Ordinary Human Poverty

Sharon September 24th, 2008

At one point in his writings, Sigmund Freud (who, btw, was not at all the caricature that many readers imagine him as and who is well worth reading in his own right) wrote about the difference between two states - one of them abnormal, and subject to resolution by the “talking cure,” the other ordinary and not necessarily remediable.  The first he called “neurotic misery,” the other “ordinary human unhappiness.”  His point was that psychoanalysis could only address pathological states, neither it nor any other solution could preserve us from the ordinary bad experiences of being human, and that distinguishing between them was essential.  Ordinary human unhappiness did mean, of course, that one was unhappy every second, merely that one accepted that normal human states had periods of suffering, sadness, anger and fear in them too - it was important to recognize that nothing, no tool, could ever make life good every second.

Riffing on Freud, for some years, I have been arguing that the reality of peak energy, climate change and our precarious financial situation was leading us towards re-experiencing “ordinary human poverty” - a state that I would argue is fairly normal, if at times unpleasant.  I also believe it is the future for most of us.  And it would be easy to imagine that this meant that our future was one of true horror, an pathological nightmare from which we cannot awaken.  The despair many of us feel when we see that word “poverty” can’t be underestimated.

I think we are now at the point where the argument I’ve been making all these years - that peak oil will be less about whether there is gas in the gas stations or whether the grid crashes - and more about whether we can buy gas or whether the utility company shuts us off for nonpayment is pretty much certain.  Right now, we are watching the crisis unfold mostly far from us.  It is coming home - and rapidly, and we are shifting to a lower eocnomic level.  For example, as the New York Times reports, retail chains are in real danger - remember, 70% of our economy depends on consumer spending.  Most of us will cut back, and many chains will go bankrupt for lack of funds and credit - and that cascade of bankruptcies will further echo, as more and more of us who still have jobs and money to spend see no point in buying things at successful chains - why bother when the same jeans are available at 75% off at the going out of business sale of another store in the same mall? 

We could make much the same analysis for many other segments of the economy.  Whence the high paying NYC and other urban restaurants that depend on high finance types buying expensive meals?  Poof!  Whence travel and tourism in an era of unemployment and expensive gas.  We may go some places - those who still have money may head to the beach, rather than Cancun - but the overall amount of wealth flowing through the economy will drop like a stone.  And the fear takes the rest of it with us, as we become afraid to spend, afraid to invest, afraid to lose what little we’ve got left.  Bailout or no, the economy is headed into something deep and dark, and most of us are going into this new world with it.  Poverty is about to go back to being our human norm - just as it always has been for most of the world’s people.

And yet, the reason I’m using Freud’s language here isn’t just to remind us that poverty is a normal state for human beings.  It is in part to imply that there is a distinction between the deep suffering of what I would call “pathological poverty” and the functional poverty that is “ordinary human poverty”, sometimes unpleasant, probably always troubling in comparison to the relative wealth we’ve had, but basically livable state.  In it one can have periods, even long periods of happiness and security and comfort along with some less pleasant momemtns.  And I believe that while none of us can insulate ourselves entirely from the trauma of the darker ends of this, there is a great deal we can do to ensure that our coming poverty is not the pathological kind.

I find this reassuring then, when I read Dmitry Orlov’s latest account of where we stand in his “Five Stages of Collapse” - on the one hand, there’s not much cheery about the fact that we’re jumping over from Stage One to Two - and I think he’s right. But there is the reality that we can do a great deal to keep the elevator from dropping down to the basement. 

What is the distinction between “pathological poverty” and “ordinary human poverty?”  Well, cast back in your heads to your grandparents or great-grandparents.  Among the stories of hardship in post-war Europe and Asia, of recurring crises across the Globe, and of the Great Depression in America are likely to be moments that distinguish between the pathological poor.  “We were very poor, but there was always food on the table.”  “We were poor, but we didn’t really know it.”  “It was a struggle, but we were happy.”  We will also hear stories the other side of poverty - the pain of hunger, the blind terror of being turned off with no place to go, the deaths and the pointless losses and tragedies.

The question becomes how do we turn this story into one where most of us can say “We were poor, but we had enough - just enough, but enough.”  And where our kids may grow up not really realizing just how poor we were? How do we accustom ourselves to the ordinary human unhappiness (which, after all, isn’t unhappiness every moment, merely a recognition that most people aren’t happy all the time) that is our shift in wealth, without allowing ourselves to fall through the floor, into the deeper stages of collapse?

