “how to fish” and letting them hold a place in society may be a positive alternative in which it would be beneficial to everyone.

Maybe as a result crime statistics would be reduced. Maybe there would be fewer children living on the streets. Maybe there would be no reason for extreme measures of repression. Who knows one day children may even be treated more like children and not viewed as potential offenders of the elite’s established order.

Work Cited:
Henslin, James M., Sociology “A Down-to-Earth Approach” - Thinking Critically – Open Season: Children as Prey

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