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The ‘evil vices’ of the poor

These are oft-repeated criticisms of the poor. They remain poor because they engage in drinking, smoking, gambling, drugs and other evil vices. They’re ignorant because they watch mindless telenovelas and silly noontime shows. They’re prone to illnesses because they have an unhealthy diet.

Viewed from the veranda of the rich, these criticisms sound ostensibly legitimate. But dig into the reasons why the poor acquire those vices and habits. Then consider the vices used by the rich as their own coping mechanisms in facing life’s difficulties. You realize there’s little difference between the privileged and the underprivileged in facing the strains of life.

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This is not an attempt to justify, but only to shed light on the context and reasons as to why the poor are prone to take on vices for which they are greatly maligned.

The archetypal image of the vilified poor is that of a shirtless guy who engages in smoking and drinking with his group of equally shirtless buddies outside of his urban or rural shanty. Missing from the framed image, however, is the picture of the same guy sweating all day doing backbreaking work as construction worker, street vendor, or farmer. As manual laborer, he toils through very tiring work for the entire six days of his workweek.

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Now picture the model of a business executive who works in the confines of his air-conditioned office. His work entails taxing the cerebrum but not a single sweat flows from his brow. Whenever the going gets mentally tough, he will end his day with a bottle of wine or scotch whiskey and a box of rolled cigars shared with his friends. Other executives would end their emotionally grueling day with a round of beer in a music lounge.

It’s true, the manual laborer and his shirtless pals are eyesores as they drink in full public view by the roadside. But all that betrays is their lack of living rooms big enough to serve as venue. They go shirtless as a body ventilation stratagem, and as a means to minimize laundry work.

It’s true a manual worker drinks and smokes disproportionately more often. But that’s proportionate to the number of days that he endures tough corporal work, which is every single work day of his life. Corporate executives experience intermittent days of mental stress, in contrast.

Imagine being trapped in a life of penury, with an overly fatigued body at the end of each work day, and with no hope of a better future in the horizon. You would grasp at little pleasures that would provide balm to your weary body. These little pleasures, derided as evil vices, are all your meager pay can afford. You either die having only known hardship all your life or live with your days punctuated with simple but pleasurable delights.

With each day guaranteed as an arduous day of hard labor, it should be easier to fathom why the less privileged resort
to the instant entertainment provided by telenovelas and noontime shows, and the flash of gratification afforded by a
liter of soft drink, a bottle of gin and a pack of cigarettes. Even the resort to drugs — which anesthetizes pain and sadness,
or boosts endurance for hard labor — becomes a fathomable frailty.

What are the options for the rich when they decide to rest their weary souls? There’s an array of selections: a shopping jaunt at the mall, a day at the golf course, a set of tennis matches, a few hours at the cinema, a weekend at the beach and a trip abroad.

Indulging in vices is the recourse of the poor to squeeze whatever little happiness they can get from a woeful life. Vices are like a can of Coke that breaks the monotony of tasteless water as one travels through an endless desert. If there’s a visible oasis in the horizon — a figurative embodiment of a future better life made possible by access to education, business capital, or marketable skills — perhaps the lure of vices will dissipate. The abundance of vices among the poor is a symptom of hopelessness.

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The Holy Week that just passed allowed the rich to head to Baguio, go to Boracay, or travel to Hong Kong. The poor celebrated the resurrection of Christ with a bottle of gin and a plate of chicharon bulaklak.

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TAGS: Flea Market of Ideas, Joel Ruiz Butuyan, Poverty, vices of the poor
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