Does the Phrase, “Poverty is Violence,” Refer to Criminal Violence, or the Seeming Violence of Long-Term Homelessness & Malnutrition?

Upon reading the article, “Poverty is Violence,” by Russel Madden, I engaged in the following debate with the author about his work…

"Poverty is the worst form of violence' Mahatma Gandhi

“Poverty is the worst form of violence’ Mahatma Gandhi

Rayn: I came across your article, “Poverty and Violence,” online in an attempt to find the original author of the quote “Povery is Violence” (it appears to be Ghandi, but I’m still in the process of researching). Anyway, after I had finished reading, I was compelled to write to you. I needed to tell you this: there is absolutely no merit whatsoever in equating the “violence” described in the saying “poverty is violence” with petty crime, or the phrase “poverty is theft.”

This paradoxical saying is simply meant to convey a few simple ideas. Living in hunger is violent because it directly results in physical discomfort, pain and deterioration, and in the worse-case scenarios, dehydration, malnutrition and death; living in homelessness is violent because it exposes you to the harshness of the elements, including frosty winter and snowstorms, rain and thunderstorms, and scorching summer heat. These conditions are known to cause severe physical discomfort, and in the worse-case scenarios, hypothermia, cold and pneumonia, and dehydration. Do you see that pattern that is forming? You can claim that all of these things could be from bad luck, laziness or stupidity, but this meritless generalization, which starts as a possibility, becomes your reason of choice as to why people are trapped in poverty. Also, you define poverty as just at or below the level needed to survive (most definitions actually point to the latter), but then, as if you are writing a whole new article, you later redefine poverty into a much larger group of people: those who have less than the people that have more. This obviously serves to bring home your point that people in poverty are actually just jealous of those with more. However, if we had maintained your first definition, then the “more” that we would be referring to would actually be “food” and “shelter,” not the luxury and comfort items that come to mind when you describe a simple “less vs. more” version of poverty.

With this in mind, you are attacking what, in debating jargon, is known as a “Straw Man Argument.” You are attributing a point to your opponent in order to attack it. This allows you to, for one, create a weak point, so as to make your actually weak attack seem stronger, and, secondly, it allows you to bypass the actual point of your opponent, so that you never have to meaningfully address it. Debaters and writers are two different breeds, and you have proved this point with your article. Is it meant to convey a truth, or to push an opinion? I think the answer is obvious, but it’s up to you to make the realization, or else you will be doomed to always fall into the trap of peddling your opinion and your self-insulated arguments against it as some form of responsible debating.

Russel Madden: Thanks for taking the time to read my essay and to write.

“I came across your article, “Poverty and Violence,” online in an  > attempt to find the original author of the quote “Povery is  Violence” (it appears to be Ghandi, but I’m still in the process of  researching). Anyway, after I had finished reading, I was compelled  to write to you.”

Perhaps you meant “impelled”?

“I needed to tell you this: there is absolutely no merit whatsoever  in equating the “violence” described in the saying “poverty is  violence” with petty crime, or the phrase “poverty is theft.”

“…absolutely no merit whatsover”… Hmm. Hardly a choice of words designed to gain my positive assessment of your message.

“This paradoxical saying is simply meant to convey a few simple  ideas. Living in hunger is violent because it directly results in  physical discomfort, pain and deterioration, and in the worse-case  scenarios, dehydration, malnutrition and death; living in  homelessness is violent because it exposes you to the harshness of  the elements, including frosty winter and snowstorms, rain and thunderstorms, and scorching summer heat.”

First of all, “violent” means:

violent |ˈvī(ə)lənt| |ˌvaɪ(ə)lənt| |ˌvʌɪəl(ə)nt|
adjective
using or involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill
someone or something

Second, the bumper sticker was not “hunger is violence.” It was “poverty is violence.” You have committed your own strawman fallacy by distorting what I wrote and attacking the distorted position rather than what I actually said.