There are three answers to this.  The first is to reduce your needs.  I expect that for a long time, the stigma that attaches to any kind of poverty will keep many of us struggling to keep up appearances.  We are likely to feel ashamed the first time we have to ask for help, ashamed that our clothes are no longer as fine, that dinner is plainer and that we now share our homes.  The best way, I think to get over these feelings is to get over them in advance - to change your values as so many here have.  Thrift shop clothes and patches should be sources of pride, symbols of your independence from industrial manufacturers. The food on the table - and the people who share it - are the point - not whether high-social value elements like wine and meat are present.  The need to speak out against the culture that tells us that poor is dirty and bad becomes paramount - because the more resources we waste keeping up appearances the harder it will be to adapt.

The second is self-sufficiency of the kind most of us are trying to achieve.  The garden, the sewing needle, the saw and hammer, the ability to make and repair, to grow and produce and nurture things - these are things that demonstrate, as Jeremy Seabrook has contended, the opposite of poverty is not wealth, it is self-sufficiency.  None of us will ever be wholly self-sufficient - but to be able to say that it doesn’t matter if you can afford shoes this year because you can repair last year’s boots, or to not have to spend much of your money on food means that you have a much better chance of covering that emergency medical bill or the property taxes. 

But these things alone are not sufficient.  One’s self-sufficiency can be taken away too easily when we lose access to land.  You can lower your standards to allow “poor but decent” but when we get to “filthy and rat infested” that’s not such a good idea.  The only way to live in the world of ordinary human poverty is to live there in a world where your pocket isn’t picked constantly, where you aren’t the victim of endless resource conflicts, where your government doesn’t sell your future out.  And the only way to be a nation of reasonably self-sufficient, ordinarily poor people living decently is this - to remember that the reason we use the word “ordinary” here is that there are a lot more of us peasants than there are of the powerful.  The truth is that repressive governments, of the sort we have had and are rapidly entrenching are scary - but they never have enough troops, enough power to stand up against the unified dignity of those who are simply ordinary, and simply want enough.  But that requires that we trust each other, that we work together, that we create the institutions of ordinary poverty, the ones that have fallen into disuse - Granges, Unions, Consumers Unions, neighborhoods, voting blocs, and larger groups that can be used to pull us together.  These things too are ordinary and human - and it is getting to be time to build them.


49 Responses to “Ordinary Human Poverty”

  1. Hummingbird says:


  2. Shirley says:

    “I think we are now at the point where the argument I’ve been making all these years - that peak oil will be less about whether there is gas in the gas stations or whether the grid crashes - and more about whether we can buy gas or whether the utility company shuts us off for nonpayment is pretty much certain.”

    So well put, Sharon. And the “pathological poverty” vs. “normal poverty” is a — yes, I’ll call it — beautiful analogy. Thanks for a healthy perspective on what are very weird and scary times.

  3. wasteweardaily says:

    An old shopping center was torn down and recently a new was was built. A brand spanking new Kohl’s will open on October 1st. I just can’t believe it is happening. How long can it stay open? Are things really better where I am than where others are? Is it all an illusion?

    Cindy in FL

  4. Eva says:

    I think “Ordinary human unhappiness did mean, of course, that one was unhappy every second”

    is supposed to read

    “Ordinary human unhappiness didn’t mean, of course, that one was unhappy every second”

    Lots to ponder in this post as always.

  5. Karin says:

    Another excellent post Sharon.

    There was a time when chasing my tale to keep my head above water took a toll on my health and forced me to drastically reduce the amount of money I lived on. I was forced to learn another way to live. I feel so grateful to have had that experience because it taught me to slow down, learn new skills and connect with community that I just didn’t have time for before I got sick.

    As a result, I have become more self sufficient and better able to adapt to these changing times.

  6. Lisa Z says:

    That last part is right on, Sharon! It is time to be working on these things.

    Being poor doesn’t bother me, but having my money and the savings of other ordinary working people stolen out from under us by our OWN GOVERNMENT and the bankers due to their reckless gambling really pisses me off! This is where Americans need to wake up-and hopefully we are.

    I’ll be glad to live the simpler life and see others around me consume less and appreciate more. But we can’t let ourselves be walked on! Our ancestors didn’t do this. Neither should we.

