Give poor Rishi Sunak a break! He’s what we used to call ‘handicapped’, although my guess is that this term is now deprecated. I use the word here at the risk of provoking apoplexy in the army of self-appointed gatekeepers who seem determined to fine-tune all possibility of offensiveness from our language, because it so nicely describes Sunak’s condition.
Handicapped simply means significantly disadvantaged relative to some norm. For people with a deficit of limbs or senses, the handicap is obvious. Something like dyslexia may be less immediately apparent, but it is a handicap nonetheless in that the dyslexic person is disadvantaged relative to the ‘normal’ person in an environment overwhelmingly evolved and designed for ‘normal’ people.
Rishi Sunak’s handicap is of the less obvious variety. To all appearances, he is provided with what ‘normal’ people would regard as the full complement of limbs and senses. ‘Normal’ being defined in this context as equipped with something approximating the optimum physical and mental apparatus required to function in the environment. For most purposes, Rishi Sunak seems adequately equipped. He can walk, pick things up and carry them, see, hear and speak. All of these things he can do without evident difficulty. Although aspersions have been cast on his ability to utilise two or more of these capacities simultaneously, for our purposes let us assume that Sunak is in all regards other than the one to be identified, ‘normal’.
Rishi Sunak cannot imagine what it is like to be poor. I stress the word ‘cannot’ here. He lacks the ability to imagine poverty. He has no capacity for empathy with poor people because he is totally unable to picture himself in those circumstances. The condition from which Sunak suffers is called ‘wealth’. Wealth is defined as control of resources. Being rich is having a lot of money – more than is required. Being wealthy is having that level of control over resources which allows for the certainty of always having more of everything than is required.
The rich can imagine their pot of money draining away or being stolen or whatever. They can imagine being rendered poor. I doubt they spend much of their time in such reveries. But poverty is sufficiently conceivable to the rich that they may experience insecurity – albeit mild relative to the poor. Poverty is inconceivable to the wealthy because the fundamental purpose of wealth is not owning mansions with swimming pools but reducing insecurity to sub-negligible levels.
The poor live lives defined by insecurity. The wealthy live lives defined by the absence of insecurity. They are almost a different species.
The poor can readily imagine what it would be like to be rich. Although the ability to imagine being wealthy may be less often realised as the difference between wealth and riches is not universally appreciated. The wealthy cannot even imagine being merely rich, far less being poor. If you are reading this, it is impossible (literally!) for you to imagine being unable to read. No description of illiteracy can help you simulate the condition in yourself. Likewise, no account of poverty and its associated insecurity can conjure in the minds of the wealthy an appreciation of that condition. Describing poverty to a wealthy person is a bit like trying to describe colours to someone blind from birth.
Poverty is a blight on society not due to any lack of possessions. Nor even to relative deprivation in terms of possessions. What makes poverty appalling is not a shortage of money, but an excess of insecurity. It’s not so much being cold and hungry that is debilitating. What corrodes the soul is knowing that you will be cold and hungry tomorrow. Rishi Sunak has never known a day when the sole focus of all his thoughts and the single purpose of all his actions was to find enough food and warmth for himself and those he cares about. For the genuinely poor, every day is like that.
Rishi Sunak is handicapped. Maybe we should make allowances. But maybe we shouldn’t make him Chancellor of the Exchequer.
If you find these articles interesting please consider a small donation to help support this site and my other activities on behalf of Scotland’s independence movement.