People with steady jobs and incomes, who are assured of having enough money to go to school, to the doctor or clinic; who can save some money, buy enough food and clothing to last a while; who can plan for the future; all too often coast along without thinking very much or having to fall back on their resourcefulness. But there is no coasting for the slum dweller. Everything is now, today, and each day is a new struggle for survival. The gains made yesterday were maybe enough, but they were consumed yesterday. Nothing carries over, except the needs. Slum dwellers share something with people caught in a war zone, where the infrastructure of society has been interrupted or destroyed. They have to scrounge and improvise, just to have the basics pf shelter, food, heat. To survive, they have to be inventive. But the people in the war zone can look forward to the end of war, the restoration of society and its services. The slum dwellers have no such prospect. For them the war, its brutalities and atmosphere of cruelty and indifference to human life, never ends.
There is much that is admirable in the way that slum dwellers struggle against overwhelming adversity, but admiration must be tempered by the realization that they do not struggle because they choose to, out of principle, or in the service of high social or political ideals, but because of their desperation at the brutal limits of survival. It is a mistake—and a grave disservice to them—to imagine that their ingenuity, resourcefulness, and capacities for self-organization can in any way serve as models for our present global society. To believe so would be to endorse the dog-eat-dog ethics that rule their lives and, all too often, those occupying society’s more economically advantaged classes.
See also: I cite: Why Agamben?