    Lisa inMN

  7. SurvivalTopics.com says:

    Poverty is a relative term. I would give up most of my belongings as long as my freedom is untouched. All one really needs are friends and family, a clean warm place to live, food, water, clothing. Everything else is just gravy in this short life.

    Living like a rat under the thumb of a government that takes rather than serves is a high form of poverty. With our every movement under threat of being watched, our means of making a living bleed white by taxes to fund unwanted wars and corporate interests, and the prison state this nation is becoming - increasingly revolution is in the air.

    Expect great changes in the next few decades.

  8. Lisa Z says:

    Cindy in FL-that kind of thing is still happening in Minnesota too. It’s going to take a while for the gears of commerce to grind down, I think. People are just now beginning to wake up.

    I personally am glad to see the recent investment my city has done in our parks, incl. one with a lake just blocks from my house. I feel like my feet are pushing pushing on the accelerator for them to get done with the new walking path, the lighting (yeah, prob. not going to be able to light them for long but…), the lakeshore improvements that include native plantings, etc. I know I will be able to enjoy these things for years once they’re done, even if the city can no longer do anything.

    I just hope our new library can stay open a while. It’s a beauty, and full of my favorite things-books. So what if they windows don’t open and the so-called “green building” is completely dependent on fossil fuels?!

    Lisa in MN

  9. Frostwolf in Troy says:

    Thank you for that gentle kick in the butt. I’m a bit busy right now, but I’m hoping that when things settle down a bit, I’ll be able to turn my attention to my immediate neighborhood.

    One good thing in my life is that I’m on the Board (now President actually) of a local community theater. My partner and I are talking about other civic commitments we can make, and there are some really wonderful organizations in Troy that are paying attention to things like getting veggies to the financially disadvantaged. (The “Veggie Mobile” parks not 3 blocks from my apartment!)

    I didn’t realize it, but Troy, New York is the setting for many of Norman Rockwell’s paintings. The architecture is STUNNING. Civic pride burbles forth in this delightful place, and in subtle and observant ways.

    And turning for help is something I struggle with, but I do need it. Especially now, since my cat passed away over the weekend. On the one hand, I’ve been wondering how I might be able to feed my pet. But on the other, now that he’s gone, I feel devastated. I’m getting support though. Kitzel’s passing has provided me with an opportunity that isn’t going to waste…

  10. grace says:

    earlier, becky suggested looking at utube
    depression cooking with Clara.

    it’s worth spending a few minutes in this woman’s kitchen.
    Thank you, becky
    grace, New Mexico

  11. Survivalist News » Casaubon’s Book: Ordinary Human Poverty says:

    [...] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » Ordinary Human Poverty At one point in his writings, Sigmund Freud (who, btw, was not at all the caricature that many readers imagine him as and who is well worth reading in his own right) wrote about the difference between two states - one of them abnormal, and subject to resolution by the “talking cure,” the other ordinary and not necessarily remediable. The first he called “neurotic misery,” the other “ordinary human unhappiness.” His point was that psychoanalysis could only address pathological states, neither it nor any other solution could preserve us from the ordinary bad experiences of being human, and that distinguishing between them was essential. Ordinary human unhappiness did mean, of course, that one was unhappy every second, merely that one accepted that normal human states had periods of suffering, sadness, anger and fear in them too - it was important to recognize that nothing, no tool, could ever make life good every second. [...]

  12. Brad’s Take » Blog Archive » The new poverty - livable or not? says:

    [...] Astyk posted and unusually angry message today about how to handle the currently eroding economy. Her point is that with intelligence, we can use our resources to [...]

  13. Stephen B. says:

    Re: Retail buildout continuing:

    Oh yes, around here in the southwest suburbs of Boston we have several new mega shopping plexes being built. For locals that would be Dedham, Westwood, Foxboro. One of these projects is tied in with NE Patriots owner, Bob Kraft’s “Patriot Place”, a monster development adjoining Gillette Stadium, with theatres and a bunch of box stores, the most amazing being a Bass Pro Shop. It’s kind of like LL Bean’s flagship store times 5. Between the stadium and all the stores, located completely away from transit on US Route 1, they’ve paved hundreds of acres of parking lots. Funny thing is, I get my local, unprocessed (unpasteurized) milk from one of the last remaining area dairy farmers located on 28 acres directly abutting Kraft’s land in the back. I am dearly hoping that the build out stops soon enough to save folks like the Lawtons from being run over, but it’s getting down to the wire.