Third, I have been poor more than once in my life. Indeed, I had, essentially, zero income one year in my thirties. I got hungry a few times, yes, but not only does “poverty” not automatically equate to “hunger,” it certainly does not equate to “violence.” Poverty is a
measure of income (among other things). It is not as restrictive a concept as you pretend it to be.

Fourth, you claim the saying is paradoxical but then seem to claim that “hunger” (again, the wrong word) is literally violent. Which is it? The collectivists and statists who equate poverty and violence are no more being metaphorical than are those who claim that “hurtful” words are — literally — violent. Both groups seek to smuggle and equate the terms because government is supposed to stop violence committed against peaceful individuals, i.e., if the State should legitimately stop murderers, it should legitimately stop poverty (or hunger or racist or sexist words etc.)..

“These conditions are known to cause severe physical discomfort, and in the worse-case scenarios, hypothermia, cold and pneumonia, and dehydration.”

Again, you abuse the concept of “violence” by treating it simultaneously in a literal and metaphorical manner.

Do you see that pattern that is forming? You can claim that all of these things could be from bad luck, laziness or stupidity, but this meritless generalization,

Are you saying that it is wrong to state that there are multiple reasons why people can become poor?

which starts as a possibility, becomes your reason of choice as to why people are trapped in poverty.

I did not state one reason. I said there were many reasons; sometimes poor people are poor through no real fault of their own; sometimes it is because of choices for which they are morally responsible. Again, you commit a strawman fallacy, distorting what I say — turning multiple reasons offered into one “choice”.

Also, you define poverty as just at or below the level needed to survive (most definitions actually point to the latter), but then, as if you are writing a whole new article, you later redefine poverty into a much larger group of people: those who have less than the people that have more.”

Perhaps you do not comprehend what “if”? Many different definitions of “poverty” have been offered over the years. I was anticipating those who might think that there is one and only one definition.

This obviously serves to bring home your point that people in poverty are actually just jealous of those with more.

I don’t believe I ever used the word “jealous,” but if you mean that I said there are people who verbally attack the rich _for being (too) rich, then that is a simple statement of fact.

However, if we had maintained your first definition, then the “more” that we would be referring to would actually be “food” and “shelter,” not the luxury and comfort items that come to mind when you describe a simple “less vs. more” version of poverty.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been poor, but millions of people in the world are and/or have been poor (monetarily) but still happy.

With this in mind, you are attacking what, in debating jargon, is known as a “Straw Man Argument.

Well, you are an expert in using this fallacy, since you have committed this a number of times. But then I have attributed to my opponents only the things they themselves have stated. Since I teach critical thinking in my college classes, I appreciate you attempt to
enlighten me but find it absolutely without merit.

You are attributing a point to your opponent in order to attack it. This allows you to, for one, create a weak point, so as to make your actually weak attack seem stronger, and, secondly, it allows you to bypass the actual point of your opponent, so that you never have to meaningfully address it. Debaters and writers are two different breeds, and you have proved this point with your article.

Right. I suggest you examine your own debating and writing “skills.” And, actually, your statement is false on the face of it. There is no necessary dichotomy between the two “breeds” you posit.

Is it meant to convey a truth, or to push an opinion?

Again, a naive statement, one often committed by my students, positing a distinct difference between “truth” and “opinion.” An opinion can be true, false, or a mixture of both.

I think the answer is obvious, but it’s up to you to make the realization, or else you will be doomed to always fall into the trap of peddling your opinion and your self-insulated arguments against it some form of responsible debating.

Obviously, you are not the one to be a “responsible debater,” but I’ll keep looking.

Rayn: As I said, I felt “compelled” to write you based on a need to tell you that your equation of the phrase “poverty is violence” with real violence and the phrase “poverty is theft” is wrong. Your article would more accurately be described as that which attempts to “impel” because it tries to force those two ideas into being of the same school of thought. Perhaps this word came to you so easily because you are always on the receiving end of it? Telling you that your argument had “no merit” had less to do with the hope that I would “gain [your] positive assessment of [my] message,” and more to do with idea that I saw deception and I sought to speak out against it. You words were not positive, so I had no real positive things to say to your words.  This is expected. Should I coddle your ideas in their ignorance, or take an approach that seeks to confront their erroneousness with counteractive truths?

