2 December, 2023


Poverty And Impoverishment

By Arjuna Seneviratne –

Arjuna Seneviratne

A medicant lives on just four requisites. Scraps of discarded cloth dyed in the boiled juices of tree bark to cover his body, scraps of food begged from here and there to feed him, a tree to provide him with shelter from the elements and cow’s urine as medicine. The common denominator for all of these is a) they cost nothing and b) they are abundantly available. They provide him with all his material requisites.

Now, the question that comes to mind is this: Is a medicant poor? On the surface it would seem so. However, if he were asked he would probably respond with the German proverb “A poor person isn’t he who has little but he who needs a lot” Indeed!

The keyword here is “need”. Need, not lack of accumulation or lack of wealth or lack of position or lack of power, determines who is poor and who is not.  So, if one were to minimize need, one would minimize poverty. Eradicate need and one eradicates poverty.

OMG! Is this really true? But of course!  And yet, “come come” I hear you say “…everyone has needs so everyone is poor at some level or other”.  Brilliant. “True. Glad you acknowledge that you are poverty stricken pal” I retort. “No! I didn’t mean to say that. That’s not what I meant!” comes the outraged counter from you. “Ah! Pal, who are we kidding? Regardless of what you wanted to say, what you’d really want is words such as ‘poor’ and ‘poverty’ redacted from any measure of your ‘worth’, right? Having those in there implies a negative balance to your idea of your own wealth, mm?  Rather, you would want a positive spin put on it and instead of counting the things you need, you’d rather count the things you have right?”

Therein lies the problem with the world. You see, what a person has or doesn’t have has not the slightest bearing on how poor that person is. From her dream man, to his dream boat, to her dream home, to his dream position, it is what one dreams of having but cant that truly causes people to suffer that mind bending pain and desperation commonly associated  with paucity.

“Aspirations” therefore, like its partner “need”, contrary to popular belief, has the opposite effect to the one intended. Instead of allowing one to reach even a basic  level of contentment, it forces one to rev up one’s wants to the umpteenth degree, forcing one to live very large segments of one’s life fretting, fuming and fumbling, unable to get to grips with what flies and what dies in the happiness department. The aspiring, needy, goal driven people of this earth, therefore, live their lives out not entirely like whirling dervishes, mostly unsatisfied, always uncomfortable, never happy, definitely poor, until death mercifully takes them, removing them from that self-inflicted hell also known as life-on-earth. For them, poverty is indeed the worst form of violence and it is mostly self-inflicted. You thought that Gandhi was about other people right? Gotcha!

Now, here is the insanity of it all: “Life-on-earth”, in its majority, thinks it is actually fashionable to live like this. In fact, it thinks this is the best way to live. Not only that, it promotes this as the only way to live. “Expand your choices”, “become greater than you are”, “fly with the eagles”, “become achievers” are all straplines we hear repeated in a monotonous rote that gives religious chants a good run for its money.  It doesn’t take rocket science to very quickly figure out the fallacy of this argument but, of all things that can cause people to be blind to simple stupid truths, “need” has the greatest potency.

Everyone knows this one would assume. One assumes wrong. All of the little post-its and old German proverbs that appear here and there, from time to time, saying the same thing in a hundred different ways, are simply there to be filed away under “sayings”. Or, to use their actual definition “things that are true but are either not fashionable or not convenient or not useful to practice in the here and now” *winks*


What we have as a result is not the blind trying to lead the blind, but rather the blind trying to tell those who can still see that lack of ocular faculties is actually good for one’s health. The blind, in their blindness, are trying to put out the eyes of those who see. The poor, in their poverty, are trying to drag those who are not into that hell pit.

Who promotes this kind of foolishness? Obviously, those who have the most, because they need the most and therefore measure everyone else’s lives by their yardstick of “wanting more”. And they are powerful enough to do it and have such fallacies as GDP, GNI, PCI (all based on what one has) to popularize it.

World “poverty” statistics say “Oh my gosh! Did you know that a full 80% of the people on this earth live on less than ten dollars a day???!!! That 50% live on just two and a half dollars a day???!!!” Oh PUH-LEEZ. People don’t live ON $2.50 for crying out loud. No one can. They live on other things. $2.50 is merely what they have.  But this fact is unknown to those that measure wealth by their individual accumulations. It is hidden from those who measure their “livability” by what they have. It is removed from those who call the un-needy who are supposed to live on a few dollars “poor”.

And so, in their aggression, armed with those aforementioned three letter dirty words, they declare their war on poverty and actually get buy-in for their effort from the nouveau uninformed.  Be they activists, advocates, creators of charities, placard holders – all of these well intentioned, good hearted fools have bought into the rubbish that is being sold to them by those who created the problem in the first place.

So, in their war, destructively, disastrously, they sell this horrid idea of poverty to the world and engage in rather charming little activities that go under the heading “poverty reduction”. Primarily what they are trying to do is make those who are content discontent. Wwhat they do in the name of poverty reduction is poverty production. HOOT!

Lordy lordy! That slicing was hilarious. It was. What a joke. ROFLMAO. But seriously folks, what about that half of the world whose as-at net worth is somewhere between USD 0 and 2.5? What on earth do they live on?

First, they live on not needing much… much like that medicant that was mentioned at the start of this post and the referral in that piece of German wisdom. Next, and this is crucial to the argument, they live on what they can use, not on what they can own. What are these? Free water, free fruit from the jungle, free access to land for cultivation, free air to breath, free smiles and communal giggles, free help from their communities. Basically, social wealth defined as something that is commonly available to all for use whenever one needs it, in just the right amounts, not too much, not too little.

Against this background, what do the poverty mongers do? How do they create the conditions for poverty for those that have no idea what it is? Having defined wealth the way they have, they attempt to acquire as many of the common resources as they possibly can so that essentially, the people who are supposed to live on $2.50 really do have to live on it since the things that their lives depended on are now in the hands of “those that have”. Emphasis – have.  Voila! Now, the well-heeled can rightly claim “OMG! 50% of the world actually lives on just 2.50 a day”. Where earlier, “poverty” per se was never a problem, this enforced impoverishment of common resources caused by a few people commandeering that which is used by most ensures true paucity. Over the last 400 years, these rats have taken everything that most people use and now call it their own. From world politicians to global policy planners to various movers, shakers and implementers right down to that not-so-innocent lady holding that there placard, this is what they did. This is what they continue to do. Poverty is one of the easiest commodities to sell and one of the best ways to get hold of geographies and people who would otherwise not be all that easy to control.

Wouldn’t you want to shoot them for this heinous crime they are either purposefully, ignorantly or legitimately perpetrating across this planet? Well, I don’t. I want to put them all in a humungous barrel and have every single person who has less than ten bucks to their name to spit once in it so that they drown in the saliva of 5.74 billion people who were never poor to start with but were impoverished by them.

So far, Sri Lankans have been relatively safe because of their culture of sharing and their use of communal strengths. However, this is changing rapidly within the current political economy. If this continues for just a few more years we will have an “Asian Winter” to deal with (We went through our spring, summer and autumn uprisings centuries ago). In that winter, all that we will all have to live on is blinding white darkness regardless of who is richer and who is poorer.

(This post was triggered by that “war on poverty” photograph that my friend Imtiyaz Razak posted on facebook recently. Thanks, friend. It gelled my thoughts on an issue I’ve been battling for close to a decade and allowed me to write a giggle on the rather well known poverty-impoverishment slicing)

*Other articles by the same author maybe found at arjunareflections@blogspot.com.uk

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Latest comments

  • 0

    I think today poverty is created by developed nations: look what they do ? They give loans to poor counties and get double interests: some countries can not pay back loans and interest: this interest system is cause of all evil. World economy is based on interest as long as interest is there more people will die out hunger: it is mere exploitation of rich : big companies control this world economy: who benefit out of it: only a few: today gap between rich and poor is widening why is this ? Because that is the world we live in today: if you more money you can make more: if you have little money you end up in bankruptcy today: it is system and it’s greed of a few that exploit world : look in India wealth is in the hand 20% of people the rest 80% live in poverty: poverty is increasing and increasing: you and me can do little: at least we have that sentiment for the suffering of poor:

    • 0

      Poverty is needed to maintain the capitalist society.

      Otherwise, there is no worker class. Then there will be no production. If workers are paid properly they will not work hard. Only if they work hard and then there is employee efficiency and work performance.

      Here Arjuna is mixing two sides of the same coin. That is Mendicants are about spiritual side of human beings. In that sense, material possessions are the worst enemy for the human happiness. So, the mendicants gives away every thing except the most basic things needed to maintain the life. that is the cloth that they are wearing and a bowl to eat foods. They accept poverty willingly.

      The other side is the people who want material possessions. They are the targets of the capitalist govts. Then there is impoverishment. If everybody is rich and doing well, there is no worker class.

      West is doing the same thing with the immigrants. they need immigrants to maintain their GDPs, new immigrants sustain the Consumer-driven society. They are the workers who produce and they are the consumers who contribute to the country’s well being.

  • 0

    Why does your mendicant engage in the worldly pursuit to dye anew his acquired discarded garments?

    • 0

      You need to live others’ lives in order to understand their lives.

    • 0

      thopi thopi:

      You know only about the bible.

      Here is the story, since the Ancient times, they used to collect the cloths that were used to cover dead bodies. died those cloths with the dye, dry and cut those into small pieces and would stitch back into a larger cloth and toa Robe. The reason is that would eliminate any attachment to the cloth. That was their robe.

      I am pretty sure, your questions and disgust are not yet over.

  • 0

    “Wouldn’t you want to shoot them for this heinous crime they are either purposefully, ignorantly or legitimately perpetrating across this planet”


    People have asked for it. So the govts give what they want.

    See a Mendicant is not asking anything from the govt except he is begging for his food and may sleep underneath a tree. what can the govt do for them ? nothing.

    Think of a situation that every human lives in a sense similar to the way of life of mendicants. I mean they go for very low amount of material possessions. What will happen to the govts, GDP, capitalism and their economic theories and statistics. All will fail.

    That is why, there is no point of shooting any one. Instead we have to learn. We have to understand.

    That is why it is said, we can teach the whole world. The most difficult thing to to teach our selves to teach us to examine ourselves.

  • 0

    Jim, I wish everyone was circumspect and looked inwards as you suggest instead of outwards. Things will be very much more manageable overall for that fact alone :)

    • 0


      I believe in Samsara. So, I believe that humans are also in different stages of the development. They started from some “very primitive stage” and become advanced life by life.

      So, some humans get into looking inward and looking around thing. Others are not so. When those who become advanced end their journey and more enter into that stream.

      Just my crazy imagination ha ?

      Read Theoretical Physics. Though it is supposed to be Science, it is very much about probabilities (Maths). In other words, imagination.

      By the way, world’s greatest Scientist during the last century, Albert Scientist was not a Scientist. He was a Mathematician.

  • 0

    Thopithopi, He doesn’t die it anew. When it is beyond repair, he uses it for a towel, then a rug, then gives it to be mixed with other material if it is required by others. The dying is simply to give it the color of dirt so it doesn’t upset others who would see someone wearing what is essentially dirty rags. These rags are washed once every two months in water only and only to get rid of the accumulated dust.

    Key point is not whether it is a worldly activity or not but rather, it is the minimal activity required to provide someone with the minimal necessities, reduce need to a minimum and make sure even those few needs are simple to find, free to acquire and commonly available.

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