    Just down the road from all of this, the town of Foxborough recently got their hands on several hundred acres of former state land that was a state hospital and basically built a hundred+ McHouses on what was former farm and forestry land.

    Now we get this unconstitutional “bailout” with my tax $$ trying to keep the whole thing going….uh, huh.

    Stephen B.
    Walpole, MA

  14. dewey says:

    Regarding Patriot Place - here in St. Louis we have “Ballpark Village,” otherwise known as “That Hole.” We had a perfectly good stadium, but it was not new and fancy enough, so the Cards extorted a taxpayer-funded new stadium by threatening to move. The demolished area near the new stadium was supposed to be developed into all-new shopping, condos, office space, etc. But it has been about 3 years now and NOTHING has been built. It’s just a giant ugly pit in the middle of our already nasty downtown. They keep coming up with new plans and telling us something will be developed soon. Anyone want to bet on that happening?

  15. MEA says:

    I think one of the worst things about been poor (and I don’t consider myself poor, not because I think it’s something to be ashamed of, but because I’m not) is that you are constantly punished for it — can’t maintaint a savings account — then you can pay all these bank fees.

    Can’t save up three months rent for a slightly cheaper place in a safer neighborhood — then you can keep paying this higer rent?

    Can’t affort a one bedroom apt? Then keeping paying 2x as much per squarefoot in your studio — all four of you.

    Too far down on the list for special needs placement and can afford to move to a place that has more slots? Heck, welcome to the world of mainstreaming without support.

    I could go on.

  16. AnnaMarie says:

    Right before we sold our McMansion and my quit my luxury providing business for this lovely 1400 square foot house and hand to mouth casual income life an old client asked me how on earth I was going to make such a drastic transition. She asked me this after bemoaning how broke she was after her three week (yearly) trip to Italy.

    I had a very short answer for her.

    Want less.

    For the most part I feel like you and so many of us blogging about self sufficiency are preaching to a devout and devoted choir. How this message needs to be given to the rest of the country is the conundrum.

    Another thought for today: when Yellowstone burned 20 years ago and 1/3 of the park was blackened after the summer it was said that the policy of putting out each and every small fire for years rather than letting some burn a bit bigger and do more damage was the reason for the huge conflagration the park faced in that summer of smoke and tears. I feel like the financial world is facing the same issue.

    We’ve bailed out, over and over, the small messes and now, instead of letting them get to their natural conclusion of contraction and then growth we are trying to put out a fire of epic financial disaster and maybe it’s time to stop and let it burn.

  17. Rosa says:

    MEA - exactly.

    I have a friend who came up through the foster system, and she calls them poverty traps.

    They include, can’t afford regular dental care? Welcome to expensive remedial care if you ever get a good job. And you can’t get a decent job with rotten teeth if they’re visible. I have a friend who grew up poor & with no fluoridated water who spent 1/3 of his first “real” job’s income on tooth repair.

    Can’t afford reliable child care or transportation? You’re gonna lose your job if you’re late/miss too many days to deal with that.

    There are a whole bunch of them. The bank fees & check cashing places & pawn shops are among the worst, you’re right.

    The thing people are missing is that the visible parts of this - the mcmansions and strip malls and people with wide screen TVs - are *not* the main part of the problem. The main part of the problem was with regulators and dudes in suits quietly rewriting the underwriting rules and companies and cities doing credit swaps on their bonds and being encouraged by economists to spread local debts through the worldwide economic system. We’re expending a lot of anger on the people we *can* see and missing the real profiteers.

    I hope Daharja is right and this is the recession that makes the various parts of the world economy decouple from the US.

  18. Rebecca says:

    Most of the developments that are about to open have been in the works for a while -they start the permitting process a couple of years beforehand. Most new applications have dried up in a lot of places, though.

    I think we are increasingly going to be seeing the class stratification in this country. There is a large and growing segment of the country that is really poor and geting more so. But there is also still a large segment of upper class people wtih money to burn at department stores, and until things get really bad this won’t change.

    I hate the way society punishes you for being poor. Here, for instance, not only will the utility company kick you out of your house if your lights get turned off you can have your kids taken away for living without utilities or for any other number of ‘offenses’ related to being poor.

