Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Understanding and Insight

I first learned about Living Below the Line at the Wellington Candidates Meeting - it was not auspicious introduction. James Shaw mentioned that he was doing it and therefore he wouldn't be putting on weight to look like the other Wellington Central candidates; the audience laughed in that way people do when you mention fatness - there doesn't need to be an actual joke. And I sat at the back rolling my eyes - "because obviously there is no correlation between poverty and fatness in New Zealand."

"Living Below the Line" is a five day challenge where people live on $2.25 a day, with the purpose of both raising money and awareness. Apparently: "it allows thousands of people in New Zealand to better understand the daily challenges faced by those trapped in the cycle of extreme poverty"

This 'understanding' is facilitated through a completely arbitrary set of rules: you're not allowed to accept anything free, you must include the cost of a whole packet of anything you use a bit of, you don't have to count the travel to get food, you don't have to worry about the cost of cooking fuel, and you can use whatever fancy pants equipment you've got in your kitchen.

I find everything about it, the rules, the blogposts, the tweets, horrific and offensive on a very fundamental level.

Poverty is not a fucking game.

Poverty does not have rules except you have to do it again tomorrow. Poverty is not new or exciting. Poverty is not neatly quarantined to one area of your life. Poverty is not something you can control with neatly defined parameters. And it does not come with prizes.

If people want to use stupid gimmicks to fundraise then I'm probably not going to both writing a blogpost about it. But to pretend that this highly structured game will promote insight or understanding is an insult to the women and men (but mostly women) who have to feed themselves and other people with inadequate resources year in and year out.

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