A new breed of South Africans is emerging, a new subculture, perhaps. It is composed of those who do not merely want to be rich, but who want be filthy, stinking rich; obscenely rich.
One of the things that one often hears is that crime is caused by poverty. But that is not strictly true. Criminologists who have researched the matter report that in societies where people are very poor, there is often relatively little crime. What causes the crime rate to rise is the income gap between the rich and the poor.
My blogging friend Dion Forster notes another effect of the income gap between rich and poor — it can lead to genocide — Wishes of youth and the winds of war – I was a soldier once – BLOG – Dion Forster – An uncommon path:
In Fiennes’ book he notes, among other things, that the conditions that are necessary for genocide to occur include:
- An impoverished population
- A large gap between those who ‘have’ and those who ‘do not have’
- A clearly identifiable minority grouping that has access to wealth and power
- The development of a racial or ethnic ideology that places groups of persons in opposition to one another
- Corrupt, power hungry and irresponsible politicians
I wondered how many of these elements could be ticked off a list of criteria in South African society? We have much work to do in order to bring equality, overcome animosity, and combat false and harmful racial and ethnic ideologies.
A few days ago I noted in another blog post Black and white perceptions of South Africa’s problems | Khanya:
People sometimes like to talk about poverty as the cause of crime. But it is much less common for people to talk about it the other way round — of crime as the cause of poverty. Yet much of the poverty in places like Mamelodi is caused by crime — white crime.
Two of the ways in which people achieve their ambition to become filthy stinking rich are politics and crime. Criminologists who have noted that the crime rate increases where the gap between rich and poor increases have also noticed that criminals do not generally rob and steal to feed their starving families. They steal because they want to be filthy stinking rich. Their ill-gotten gains are used for conspicuous consumption.
As for politics, we all know about tenderpreneurs. Thabo Mbeki, the former president of the ANC and South Africa, spoke on this phenomenon at the very conference where the ANC voted him out as leader — that unscrupulous businessmen tried to take over ANC branches, and get themselves or their favoured candidates elected at the branches in areas that controlled municipalitries, and used their position to get lucrative contracts and tenders.
This is not unique to South Africa, it is found all over the world.
There are those who still say that the ANC has not made the mental transition from liberation movement to a political party. But the problerm is the other way round. Those who remember what it was to be a liberation movement are a diminishing minority, and are being swamped by those who see politics as a means of becoming filthy stinking rich.
In writing this, I’m not being an investigative journalist. I’m not trying to dig up the dirt on corrupt politicians and businessmen. I haven’t named names nor cited instances of these things in footnotes. I’ve written about perceptions, about gossip, about impressions. And the purpose is not to find and condemn the guilty.
Our struggle, as St Paul says, is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, the authorities, against spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenlies (Eph 6:10-12).
The problem is not individual sinners, but sin itself.
And the problem is not merely individual sins, but rather the inversion of values.
As Isaiah says:
Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isa 5:20)
Those who desire to be filthy stinking rich do so because of greed.
Christians in the past have seen greed and lust as passions that we should seek to control. But there are new ideologies abroad in the world that seek to invert this, and say that passions like greed and lust are good.
And so we find people, even people who claim to be Christians, saying that it’s OK to help the poor, but not by taking money from the rich “at gunpoint”. The “at gunpoint” is a peculiar code word among such people for “taxes”. What they mean is that money from taxes paid by the rich should not be used to help the poor. That, they say, is “theft”.
And so they invert Christian values; they call evil good and good evil.
St John Chrysostom says precisely the opposite:
“See the man,” He says, “and his works: indeed, this also is theft, not to share one’s possessions.” Perhaps this statement seems surprising to you, but do not be surprised. I shall bring you testimony from the divine Scriptures, saying that not only the theft of others’ goods but the failure to share one’s own goods with others is theft and swindle and defraudation. What is this testimony? Accusing the Jews by the prophet, God says, “The earth has brought forth her increase, and you have not brought forth your tithes; but the theft of the poor is in your houses.” Since you have not given the accustomed offerings, he says, you have stolen the goods of the poor. He says this to show the rich that they hold the goods of the poor even if they have inherited them from their fathers or no matter how they have gathered their wealth. And elsewhere the Scripture says, “Deprive not the poor of his living.” To deprive is to take what belongs to another, for it is called deprivation when we take and keep what belongs to others.
Thus if the government uses the taxes paid by the rich to provide basic necessities for the poor, such as housing or health services, it is not theft, but rather the recovery of stolen property. To call taxes used in such a way “theft” is to invert Christian values, and to call good evil and evil good.
Adulterers may repent. Thieves may repent. Murderers may repent. And when we experience lust or greed or other passions we may repent and struggle against them.
But those who call greed and lust good cannot repent.
This ideological inversion was propounded by Ayn Rand in the 1940s and 1950s, and spread to the institutions of state and society in the West, especially in the 1980s, until it has now permeated much of society and people’s values as the insidious propaganda for it continues and increases.
We may never be able to remove inequalities of wealth; we may never be able to eliminate the gap between the rich and the poor. But we can and ought to resist the ideology that says that it is a good thing, and that the passions that maintain it are to be encouraged.
This post is part of the February 2012 Synchroblog – Extreme Economic Inequality | synchroblog in which different bloggers write blog posts on the same theme, and provide a list of the other posts so that people can follow the theme by surfing from one post to another.
Other posts in this month’s Synchroblog are:
- Marta Layton – Fear Leads to Anger. Anger Leads to hate …
- Kathy Escobar – Pawn Shops, Empty Refrigerators, The Long Hill Up
- Carol Kuniholm – Wondering About Wealth
- Glenn Hager – Shrinking The Gap
- Jeremy Myers – Wealth Distribution
- Liz Dyer – The First Step Is Admitting There Is A Problem
- Ellen Haroutunian – Economic Inequality: Coming Back To Our Senses
- K.W. Leslie – Wealth, Christians, and Justice
- Abbie Watters – My Confession