The outcasts and the New Poor People Law in literature.

“Oliver Twist” was published in 1838, in the midst of what came to be known as the Time of Troubles: the severe economic and social difficulties attendant on industrialization during the 1830s and the 1840s, after a brief period of prosperity between 1832-36. A crash in 1837 and a series of bad harvests produced unemployment, desperate poverty and riots. People lived in

crowded slums packed with unsanitary housing,and children toiled in unimaginable brutal conditions.

oliver
In the political background, the Poor Law Amendment Act, AKA New Poor Law, was passed in 1834 by the Whig government. Its aim was the reformation of the country’s poverty relief system. The PLAA curbed the cost of poor relief in England and Wales and created workhouses, replacing the existing legislation based on the Poor Law of 1601.
The New Poor Law was based on the theories developed by Malthus and Bentham; according to Malthus, the population increases faster than resources, and according to Bentham, people tend to accommodate to what is pleasant and would tend to claim relief rather than working.
All these facts are reflected in the novel by Dickens, whenever he addresses to one of the institutions devised for the poor, such as the workhouse where Oliver’s mother dies or the institutions where Oliver asks for “some more”. They try to deter poor people from staying in them for too long by providing them with poor helpings of unedible food and making them toil hard.
This facts are also reflected in the methods devised in “People of the Abyss” by Jack London, written in 1903,where the outcasts are forced to toil and to pray if they want to benefit from a scarce helping of skilly.
We can also find the same deterring methods within “the spike” in “Down and out in Paris and London”, by George Orwell.
The PLAA was only repealed in 1948 (1948!!!)

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Diamonds in the dirt

There has been much talk here in Spain about the levels of poverty we are reaching. I am talking about the average citizen, or course, because as you must know, corruption in Spain stays mainly in the plain (and everywhere else) and euros in Spain stay mainly outside the country (they have a preferrence for Switzerland). Ana Botella, the former president Aznar’s wife (what a surprise, Cornelius Nepote) and mayor of Madrid (please do not miss her speech last year for the Olympics 2020, utterly ridiculous) decided to impose a fine which amounts to 1038 American Dollars (750 euros) on those who search in the rubbish. I think she has decided to take this measure to avoid a certain image which could affect investors’ decisions upon spending money in a ruined country. She wants us to look sleek and politically correct although it is only the political class who is taking the money. Oh, well… The Monarchy is taking the money too, I forgot, my apologies to the crown for forgetting their part in it. Both stink with corruption, stained with moral rubbish in which they feed. How dare they complain that the average citizen looks for food in the trash cans? Does it paint a poor image?

"La brecha", by González de la Cuesta.

“La brecha”, by González de la Cuesta.

The fact is that every time I go shopping or do some errand lately, I see up to three different people in three different spots looking for things among the rubbish. Usually, they carry a neat little shopping trolley, one of those made of cloth with two little wheels that we see at supermarkets and they proceed to their searching. Is there anything wrong with this? Job opportunities are scarce, and there is a lot of still edible stuff in the cans next to supermarkets. Why haven’t they regulated on throwing away edible stuff when there are so many people in need?

This is the society of programmed obsolescence, our dear consumer-based society in which we are valued for the amount of stuff that we consume and we are expected to support society by keeping on buying and discarding material things. This means that the rubbish cans are packed with usable stuff and this is no recent issue. I have picked up interesting things from rubbish cans myself. Part of my clothes come from discards of others and they are as nice as they could be. And I’ve always liked the idea of buying second-hand clothes: less waste for the planet, less influence by the companies that play with a certain image of women, less concern about hundreds dying in a clothes factory in Bangladesh which collapses…

I guess this is considered marginal and belonging to the lumpen-proletariat, but it does have a dignity in it. More than politicians and aristocrats can say in this country.

High brow stuff and real life

It is really amazing… The level of abstraction that some minds have achieved. In those times when I feel quite down about my own mental capacities, my mind shifts to this question, drifting away from duty, as it is doing right now. I mean, how could all those theorists, essayists and scholars reach that level of abstraction if not for having their basic needs fulfilled?

In one of my previous posts I mentioned Einstein and the rules he designed for his wife, which included being spared the children presence, having any obligation towards his wife or having to clean, iron or cook at all. Sometimes I wonder, is it possible to mix daily stuff and high brow thinking in just one mind? Or, does one influence the other? What happens when one has to deal with thugs, traumatized people, bullies, cheats, busybodies, hand-to-mouths and spiritual destitutes -who are just part of REAL life – in a daily basis, make ends meet, take care of others, cook, clean, wash, put up with weird bosses and then one has to write an essay on, let’s say…, the importance of Freud’s psychoanalytic theories applied to the way an author’s identity conditions the meaning of a literary product from a diachronic perspective? Can you do that while you are thinking in your children’s timetables, your workplace deed in lieu of foreclosure, the shopping list, sexual harassment or bullying at work? How could Derrida or Lacan write those nearly indecipherable texts about whatever they are talking about?

Spleen and ideal (copy)The point is that there are innumerable societies within our society and our world and it is so different for people depending on their background… How can I feel identified with someone who seeks to be indecipherable in order to exclude the non-elite niche dwelling people? How can they get so far away from reality into their own world of concepts with no visible results in the improvement of their fellow men/women’s lives? Can we really afford to spend so much time in theoretical masturbation while there are so many things to improve at a practical level? Is it really better to spend our time enclosed in our ivory tower?

I marvel at Frederick Douglass, who learnt to read and write and became someone out of his own will power in the worst scenario possible. He, who interchanged bits of bread for literacy with poor white boys, who had to work like a mule, and was shunned, enslaved and oppressed. He certainly was not in an ivory tower and he made it and manage to help others in the process. He dealt with real life and its real issues.