Afghan girl begging. Image: evstafiev.0
From hypnotic social criticism to global poverty tourism
The reactions to the current oxfam study an economy for the 1% are exactly what I call hypnotic redundancy: in an eternally repetitive ritual, the eternally same vocabulary of exaltation is handed out without any chance of concrete change being associated with it.
Meaning is the scarce commodity of the. And upliftment has become a new type of capital. In a society that is constantly striving for "rough transformation" and a new social contract, this is an irritating contradiction. There are hardly any knowledge deficits. Rather, the time is ripe to move from knowledge to action – we need less knowledge of scandalization and more knowledge of transformation.
Scandalization is merely a necessary. But not yet a sufficient step. The oxfam study meticulously lists reasons for the global inequality of wealth distribution. Inequality can also rise at the national level. Germany is at the bottom of the OECD league table. The study pinpoints the reasons: an increase in wage differentials, high returns on capital investments, discrepancies in the earnings of workers and managers, and, last but not least, tax loopholes and tax havens. This results in reflexive praise in the press as well as the appellative character of the study.
In principle, it is right and important to point out inequalities. That the global distribution of wealth is a unique form of obscurity. When 62 people own as much ($1.76 trillion) as the poorer half of humanity (about 3.5 billion people), that’s a scandal. This concentration of assets appears even more obscene when one realizes that in this "economic system for the super rich" in 2010, 388 rich people still represented the counterweight to the global poverty median. Nevertheless, the question arises whether the personalization used for scandalization is at all suitable for presenting the facts of the case. If the global wealth distribution is now 6.25 times "more concentrated"? This is exactly what the study suggests, this is what its emporium capital is based on.
Ultimately, however, it is precisely such number games that decouple the results from the real-life experience of inequality. More still. They also decouple the sphere of elevation from the sphere of action. After all, the many metrics published in the oxfam study ultimately have the same effect as poverty and wealth reports. They generate expected reactions to the scandalous. And it makes no difference whether the reports are official poverty reports by national governments or shadow reports by ngos. In the end, knowledge is smothered in non-action between two paradoxes.
First, poverty reports almost inevitably focus only on measurable dimensions of poverty. The focus on wealth distribution in the oxfam study is one example. The "data-oriented analysis of income and living conditions" in the case of the 1. Poverty and wealth report of the state of baden-wurttemberg a further. The non-measurable aspects of poverty remain strangely invisible. Key figures and concentration metaphors are not a suitable medium for this.
And second, reporting can quickly mutate into a substitute for action. Official poverty reports resemble a compulsory exercise that prevents rather than promotes political action. They are a shunting yard for a problem that is considered too complex to be solved in the long term. Shadow reports trigger hypnotically redundant social criticism, which quickly opens the familiar pigeonholes (bankers, banks, affected people) and sinks the exaltation into them. Always careful not to make this look like social envy, so as not to discredit one’s own point of view for the gesture of moral orthopadia.
We accuse speculators of greed and are not even disgusted by our own avarice
Somehow all this has become unsatisfactory. The eminent social criticism advanced to a positive taboo. Anyone who does not act demonstratively in the face of such figures must be accused of having a cold heart. With each update, however, the simulated exaltation becomes more inflationary and thus less effective. It then acts like a calming word, because the supposed culprits have already been identified.
But they are? Not a single word is said about our own role in this game. But it is precisely we consumers who play a major role in the inequality-producing effects of the global poverty trade. We accuse speculators of greed and are not even disgusted by our own stinginess. But it is precisely this that makes global exploitation within established economic cycles possible in the first place.
Oxfam’s proposal to reform the tax system is commendable, though not exactly surprising. Nevertheless, this proposal also shows how quickly the logic of dynamic stabilization through growth is reproduced unquestioningly. "Social inequality slows economic growth", writes oxfam. And this despite the fact that it is now well known that we have long since reached the limits of growth. In a post-oconomy that is not solely growth-driven, new lifestyles and consumption patterns are required of us all.
We are part of the game, not just its observer. So social critique had rather to be coupled with consumption critique. It is true that companies that do not pay taxes domestically are not living up to their social responsibility. But this argumentation is too woodcut-like. We, too, have great difficulties in fulfilling our individual social responsibility.
There is nothing I like better than to criticize the system, to criticize the circumstances. But without behavioral criticism, it remains one-sided. Ultimately, the relieving suggestion is reproduced again and again that society would change on its own through ritualized uplift and hypnotically redundant social criticism. The company’s own share in this transformation is swept under the carpet in the process. Even thinking about it is exhausting. Despite clarification, this is a cover-up. So nothing ever changes.
Poverty tourism: experiencing is not experiencing
This attitude is recognizable in cynical offers that masquerade as a decrease in awareness. Within the expanding poverty economy, profit is successfully made from the misery of others. A current example is the "innovative" viennese start-up company shades tours vienna, which is "german-speaking group tours of an educational nature" organized through the world of poverty and homelessness. The participants of the tours are taken to the emergency shelters "crypt" and "vinziport" . And of course the "viennese table" because they have mastered the art of polishing up their own image. The aim of these tours is to break down stigmas and prejudices. Poverty tourism is considered by the organizers to be an "as a means of employment for those affected" and as an "innovative method" for the containment of poverty. Re-integration is supposed to grow out of enlightenment through self-reflection and solidarity.
Enlightenment is good. But also this form of clearing up is in the end a cover-up, because the own part in the existence of poverty in our midst is simply explained away. A simulated experience of contingency may be associated with a little thrill and calculated disgust. But experiencing and learn of poverty drift apart. The places where poor people live and receive alms may be able to learn become. Observations in these places are divisible. But experiencing poverty experience – the subjective coping with a life on the edge of society without an exit guarantee – is something fundamentally different.
I would not be surprised if the idea of poverty tourism was soon tested on a global scale. So far, there are few examples of sustainable poverty alleviation, which also leads to the fact that the acceptance of soft solutions grows and grows. In any case, there is still much room for "social" enterprises that pretend that the world will be a better place if we are only more "more sensitive" to problems. Instead of realizing that we are all caught up in the global poverty trade, we allow ourselves to be comforted with soft and pedagogically valuable poverty tourism.
The common thread linking official poverty reports, scandalizing shadow reports (such as the oxfam study), and the idea of poverty tourism is the simulation of emporia with no chance of real behavioral change. Hypnotically redundant social criticism and ritualized enemy images prevent us from thinking about what we can do ourselves.
Dorothee solle, the rough mystic and theologian distinguishes in her main work mysticism and resistance two forms of world interpretation. The "hermeneutics of suspicion" and the "hermeneutics of hunger". The former tries in a well-rehearsed way to unmask ideologies and relations of domination. The latter is aimed at world-changing activities in which everyone – not just the accused rulers – has a share. A "hermeneutics of hunger" is intervening and not blob accusatory.
Oxfam’s report is important because in this world there must always be detailed descriptions of reality as an indictment. But accusation alone is not enough. We need an intervening and world-changing "hermeneutics of hunger" instead of a blob accusatory "hermeneutics of suspicion". The flood of studies, reports and key figures reminds me of a saying by elias canetti from the book the glare: "one takes a word, couples it to a riddle, and the riddle is solved." so easily, we should not let ourselves be fooled into thinking that we have no responsibility of our own.
Stefan selke is the author of the book "schamland. Poverty in our midst" (ECON) and z.Currently. Research professor for "transformative and public science" at furtwangen university.