[Radio broadcast by GegenStandpunkt Marburg; December 17, 2003]
Every year has a charity boom in the Christmas season. Traditionally, in order to efficiently bring in donations, the worldly advisors of the state-faithful moral subjects, the newspapers, do their Christmas civic duty alongside the churches. In their well known Advent relief work, they present their fellow citizens who have fallen into distress as “bad luck” stories, thus making their contribution to Christmas selflessness by giving others the opportunity to help; in the form of contributing small amounts of money to the numerous donation funds.
Without having to fear that they will release a wave of outrage in an angry population, the humanitarian reporters of misery bring forward the whole brutality of our unblemished class state. Newspapers that day after day rail against the overextended demands of the population’s “entitlements mentality,” castigate wages as “too high” and describe as “unaffordable” the expenses for “handouts” that massively and continuously result for the work force, suddenly describe old age and illness as disasters that make life almost impossible for the affected persons. Old age? But old age would probably not be so tragic if one had enough money to make life pleasant! What is so terrible about old age if one has lived life leisurely? One only has to look at the artists, clerics, professors and politicians in their late sixties and mid-seventies bursting with vigor who simply do not want to grow old! Disease? Nevertheless, there are probably doctors who exist who could take care of one.
“Karen's father became ill, so she had to give up her job. Since then the married couple with their three small daughters live off a small pension. It was necessary to move into a house that was much too small …” and so on and so on.
The necessities of life are refused to these people after they had the bad luck of not being useful any more. If an illness lasts any longer than – or is more serious than – a winter head cold, then one’s profitable existence as a wage earner quickly comes to an end. After being laid off, one gets inspected for uselessness in the mesh of the social safety net, and there the state executes the same judgment over a person one more time: money for extra mouths, only so they can survive – every cent on this is really a pity. That's why proving one's eligibility for an entitlement is organized like an obstacle course: Mrs. F. (79), who is not at all useful, is “still spry” and “in nice weather still goes five kilometers to the doctor on foot,” freely reports the following experience with the state austerity program to the newspapers:
“She was sent from one place to the next. She was alloted a total of little more than 300 euros. Since the renovation of her apartment, the rent already amounts to a good 200 euros.”
That the state’s meanness towards a grandma is broadcast so bluntly without even a single bad word being said about the state assumes something that everybody regards as normal in our nice republic: one must get by within the living conditions set by the state. That this normality is based on poverty, on a permanent exclusion from wealth which forces one to have to go to work every day, again and again, is not disturbing to someone who is content if he can just get by – with whatever tricks he always has to come up with. Real poverty begins for him only when someone tries as best he can, but no longer gets by. That is then considered an “extreme case,” an exception that has nothing to do with the ordinary gluttony of the wage worker's existence. Because that is something one can endure, it is a condition in which one is not simply toughing out the effects of the daily grind for a cheap wage that permits no security for the future, but something else: a poverty that is one's fate in life.
So the reason for the needy cases with which Christmastime Christians warm their hearts is happily put aside, and wage labor and its consequences are separated from them to the extent that they are endurable. Poverty is seen as an accident that befalls people for no reason, as a consequence of a number of different adverse circumstances. Unemployment is bad luck, a pension cut is one more thing that goes along with the loneliness and depression of a husband's death, a daughter's divorce, a disease or a disability – all that seems untroubling and equitable when set next to each other. In this way, trying circumstances are said to be the causes of poverty, and nobody wants to see that such “twists of fate” only become life threatening if people have nothing to protect their livelihoods with; if they therefore have to live by selling their labor for a wage that supports neither the expenses of a divorce or a fourth child, much less long phases of being unable to work – if they actually had the dubious luck of finding work at all.
This law takes effect in capitalism: anyone who doesn't work, even though he is provided with no other means of acquisition, does not eat. The radical citizen's consciousness intensifies this into the moral motto: whoever doesn't work doesn't deserve to eat. Accordingly, the modern Christian has requirements for cases of compassion. Not every case of poverty stimulates his compassion. A “professional student,” e.g., someone who tries little more than getting by with casual labor, or an immigrant who travels more than a thousand kilometers to beg for a few dollars in the Christmas bustle are promptly exposed in the media as “scrounges,” and instead of arousing pity are reproached for being “afraid to work.”
It is obvious that philanthropy is by no means oriented towards commiserating with every destitute situation, but has clear conditions: someone who has become poor deserves compassion only if he can be proven innocent. A victim of poverty's life story is really only touching if it shows that he was subjected to the brutalities which capitalism has in such abundant supply for its working material up to the bitter end. Christmas relief work takes into account this brutal condition for Christian compassion in an exemplary manner by mainly reporting cases in which those affected do their utmost to endure their predicament; e.g.:
“The new job took a lot of more energy than what seemed necessary to her. ‘I worked like a man,’ she says. Then, however, sometimes the body no longer cooperates …”
Here genuine misfortune is clearly present. The urge to help in the spirit of Christmas kicks in, resulting in hard cash.
This tight-wad attitude is supposed to be helpful? If one took this seriously, one would almost have to despair: charity changes nothing in the causes of poverty; after it is consumed, it remains exactly the same as before. This already no longer makes the good conscience of the Christmas philanthropist so righteously joyous on the way to the bank or while filling out donation forms. Whether one wants to or not, one has to remember that the urge to donate is unchristian and lukewarm the rest of the church year – a point where one could notice that charity does not reduce poverty, otherwise it would not have to be given over and over again. Instead of giving oneself a bad conscience and comparing oneself to Mother Teresa, who busies herself the entire Christian year caring for the hungry bellies and corpses that capitalism produces all over the world, one should pause here for reflection: should one really support the production of poverty by the state and capital with one’s own bad conscience so that it can continue all the more unashamed? Ultimately, one only supplements the victimization of others with one’s own. One shouldn't let it be said that the “poor” are really only lacking our help, and protest against such cynical thoughts as the following:
“Help can be just a step in the jostle, a gesture, a simple sentence, a sign that one sees a fellow human being, that one does not look past him. Help ... causes more than only the alleviation of acute distress. It also diminishes the desperate feeling of being completely abandoned …” (Süddeutsche Zeitung, German newspaper)
Here it is brazenly suggested that one should go to any grandma who gets to feel that no need for her exists, simply for the fun of demonstrating that, nevertheless, she would still be needed and be loved (a decent love in which one asserts a claim in appreciation of services!).
So the meager core of help is expressed: it is the hypocritical recognition of the moral value of those in need of help.