There must soon come a day at The Onion, the satirical newspaper, when the editors will gather in bewilderment and say to each other, “Fellas, there’s no use. The real headlines are more preposterous than any we can write. Time to close up shop, sit back, and watch civilization crumble from a safe distance.”
If the new peer-reviewed paper by William Ventres and Geoff Gusoff entitled “Poverty Blindness: Exploring the Diagnosis and Treatment of an Epidemic Condition“, published in that notable organ the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, is any indication that day is coming soon, soon.
Now these gentlemen, as near as I can tell, appear to be great, big-hearted guys. I mean this. They are from El Salvador, a country which knows genuine, heart-breaking poverty, not the kind we have here where many of “the poor” have houses, cars, cell phones, enormous televisions, and much else. No, Ventres and Gusoff are concerned, as they should be, as we should all be, as we must be, about grinding, life-threatening, despair-inducing, lifetime poverty.
It is true and sickening that poverty, as they say, is “one of the central dramas of human history.” But is it also so that “Poverty is pervasive yet little noticed due to the marginalization of those who endure it”? This is doubtful; no, false. “The poor” are constantly in the public eye. (What’s missing are poor people.) But not in El Salvador, a place where evasion of the truly poor “is virtually impossible.”
Since this is so—since everybody sees poor people—but poverty is still present, there must be a reason for its continuance. Why? Because one of the central myths of the Enlightenment is that once somebody’s “awareness” of some problem is “raised”, i.e. once they are educated, the problem is supposed to evaporate as if by magic. If not, if the problem persists, it can only be because evil forces block the magic.
In this case, the evil is disease: “Poverty Blindness”. It, and the “closely related condition of Poverty Acuity Disorder (PAD)”. “People with Poverty Acuity Disorder see that poverty exists, but are unable to focus on its presence.”
Now “Absolute [Poverty Blindness] is rare”. Unfortunately “PAD in its various gradations exists in epidemic proportions.” What is a cause of PB? Money: “with significant monetary wealth are most often affected by PB, and the incidence of PB declines as accumulated net worth declines.”
What’s most worrisome is that this disease attacks not only individuals, but “Institutions and entire collective entities”, too. That finding alone is worthy of a Nobel prize, because no other known disease infects any but people one by one.
Poverty Blindness causes “lack of compassion”, leading to symptoms which include “lacking generosity, displaying distrust, being disobliged to help, exhibiting unethical behavior, and using common exculpatory mechanisms (including outright falsehoods).”
Is it catching? Yes. “Hereditary PB” exists, as does “Structural PB” (when entire societies are infected). And get ready for this. There is such a thing as “Academic PB“! And it come in two types.
Type I afflicts primarily scholars who work only with statistics disembodied from the people they purport to represent. Type II exists when financially well-endowed institutions of higher education, despite hosting poverty eradication initiatives among students, have overall cultures that ignore poverty.
This must be the reason so many statistical studies go off the rails!
There are other forms, but the worst and most intransigent manifestation is Malignant PB, which has two forms. “Gated MPB”, where the suffering isolate themselves, and “Savagely Capitalistic MPB” which applies to all those corporations whcih aren’t making really cool toys.
Our authors are developing a clinical test of PB, but they note that PB is associated with the maladies of “classism, racism, sexism…, and elitism.” Be on the lookout.
Treatment? Shock. No, really. “Exposure to catastrophic unforeseen events may be therapeutic.” If you suspect your patient suffers from PB, ship him off to Syria or decamp him to the side of an active volcano. Unfortunately, “the effects of these moments, however, rapidly fade from consciousness; such events are frequently considered temporary oddities of nature irrelevant to day-to-day life.”
That means the only true cure is—wait for it, wait for it—revolution. “Revolutionary efforts to restructure society…rapidly and unexpectedly bring poverty into one’s field of vision.”
What else can one say but ¡Viva la Revolución!