"Middle-class societies are newcomers to history, having existed for only about two hundred years. My own middle-class 'tribe' is a peculiar bunch. We're not all bad people, by any means, just a minority under an illusion shared by many minorities, that we are the center of gravity of the universe. The poor can free us from that fantasy.

"Don't get me wrong. The middle-class cultures of the North have made extraordinary advances in civilization. While many came at great cost to despoiled nations and races, they are nonetheless historic achievements. I mean even the ambiguous technological progress, but especially the spiritual, cultural, and political breakthroughs: the unheard-of opportunities, political liberties, democracy, modern science, the critical consciousness of the Enlightenment. No need to disparage these. Yet we too pay a high price for our freedoms and economic security. While they allow us to pursue our personal life-projects, they generate a spirit of go-it-alone individualism. They separate us from each other. More serious still, they distance us from the poor and their daily struggle for life. The vast majority of all the human beings who have ever lived have had to battle every day to keep the household alive against the threats of hunger, disease, accidents, and violence. By removing us from the daily threat of death, the benefits of modernity induce in us a chronic low-grade confusion about what is really important in life: namely, life itself and love. To make matters worse, our technology and media lead us to believe that our perspective on life is on target, indeed the norm. The victims stop us short; they show us that they, the marginalized, are at the center of things. We who nosh in Washington and Paris cafes are on the fringe. We clearly need these people more than they need us."