  19. Karin says:

    I wonder how many folks in Mcmansions are struggling too but trying really hard to keep up the appearance that everything is fine.

    My SIL moved in 3500 sq ft house this past spring. When we went to visit. It had several empty rooms because they could not afford to furnish it. They had lawn mower that was second hand and not working very well and she shared how they are shopping at Costco to save on food. I got the impression that they may have bitten off more than they could chew.

  20. Heather in Oregon says:

    I’m at such a loss with all the crazy stuff going on in the world today.

    I just keep drawing in closer to home, and working on ways to cut our costs and prepare for whatever is coming.


    But we are so lucky to have a great family, food to eat and a roof over our head!!

    I think that perhaps I will wake up someday and walk off the grid like Greenpa has.

    Sounds like fun to me.

    I have been longing to read the Little House series again. :)

    I’ve lurked here a bit by the way.
    Very interesting stuff!


  21. Elizabeth says:

    I guess I can consider myself lucky to be living in WV, where being poor (relative to the rest of the country) is pretty much status quo. No one is going to comment on you having an old car or living in a single-wide or having bad teeth.
    While the small city I work in is experiencing a building boom, the rest of the county, and the surrounding counties, are the same as they ever were, which seems like a blessing right about now.
    Whenever I visit my parents in northern Virginia, I never fail to be shocked by the excesses. Huge houses, huge lawns, huge vehicles, women with shiny hair and perfect tans and seething but outwardly perfect children.
    I’d take a crooked smile and a trailer in the woods over that any day.

  22. risa b says:

    We were off grid like Greenpa for the last half of the Seventies. Partly because we wanted it that way, partly because we didn’t have the $3,000 to run utilities in to our place. So we ran a 12 volt household. Our income was about $8,000 a year. I don’t remember those times as poverty, but partly that was about our being young and strong then; nothing seemed impossible with a little ingenuity and elbow grease. I do worry for a lot of people in the upcoming period — us, some, my kids’ dreams, some, our moms and dads, yes, but especially those who never knew to skill up for all this!

  23. Gracie says:

    Great post, Sharon! Loved every word of it. And it’s so true. It’s kind of been my philosophy for a long time now that if you can’t be happy with what you have, you will never be happy with anything else. Your statement that we have to stop wanting is part of that. You have to stop wanting the McMansion, the Cadillac, the high dollar purse with matching shoes. You have to find joy in knowing that you may only have cheap tennis shoes to wear during the wet weather, but you have more than half the people on the planet who don’t have those tennis shoes.

    That old thought that no matter how bad it is, there is always someone far worse off is always true. Does poverty lead to sadness? No doubt that there is sadness. Can it overwhelm? No doubt about it. It’s what you do after you are overwhelmed that matters.

    There’s nothing to be ashamed of in asking for help. Were we born alone? No. Can we bury ourselves? No. So in the instant of your birth, you have to have help. In the instant of your death, and even still afterward you have to have help. So what makes the middle part of anyone’s life any different? We have to learn to ask for help. We’ve been so brainwashed in the US with all of the individualism that’s been taught for so many years, that the great majority of people think they can go it alone, all day, every day. Not so. Remember the poem “No Man Is an Island”? If youv’e never read it, I suggest you go google it online and read it. It’s not only thought provoking, but it’s mind boggling.

    Here’s hoping all of us can convey these kinds of ideas to many others out there who will surely need help as we start rolling down this steep slope toward poverty.

    Until next time….


  24. Vegan says:

    Thanks, Sharon.

    “If there were no greed, there would be no occasion for armaments. The principle of nonviolence necessitates complete abstention from exploitation in any form.” - MOHANDAS K. GANDHI

  25. Rebecca says:

    “If you do not find what you seek within yourself, you shall surely never find it without.” -Part of the Wiccan creed.

    Bill Heard shut down yesterday. They are a large string of car dealerships here in the southeast. They have -or had -several dealerships in town. They just shut the doors about 1 yesterday and sent their employees home. One more bites the dust and how many to follow?

  26. ordinary human poverty | Dismantle Civilisation says:

    [...] excellent post by Sharon Astyk. The question becomes how do we turn this story into one where most of us can say “We were poor, [...]

  27. Greenpa says:

    It was my choice years ago to live a very low-impact live - based directly on the thoughts of Gandhi and Thoreau. They just made sense to me.

    Technically, my family has been well below the “poverty line” for decades. But my kids are well aware that they’ve been raised very wealthy in everything that counts.

