Once we had leper colonies, places to isolate the diseased and hide them from public view. They are closed now, in the Western world, and on the whole I doubt many of us would believe that leprosy was a sign both of [God’s] anger and of His grace”1 , and that justified a leper’s total exclusion from society.
But the structures by which to “other” and exclude were never removed, and other categories of outcasts – the vagabond, the criminal, the insane – all take their turn in the Ship of Fools. Cast adrift from mainstream society, those “not-us” and “not-like-us” are hidden from view, from thought, from care.
And the structures remain. And the attitudes towards those who are not like us persist. And the capitalist machine feeds on the anger, and envy, and greed that it encourages. And some oppress, and many others are oppressed.
To achieve this end, the oppressors use the banking concept of education in conjunction with a paternalistic social action apparatus, within which the oppressed receive the euphemistic title of “welfare recipients.” They are treated as individual cases, as marginal persons who deviate from the general configuration of a “good, organized, and just” society. The oppressed are regarded as the pathology of the healthy society, which must therefore adjust these “incompetent and lazy” folk to its own patterns by changing their mentality. These marginals need to be “integrated,” “incorporated” into the healthy society that they have “forsaken.”2
Fast forward to 21st century Britain. The right wing government, no longer satisfied with robbing the poor taxpayer to feed its corporate friends, is creating a new set of pariahs for us to shun – the poor. We must curtail the welfare state – not because we cannot afford it, but because it does not fit with right wing ideals. Benefit scroungers are robbing upright citizens of their cash – austerity is the fault of the poor, not the fault of those who rule.
The Tories would have us believe that it is necessary for our society to “reform” the sick and the poor so that they no longer rely on “handouts”, to find them work and thus make them full members of society.
But they are already part of us. They are not outsiders, they are not other. The capitalist state and its party politics are the things in need of reform, and only by transforming our society can we all become beings-for-ourselves.
1. Foucault, Madness and Civilization p6
2. Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed p74
The first pic is of the leper colony “Spinalonga”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Spinalonga.jpeg#mediaviewer/File:Spinalonga.jpeg
The second is Ship of Fools byHieronymus Bosch (circa 1450–1516) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons