A matter of justice, not charity

There are four kinds of poor people: those who don’t have anything to eat or the basic health services, those who don’t have access to the most elemental education, those who don’t know they are poor and finally, those who don’t even know they are human beings. There are millions of beings who have accepted their inhumane situation with a horrible fatalism. They obey, drag themselves and suffer because they don’t have the strength to either rebel themselves or to demand what naturally belongs to them.  

United Nations numbers repeat themselves and show that there are more than one billion poor people in the world, that 1.5 billion don’t have access to clean water; that the situation has gone beyond the social sphere and has become inhumane; and that there will be space for any form of explosion. Those whose dignity and whose basic rights to benefit from the goods and the services created by society are not recognized can’t be subjected to man’s law. Private property can never be absolute because it is always mortgaged by the right to life and the basic well being of all human beings. Basic rights are not the product of effort, inheritance or fortune; they are inherent to human condition.

When those basic rights have been infringed, poverty and marginalization become exclusion, the “social bomb” denounced by Butros Galli in Copenhagen’s Summit.

Many people, the so-called “homeless” live on the streets of many large cities. These situations are the result of mental illness, attention problems of the community, broken families, addiction to drugs or to alcohol, difficulties to become adapted after serving sentences in prison or immigrants who face a society that doesn’t take care of them while it keeps high levels of unemployment and of labor precariousness. Uprooted people take part of the wider “social exclusion” context, which cannot be simply reduced to the lack of home.

Many of these men and women have been rejected by official institutions or depend on them because they have been their guests at mental institutions, at the orphanage, in prison, in social diners. In many cases, the absence of a home or a bed, the rigor of the cold or the asphyxia of the summer heats are the least relevant matters. The saddest of all lacks is not to be aware of one’s own dignity as a person, of one’s rights and duties. The most aberrant thing is to fall on apathy’s hands and on the cynical attitude as a result of not having someone else to love us. The cause of all this is that natural rights are not being recognized.

We have called them beggars, poverty-stricken, etc. These are derogatory terms that do not respond to the more diverse reality we want to describe. Nowadays we use the term “homeless” because it implies a common lack of family, roots, friendship, love and any other factor that would suggest human closeness. But there are other forms of exclusion, like the ones elderly people, chronically ill or disabled people suffer each day.

The problem is less acute in rural societies because it is framed in the ancestral concept of the great family and of solidarity. In the largest cities of the developed world where all those evils come out with all their harshness, lacerating the most elemental justice. Immigration without assistance, family dismemberment, consumerism and overwhelming squandering, the loss of values and criteria other than maximum benefit, the triumph over others and of the “anything goes” attitude as long as we possess in detriment of the natural rights of being.

Patches of good intentions and charity are not enough to silence those who have the right to demand their realization in terms of justice, no matter how respectable they are. The Declarations of Human Rights and political rights are not enough if they do not become social rights for all. That is the great pending assignment of the European Union, where almost three million people who are recognized as “excluded”, and in the rest of the industrialized countries of the sociological North. Things don’t belong to their owners, they belong to those who need them. And it is legitimate to take by strength what is not obtained through justice given that the due to resistance in front of tyrannical situations converts into a legitimate right when the weakest people suffer. Nobody has been born to suffer and fantasies of hypothetical futures are not welcome. Paradise is nothing other than the projection of the myth of the Golden Age over the future.

* Professor of Political Thought (UCM) and CCS Director
   Translated by Carlos Miguélez