We see the poor in these chicken bones under a seat in the bus.
We see the poor in these chicken bones under a seat in the bus. Charles Mudede

The French philosopher Jacques Rancière has written eloquently about the hatred of democracy. Along with this kind of hatred is a hatred of the poor. But whereas an intensely passionate hatred of democracy is exclusive to the rich, who use every opportunity to undermine it, the hatred of the poor is shared by the rich and the middle classes. Indeed, for reasons that are obvious and not so obvious, the middle class may even hate the poor more than the rich do.

(Note: Voter turnout is indeed much higher among the rich than it is among the poor, but voting rights are mostly empty if three key democratic institutions—public transportation, public education, public health—are weak.)

But this is to be expected, because in our society it is easy for the middle class to hate the poor—to hate their lack of money (stalling a line in a store as they count pennies for a pack of cigarettes or bottle of beer or bag of diapers or can of food), their seemingly endless run-ins with the law, their bad habits, their constant neediness. Indeed, the hatred of public transportation is intimately tied with the hatred of the poor. Middle-class types who are unfortunate enough to use the bus expose themselves to the talk, the begging, the bad health of the poor. But instead of blaming the society, they blame the form of transportation. The unpleasant practices connected with poverty thus reinforce a generalized sign system that identifies these practices not with social conditions but with individuals. Poverty is identified as a "life choice." The use of food stamps, a character flaw. You notice chicken bones under a bus seat. The hatred grows.

Hating the rich takes much greater emotional and intellectual effort. It is a hate that goes against the flow of influence. The rich are, after all, frequently celebrated on the covers of magazines and other media platforms. And what we must associate with the bad habits of the poor (those chicken bones, for example) is this relentless praise of the rich and the relentless dissemination of their values—which privilege private space far above shared space. The poor in our society are even alienated from their own values—which, to serve their interest, have to be communal. The result? Those in the middle class tend to hate the poor immediately and hate the rich when it's too late—a sudden loss of basic benefits, a home being foreclosed, a factory closing, a market crashing.