I’ll let you do the cherry-picking, and I’ll stick with the facts:

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “Violent” means:
1 : marked by extreme force or sudden intense activity <a violent attack>
2 a : notably furious or vehement <a violent denunciation> b : EXTREME, INTENSE<violent pain> <violent colors>
3 : caused by force : not natural <a violent death>
4 a : emotionally agitated to the point of loss of self-control <became violent after an insult> b : prone to commit acts of violence <violent prison inmates>

(http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/violent)

Also, a quick disclaimer, just in case you try to write me back using this a point: when a word has more than one definition, you cannot pick or choose which definition in the dictionary and say that it’s more accurate.  On that same note, only the individual who used it knows which definition he or she meant when they chose their words. Therefore, you cannot tell another person speaking to you which definition of a word they intended to use. Only that individual can tell you which one, and that should only be if you’re not sure, or if it’s not making sense to you that you ask, or else our whole language would be slowed to a halt. My last point, just for future reference, because I see you happening upon a new form of fallacy I’ve seen all too often now-a-days: dictionaries don’t make words; people make words!!! And, that is even taken as far as when they popularly misuse them: wrong definitions become right ones when they are done over time with large groups. Therefore, from now on, use the dictionary as a reference point only because nothing within is written in stone, and it definitely wasn’t given to us by forces outside of us – it was made by us.

So, the definition of violence that I described to you as related to poverty “directly resulting in physical discomfort, pain and deterioration” is easily described as “extreme and intense,” (M-W even used “violent pain” as an example) and “marked by the sudden intense activity” of hunger, homelessness, etc. You see, you would have found this definition yourself if you weren’t out to prove that you’re right, rather then finding out the truth!

Also, you actually made that claim:

“the bumper sticker was  not ‘hunger is violence.’ It was ‘poverty is violence.’ You have committed your own strawman fallacy by distorting what I wrote and attacking the distorted position rather than what [you] actually said.”

First off, I never said that you claimed that “hunger is violence.” This is your distorted version of my position, which is actually “living in hunger is violent,” based on the concept that “poverty is violence” and poverty, in one respect, equals living in hunger, therefore “living in hunger is violence” as much as “poverty is violence”. I was not distorting your point when I spoke of this connection because THIS IS MY ARGUMENT, the reason I wrote to you, and it was proposed to counter your position, which was equating the “violence” in the phrase “poverty is violence” with actual criminal violence and with the phrase “poverty is theft.”. THAT WAS YOUR POSITION and I made no effort to distort it. So, apparently, you have completely botched the concept of what a Strawman Argument is. Never before in my life have I heard someone say that attempting to disprove an opponent’s argument by offering your superior argument is a “Straw Man Argument.”  Reread what you wrote, and you will see how ridiculous it seems!!!

You are also starting to get more and more inconsistent with what you say. You claim:

“[you] have been poor more than once in [your] life. Indeed, [you] had, essentially, zero income one year in [your] thirties. [You] got hungry a few  times, yes, but not only does “poverty” not automatically equate to  “hunger,” it certainly does not equate to “violence.” Poverty is a  measure of income (among other things). It is not as restrictive a concept as you pretend it to be.”