    At one point, a friend’s words got back to me; someone who didn’t really understand all this; he was saying we lived in “abject poverty”.

    I took umbrage, though in a cheerful way, and let him know there was nothing “abject” about my poverty.

    On the contrary, I told him, we live in “Flamboyant Poverty”. Which is much closer to the truth.

  28. Meadowlark says:

    A toast to “Flamboyant Poverty”. I shall be joining you soon Greenpa. :)

  29. Shamba says:

    A large Chevrolet dealership that is nation wide, closed it’s doors, here with absolutely no notice to the employees except that they had no more job after that day! I think it may be the same name as Rebecca referred to but I’m not positive.

    the condo project that was started a little over a year ago n ear me, has opened to the advertised price of 200,000 somethings to buy. It must hae been inthe pipeline before current problems developed. I don’t think it would have been built otherwise.
    How many buyers they have, I don’t know.

    Mervyn’s stores in our area are closing, at least some of them are. the one nearest me isn’t closing, or not yet, but they have 50% off on most things in the store, they have a lot of past season stuff they’re trying to sell and there are some good buys if you need what they have.

    I was in a prt of town this week I haven’t been to for 4 months and I was struck by the amount of empty retail spaces in several of the strip malls I passed. these malls are built all along one road and it’s like Retail Alley there, or has been. I’d say a good third of the spaces are empty and for rent. I know this area well enough to know these malls have been full and busy for at least the past 10 years.

    My parents were poor growing up but their children did not grow up poor but we weren’t rich either in money. we were veery much the suburban middle class probaboly on the upper middle class side of things. There are some things I know I’m going to miss when I’m somehwat poorer but I know I can adapt to changing circumstances.


  30. homebrewlibrarian says:

    With regard to “flamboyant poverty”, some time back my ex-husband noted, after surveying our lifestyle and incomes, that we were “independently poor.” We had no debt and had more than enough to keep food on the table, clothes on our backs and a roof over our heads. And then some. Sure, we weren’t buying all the newest toys and jetting off all over the world, but not owing anyone anything was real independence.

    At this point in my life, I’d have to say I’ve moved from “independently poor” to “flamboyant poverty.” I’m not even trying to keep up an appearance of some sort of social status which makes people who live on less income than I look at me sideways. But I’m much happier with less and less. I’m using the extra money I’m not spending on stuff on adapting in place and food storage. I’m developing community connections and learning new skills. I’m also trying to guide the rest of the people that share a building with me to a lower technology/resource usage lifestyle while the local economy is still stable. They’re not seeing the changes on the horizon and that makes me nervous. Better to choose to live with less and make it work than have it thrust upon you.

    Kerri in AK

  31. Vegan says:

    Homebrewlibrarian, well said!

    It’s easier to fall from the sidewalk to the gutter than from the penthouse to the gutter. :)

  32. Vegan says:

    Greenpa, awesome!

  33. Mike says:

    Unfortunately, things are different for this modern economic depression. The end of cheap energy and the end of cheap food ensure this. We’ll have much less of everything. And ever more people every year on the Earth competing for fewer and fewer resources.

  34. P.Price says:

    Keep writing…keep writing…keep writing….

    Ordinary people may be ready to listen at long last.

  35. MEA says:


    While I agree with in principle, I think the sort of tooth trouble Rosa refered to (and I was thinking of when I wrote the post, but didn’t mention) are not a crooked smile that is merely a cosmetic problem, but the sort of dental trouble that results in missing teeth (and a heck of a lot of pain). If you are missing front teeth and don’t have a plate or implants or bridge or whatnot, it’s very hard to get any sort of work where you are interacting with the general public, and harder in general to get hired.



  36. Elizabeth says:

    MEA, I totally agree and was not referring to Rosa’s comment. I was actually referring specifically to cosmetic dental issues, not pathological. Sorry for the confusion.

  37. MEA says:

    Thanks, Elizabeth. Gotcha.

    BTW, your courner of WV sounds very nice.


  38. Elizabeth says:

    It really is!

  39. Bart Anderson says:

    Something that hasn’t been mentioned - “poverty” is a social category.

    In the rich and ostentatious city where I currently live, we are “poor”, living a simple, unglamorous life.

    If we were in a blue collar neighborhood of the 50s, we’d fit right in.

