Why Are The Poor So Evil?
The other day we were driving home after a pleasant afternoon on the golf course. That day, publicity had just been accorded the now thoroughly discredited UN report on an allegedly very dim situation for children in New Zealand. Driving home we switched on "Larry William's Drive" only to be assailed instead with the coruscating brilliance of stand in, Susan Wood.
Susie may not the brightest pin in the cushion, but she is very definitely representative of the fashionable chardonnay sipping set. She is duly outraged at child abuse, or human degradation of whatever sort. She thinks with her gut--which is to say, emotively. In all of this she represents the norm for the chattering classes or the commentariate.
In the ensuing discussion on the plight of children in New Zealand, Susie expressed her agreement with one of the allegations made in the UN report. The allegation was that 20% of children in New Zealand lived in "income poverty". It was inferred that of course those families would be dysfunctional. Now it is patently obvious--beyond dispute--that the overwhelming majority of child abuse in this country occurs in homes (usually consisting of "blended families") who are "poor" on the New Zealand scale. Child abuse is far less prevalent in families where not only are the parents decently educated, but they have jobs and don't rely on social welfare benefits.
Now to Susie and her cohort colleagues it is axiomatic that poverty causes crime. The thing that was striking on the radio was the emphatic "of course" kind of claim that she (and by implication all educated and intelligent people) believe this to be self-evident.
Now, this is not self-evident at all. Why? Well, firstly it is logically inadequate. As has been observed many times, co-incidence does not mean, nor necessarily imply, causality. If I beat my drum at 6.00pm every night and then the sun goes down, the co-incidence of a drum beating and the sun setting does not necessarily imply that my drum caused the sun to set.
Secondly, in order for Susie's proposition to be self-evident, suppressed assumptions upon which she and those in her cohort are drawing need to be truthful and right. These assumptions will be some sort of variant of economic determinism: the belief that money or wealth determines ethics, beliefs, and human behaviour. One form of economic determinism was and is Marxism. But the more trendy chardonnay-socialism draws upon the same assumptions. The tenets making up economic determinism are built, in turn, upon some permutation of evolutionary materialism: the assertion that matter is all that exists and matter determines human action.
Now, if Susie were a committed evolutionary materialist or an economic determinist we can understand why she would express the views that she did. But we suspect that she has never thought about it. If she had thought about it, she would know that the idea of material causality is highly contentious, and she would not have assumed it to be self-evident. Rather, we believe she was simply repeating the proposition that poverty causes child abuse because it is the shared view amongst her cohort, and it co-incides with emotive and paternalistic sentiments of pity towards those less well off than herself.
Thirdly, Susie has a lot of explaining to do. Since even the most desperately poor person in New Zealand lives like a king when compared to the greater majority of the world's population, she needs to explain why poverty stricken and afflicted families in Africa and Asia do not abuse their children far worse than the way we in New Zealand do.
Fourthly, is Susie really asking us to believe that if only we gave poorer New Zealand families more money and lifted their standard of living, not only child abuse would disappear, but, by implication most crime in the country. That would appear to be the logical concomitant of her position.
Matter does not cause evil. Electrons do not produce wickedness, any more than a lamp-post is intrinsically evil. Malice, greed, pride, lust, envy, anger, selfishness, pride, self-indulgence--these produce outworkings of evil. These produce family breakdown, bitterness, hatred, and destructive human relationships. Moreover, once in a state of impoverishment, these sins and concupiscences of heart work to keep people poor.
This of course would turn Susie's argument on its head: because some people hate their children and their de-facto spouses and their own lives, they languish in poverty. Now, of course this causality would need to be demonstrated. And like all societal research there will always be exceptions; we will only ever be talking about tendencies and averages. Moreover, there is the complicating factor of family conditioning: those who have been abused as children so often grow up to be abusive.
But the notion that human evil is caused by a lower relative standard of living is specious. Sin is not a socio-economic class construct. The sooner we get rid of it, the better. But along with its passing, all the various "materialisms" will also have to be thrown out. And that would be an uncomfortable moment for us all. For if evil is not economically determined, whence its seat and source?
Might not the Living God actually have to be reckoned with, when He says through the mouth of His prophet: "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it"? (Jeremiah 17:10) "No, no, no!" would scream the modern sophisticate. Anything but that.
Then again, the heart of the modern sophisticate is likewise deceived and desperately wicked, and is not to be trusted for a moment in such things. Susie, the chattering classes, and the commentariate are hardly disinterested in the matter.