Does poverty diminish human dignity?
Please send me some web site I could search.
I'm sorry but I don't know a web site on this; I'm sure others will give you one. But here are some
thoughts for you. First, are you clear on what 'dignity' means? Does it mean, for example, doing only
what you consider ethical, i.e., not compromising your ideals? Does it mean being treated respectfully
by others? Does it mean doing what you want to do in life? Does it mean not being in anyone else's
power, or must you have power over others to have dignity? Does it mean not becoming upset by
circumstances? You can see that there are many possible meanings for that term, and I'm sure you
can think of others. But in order to answer your question fully, you need to have clearly in mind what
Here's one possible viewpoint on this question. There are several possible ways to support oneself.
One can be dependent on others for their support. One can inherit enough wealth to support oneself
without working. One can work for a living, doing something that one enjoys (and/or finds meaningful
and I'm not going to try to analyze that here). One can work doing something that one does not enjoy
or that one is indifferent to, and find enjoyable activities outside of work. Within that latter choice, one
can work as little as possible at jobs one does not enjoy, be poor, and spend the rest of their time
doing what they do enjoy; or one can work a 'normal' or greater than normal amount, either hoping
that effort will enable them to eventually do something they enjoy or not caring.
The first alternative may or may not retain dignity, depending on how one is dependent, what one
does or does not do, what is expected of one... and so forth. Usually, but not always, being
dependent seems to lessen 'dignity', however. Alternative two does not usually lessen dignity
because wealth confers automatic status, deserved or not, a human peculiarity... and status makes a
person believe, at any rate, that they have retained their dignity. Alternative three is perhaps the best
of all... and few attain it.
Some people choose alternative four... but since wealth confers status and poverty does not, any
poor person is seen by some, at any rate, as having less dignity. Whether this should be true is
another question, isn't it. However, poverty, given that one spends their time doing what one enjoys
and feels is meaningful, does not, it seems to me, lessen dignity at all. Alternative five is one where a
person hopes to attain wealth or a job that they enjoy, and sacrifices for it. Not unreasonable, given
even a slim chance that this might happen, and usually people perceived as doing this are perceived
as having dignity. The last alternative, where people work at something they do not find meaningful
and have no expectations of changing that, but do something enjoyable and meaningful outside of
work, seems to be the lot of much of humankind. As long as there is something meaningful in one's
life that one actively pursues, one is seen as having some dignity. The last alternative, then, is one
where there is no enjoyment of one's work and in addition no feeling outside of it that one can do
anything meaningful. Much of humankind lives like this also. How many are in this state and how
many in the previous is one of those horrible questions that many people try to avoid facing, because
the last alternative is a life with very little dignity.
So in answer to your question, poverty makes dignity less likely. Now the next job of analysis here
would be to look closely at 'enjoyment' and see what kinds involve dignity and which do not. I'm not
going to do that, except to point out that there is quite a bit of literature on a life lived, say, for sensual
pleasure versus a life lived for, say, intellectual pleasure.
Now the above analysis is, in essence, a kind of economic one. We might also do a power-oriented
one... where, instead of one's work providing the means of support, perhaps one's work provides
power over others. Usually the two are related, but not always. Does increasing power increase one's
dignity? It does seem that powerful people are understood, by and large, as having dignity. Thus we
see that dignity is not necessarily associated with being good or moral, since it is extremely difficult
for one to have power and retain one's morality... as history shows. And so we must ask whether
dignity is actually desirable in itself, or if other characteristics, which lead to dignity, are the desirable
ones... while yet others which lead to dignity are not desirable. You might think about that.
Steven Ravett Brown