Cultural Cruelty: Keeping the Poor, Poor

From the economist John Goodman comes this observation (Bad Parents, Poor Kids):

Charles Murray has warned that the really important inequality that has been emerging — a dangerous inequality — is not inequality of income. It is the separation of two cultures. Upper-income, highly educated households (including politically liberal households) tend to respect traditional values. They may say they are cultural relativists. But they don’t practice cultural relativism. These tend to be intact households — ones with mothers and fathers — where parents invest a lot of time, money and energy in their children. Among lower-income, less-educated households there is starkly different behavior.

Goodman illustrates here one cruelties of our contemporary culture—specifically the tendency to preach cultural and moral relativism for all while practicing anything but in one’s own life. Live and let live? No, I don’t think so and a society that tries for this kind of tolerance dooms the poor to remain poor. Why do I say this?

As I’ve said before (here), for those above certain level of income and social status—think the wealthy and well connected—a wide range of morally bad behaviors are at least practically tolerably. With enough money or status the powerful are able largely to insulate themselves from most of the immediate natural consequences of their own bad behavior. But precisely because they are socially and materially well off, they are able to influence the larger culture—think here of who Hollywood movie producers that make movies that glorify violence, drug use, sexual promiscuity and a host of other social and personal moral ills—while at the same time holding themselves apart from the consequences moral decay they sponsor and from which they profit financially and socially.

A bit later in his post, Goodman offers an interesting example of what I’m calling cultural cruelty.   Look at the “trend in out-of-wedlock births among non-Hispanic whites.”  For “college graduates, the number is less than 10% and there has been little change in the past 15 years …[while]  among those with no more education than a high school degree, the number has been soaring and is now above 50%!” The cost of sexual promiscuity in terms of out-of-wedlock births and there financial and social consequences for such births rests more heavily on those who are less educated and who have both lower incomes both in real terms and potentially.   It is simply cruel to model—much less encourage—bad behavior that will invariably have harsher consequences on those who are least able to bear them. Think of this as the moral equivalent of “price gauging” or an unjust monopoly.

So how do we as Christians respond to this? In my next post, I return to Goodman’s argument and offer some suggests.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory


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