    If we lived in most parts of the Third World, we would be wealthy.

    I’ve found that the pain of poverty has everything to do with being the butt of snobbishness and an unresponsive government.

    Bart / Energy Bulletin

  40. Dan says:

    Excellent post Sharon. I somehow found your new book in a small bookstore in rural Washington State while waiting for a ferry and have been very impressed some 200+ pages in. You get it. In a way that most of the prognosticators of the End do not. I love your inherent optimism. Derrick Jensen may be right, but I’m not ready (nor does he seem to be), to commit my body to the worms. I’ll keep trying wherever these roads take us.

    This collapse can be an opportunity for re-birth for many of us; a way to get back on track and reclaim what’s important.

    Unfortunately, there are going to be many who aren’t so lucky. The landless urban poor who left willingly or were forced off their ancestral lands over the past 10-30 years have no place to go and nothing to fall back on. When the retail stores close, the factories aren’t far behind. And when left with no home to go home to, I fear for what that means for the millions who have their ability to eat staked on our constant consumption of their cheap labor and goods. The ripple will be a tsunami. From those struggling here with $7/hr retail jobs who can’t find work to those subsisting on their $1.50/day from the shoe factory, it’s going to get ugly for those already on the margins.

    I’ve got a secure job for the forseeable future. I don’t love it, but I can keep it to support my family. I’m downshifting like crazy to squirrel as much as I can away for the days to come, but at this hour, my notion of poverty is completely voluntary.

    There are just so many sides to this mess. I thank you for helping us think through it and consistently reminding us that despite every dark cloud on the horizon, you can still look towards the basics of human kindness to be a light in your life. Love the ones your with.

  41. Rosa says:

    Bart, not all poverty is relative. There is a kind of poverty where you routinely don’t have enough to eat, where your kids are developmentally delayed by environmental poisons or hunger, where your teeth rot in your head and the bacteria from that give you meningitis or heart disease, where you walk on sprained or broken bones because if you don’t go to work or haul wood you will starve or freeze - or, in an American city, because if you can’t pretend all day to be housed you will be arrested and possibly beaten, but if you try to stay in the shelter after morning kickout you will be blackballed from the shelter system and not have anywhere safe and warm to sleep.

    I don’t think that’s what Sharon is talking about, but it’s important when we talk about this stuff not to forget that real, desperate, killing poverty exists, all around us.

  42. PostCarbon Rhode Island » Blog Archive » Sharon Astyk: Ordinary Human Poverty says:

    [...] and potential responses, that (surprise) require us to learn how to better work in community. Here’s the full article. The only way to live in the world of ordinary human poverty is to live there in a world where your [...]

  43. Ordinary Poverty « Strictly Free Thoughts says:

    [...] Here’s a must read from Sharon Astyk at Casaubon’s Book.    Check out links in this article and her other blog posts too. I echo Rod Dreher’s [...]

  44. The Triumph of Distopian Naratives « Strictly Free Thoughts says:

    [...] a somewhat depressing blog chain that went from Rod Dreher at Crunchy Conto Sharon Astyk at Casaubon’s Book, on to Dmitry Orlov at ClubOrlov. The discussion that is evolving among these various commentaters [...]

  45. cheritycall says:

    Hello, Do something to help those hungry people from Africa and India,
    I created this blog about that subject:
    at http://tinyurl.com/5hu74e

  46. The Effects of Climate Change - a reality check | Heresy Snowboarding says:

    [...] what we’re talking about is a new age of humanity. Have a read of this. It seems hard to imagine, surrounded by iPods, TVs, cars - anything that we want, when we want - [...]

  47. Alla Zimbelman says:

    To tell the truth, I am voiceless. The Shawshank Redemption is wonderful. I’am not too old film fanatic, actually, this movie is realised the same yearI was born, and thence I am to a greater extent used to films with marvellous special effects, edge-of-your-seat action, et cetera. This movie has zero of that, and however, it appeals me very . The way Frank Darabont applies the narration of Red to drive on the tale, the excellent the music applied (note the mouth harp used just earlier Red getting the letter close to the end). The whole movie, from start to finish, from actions to sound, is a beacon of hope, judgement, and repurchase. The cast is perfect, Morgan Freeman(Red) actually brings about a fresh feel to the film, and that is exactly what the film is, what a film should be. Highly recommended for every viewer.

  48. Beats By Dre Kopfhörer says:


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