You have decided that, while you had free range to define, then redefine poverty as you saw fit to force it to back your one argument, that I would not even have the right to simply define what I meant by poverty once while I postulated my own argument.  There is no consistency in that, and it would leave you with all advantage to make yourself clear, and flip-flop, while stifling my attempts at clarity. You have also created even one more definition of poverty as simly being “poor” and then getting “hungry a few times.” And, you have made a straw man argument out of claiming that I automatically equated hunger with violence. Unlike yourself, I maintainted the whole time that poverty as I was definiting had to do with lack of the basic food/shelter combination required to live. The “poverty” I described easily implied length of time, in that it showed that the extreme results were violence (i.e. malnutrition, sickness, etc) because they were the culmination of the smaller ones (i.e. physical discomfort, pain, ie.), and that also dealing with the smaller ones constantly over time would be like slow-motion violence in that it would wear a person down with fatigue and eventual sickness without actually even seeming to be causally related from the outsider’s view.

And, whereas we both did not write the phrase “Poverty is Violence,” we both have an equal right to try and figure out which definition the author was getting at. So, with as much as you would like to claim that I’m being restrictive, I should not be stuck with using what I see as your innaccurate choices of definitions for the words, when there are plenty of alternatives you haven’t considered, just because you happened to be the first to write about what you felt it meant. And, as you are,  for a second time,  asking of me what I have not asked of you, you are becoming even more inconsistent in my eyes now.

Here is another strange attack:

“You claim the saying is paradoxical but then seem to claim that “hunger” (again, the wrong word) is literally violent. Which is it? The collectivists and statists who equate poverty and violence  are no more being metaphorical than are those who claim that  “hurtful” words are — literally — violent. Both groups seek to  smuggle and equate the terms because government is supposed to stop violence committed against peaceful individuals, i.e., if the State  should legitimately stop murderers, it should legitimately stop  poverty (or hunger or racist or sexist words etc.).”

I have maintained that “living in hunger” as a form of “poverty” in that it is either occurring constantly over time, or happening until it results in malnutrition, is “violence.” Whether or not you take the idea to be literal is meaningless in defining it as a paradox. “Poverty is violence” and “living in hunger is violent” would both be paradoxical not because of the difference between a literal definition and figurative one – it is the difference between an idea seeming to not make sense, but then, when reevaluting it not using the most typical definitions, concepts, etc, realizing that it actuall does.  So, if anything, your inability to understand and demand from me “which is it?” only proves to show that it is a paradox. You see, I can’t say for certain which it is supposed to be because the paradox I was describing was not in changing words from literal to figurative, it was in changing the word “violence” from it’s typical “action-of-physical-aggressor” definition into the “extreme” and “intense” situation that does not necessarily have a physical aggressor, in this case: “poverty,” but results in perceived form of physical attack. Do you see now?  By the way, what did I tell you about straw man arguments? I am not a “collectivist” or a “statist.” I want no connection with their arguments. I have not made them myself, and it is not right to attribute them to me so insidiously.  I am an Individual. I believe in a free speech that was not given to me by the State, but by our Creator. Government was made by and for some people, but people were not made by and for the government. Words can never be hurtful unless they are patently false. That is the only thing that is not protected speech. This is why I would not censor the Klu Klux Klan for stating a stereotype about black people being lazy, or censor the Nation of Islam for stating a stereotype about white people being devils. Because, for as much as I could find a million people to prove them wrong, I would inevitably find at least one honestly lazy black person, or one honestly devilish white person. So, while statements like these are generally wrong, and I do not agree with them whatsoever, because they are not absolutely wrong, censoring them just to make everything fit nice and neat would also be wrong! I would acknowledge their right to speak with the faith that I also have the right to speak against it. People would decide for themselves, as they have always been allowed in the past, before things got so sickeningly “PC.” People who want government to play referee in their verbal squabbles are pretty much asking their “Big Brother,” who is wiser than them, to pick which opinion is more accurate at the time, even though we are organic people in an organic environment, because it is easier at the time, even if we can end up stuck with it forever.

On that same note, I do not believe the State should “stop poverty.” People should stop poverty with charity. Charity ceases being charity if it is forced by the State. However, the State has also made an industry out of insuring people with their own taxes in the event that they become disabled (SSA). This is not necessarily forced charity, although some would disagree. But, I digress. I am just letting you know about my political beliefs a little, since you seem so intent on labeling me under some category.  Now, you see that I have no label other than independent thinking organic person who takes truth as I see it, no matter where the source.

