For as long as I have been poor, I have been told that things aren’t really that bad, because I have always had a place to live, food to eat and there are always welfare services available. Things are not that bad hides an unpleasant truth in it though: my life remains physically sustainable but mentally and socially degrading.
For years I did not speak up about this condition, because there is a strong cultural bias towards not revealing poverty to others. For a neoliberal society, this cultural bias has several benefits: poor people withdraw from society as they cannot afford to take part in the rituals of society. The welfare state, under neoliberal conditions, uses social benefits as a vehicle of guilt, telling you that you are not allowed to criticise the state because you are receiving benefits. This despite the benefits not being on an adequate level to actually take part in society.
The neoliberal politicians both on the left and right keep emphasizing personal responsibility, which, again, is another vehicle for guilt and withdrawal. You are on all levels being told that your poverty and degradation is your personal responsibility. If you are unable to find work, you are told you are not looking hard enough, despite the fact that there are no jobs.
Yet we know that this is not true. Poverty is inherited. Wealth is inherited. Social status is inherited. Social networks are inherited. Most likely, if you are poor, it is because society is built in a manner that makes you poor.
What you will learn, in time is that your material conditions will never improve. There simply isn’t anything you can do to improve your own position, if the material conditions do not exist that make improvement possible. Luck and chance affect the conditions of your live far more than anything you can do yourself.
Forget about self-improvement and finding happiness within yourself. We are not here for that, because there is nothing beyond the material condition for us. Yet more neoliberal ideological propaganda, made so you would look inward and revel in your own guilt.
There is a deep desperation in understanding that you have no agency, that those things that you thought had been promised are forever out of your reach. If you are poor, you will never have a home or a family. You can never provide for your children and they will grow up as poor as you, facing an ever more uncertain future. You cannot even find companionship in a pet, because you cannot afford a pet. Your social life will be limited for those brief moments when you have the means to go outside.
But precisely in that moment when you realize that all you do is hopeless mechanical actions to improve a situation you cannot affect at all, you can be liberated. But that liberation hurts. It is not about making success possible for yourself, it is about making success possible for every, because success without universal success is merely privilege extended.
That is the core of radical equality, going beyond your personal desperation.