Now, in regard to your seeming favor for a one-answer-leaning reason for poverty as the result of “ignorant or stupid mistakes, from laziness, or simple misfortune” – this is actually your fault. While you are getting better at understanding what a straw man argument is, it didn’t actually take place in this case. The reason I drew the conclusion that you meritlessly generalized is because the only one’s point of view you wanted to counter was the point of view of a sheep who wants the government all involved and regulating and taking over everything. And, this is one point we can agree on: people who want more government control are sheep. However, as you did, indeed, only take the points of view of people less informed of how government works to fight against, I committed no straw man argument in pointing out that you were generalizing.

It is simply laughable for you to say:

“Perhaps [i] do not comprehend what “if”? Many different definitions of “poverty” have been offered over the years. [You] was anticipating  those who might think that there is one and only one definition.”

Another straw man argument. You are real good at those, it seems. I spoke nothing against multiple definitions of a word, only to your having a single argument that holds one definition of “poverty” for the first half of the paper, but then switches to a second definition that is more far-reaching and generalized than the first one, in order to MAINTAIN THE SAME ARGUMENT THAT YOU HAD IN THE BEGINNING. THIS IS INCONSISTENT, LIKE MOST OF WHAT I’VE WITNESSED FROM YOU IN THIS EMAIL.

Also, I used the word “jealous” to describe the people that you said had “anger” in their voices when they spoke.  It was just a natural conclusion and an accurate one at that.  But, who really cares? Saying that you did or didn’t directly say it doesn’t mean that it isn’t what you meant. Or even that if you did or didn’t mean it, that it changes anything in our arguments. It’s practically a distraction to bring it up. But, here’s the words for you, anyway, in case you forgot: “If poverty is the lack of tangible or intangible property, it is little wonder that people who angrily denounce others who possess more than they do spout the (nonsensical) accusation that, ‘Property is theft.'”

Also, I lived in homelessness for 4 years, from ages 11-15, in NYC shelter system from 91-95. And, it was because my father became disabled with Narcolepsy, and lost his job. Because his condition was rare, it took a huge fight to get his government-based disability insurance. Go figure. So, I guess we’re describing two different versions of poverty yet again.

I have shown that there is no real proof to back your claim of my committing straw man arguments, and if anything, you have committed to more strawmen fallacies in your effort to prove such.

In regards to “writer” being a different breed than a “debater,” you once again create a straw man argument by attempting to convey the idea that I claimed a “necessary dichotomy between the two ‘breeds’.” I stated what I did in order let you know that being a writer did not necessarily entail being a good debater, as your article definitively proved, straw man arguments and all. I also meant to convey the fact that a good debater might not necessarily be a good writer.

On a final note, if you are teaching “critical thinking” classes at your college, then, for one, I am not impressed – but that is just me. You have shown that your critical thinking simply entails being critical of that which does not fit into your version of events, even when the new information debunks your own. When you are approached with ideas that seek to expand on what you have backed into a corner, in this case with the “violence” in “poverty is violence” being pushed to a fault to mean actual criminal violence, you do not start from the a truth and work your way out. You start with your opinion and then create opposing positions to attack, so that you can push the erroneous clause that if your points beat your version of your opponent’s points, then you win rights over saying what the phrase really means, while actually completely diluting it and almost bordering on saying the opposite of what is implied.

Russel Madden: Given your supreme ignorance of proper epistemology and concept-formation, the nature of good analysis, the proper function of  government, the nature of morality and rights, and the actual point I was making in my essay, I’ll give your lengthy reply the full  consideration it deserves.

Rayn: And, on that same note, given the fact that you call me ignorant while actively ignoring my response in the form of pretending to respond, while actually placing it as beneath you to do, you have proven yourself to be hypocritical and self-righteous. If this is what being a teacher at a university is all about, the next generation is doomed!

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