Thursday, January 7, 2010

'Everybody Knows' Poverty Causes Terrorism: So How Come - - - ?

Poverty causes crime. 'Everybody' knows that.

Poverty causes the sort of crime that many of the oppressor classes call "terrorism." 'Everybody' knows that, too.

In some circles, everybody really does feel that those 'facts' are real.

Poverty, Crime, Terrorism, and - Excuse Me While I Rant

A blog post in The New York Times started with "Sec. Clinton gave an excellent speech on development today. She has a longtime interest in poverty issues...." (NYT blog)

Apparently Ms. Clinton and the entire very intelligent and caring Obama administration is doing everything it can to end world poverty. That's nice, by the way, in my opinion: the goal, anyway.

And, the blog post continued: "...In contrast, President Bush never seemed very interested in global poverty...."

This is not a political blog, as I've written before.

But, also as before, here in America politics determines who our leaders are - and, to a great extent, politics determines foreign policy. And that does fall within the scope of Another War-on-Terror Blog.

Poverty is Real, and It's No Virtue

Poverty - relative poverty, at any rate - is a part of the human condition. I'm "poor" by some standards: by choice. Lower middle class, at any rate, and certainly not living a 'typical' American lifestyle. (more at "Lemming Tracks: Lower Middle Class and Loving It" (December 14, 2009)) There was a time when I was glad to be living in a nine-by-twelve room with a window, and a lavatory with running water down the hall. My wife and I own the house we live in now, but it's no split-level ranch in the suburbs, or whatever the status house is this decade.

Not that I wouldn't mind having the mean $60,000 or so annual income of your 'average American household. (U.S. Census, 2004) I could even learn to live with owning a private jet, a helicopter, a chalet in Aspen to match the one in St. Moritz, and about a hundred square miles of northern Minnesota.

Like Tevye said, in "Fiddler on the Roof:"
Perchik: "Money is the world's curse."
Tevye: "May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover."

("Memorable Quotes for 'Fiddler on the Roof' "
I think that a person can practice virtue - or vice - while living in poverty. Or, while living with riches. Which gets into ideas like free will - and I'm dangerously close to wandering even more off-topic.

Poverty, Virtue, and What Everybody Knows That Just Ain't So

Assuming that there's a causal relationship between poverty and virtue or vice isn't limited to any one philosophical stance.

At one time, you'd be likely to hear from some goofy preacher that poor people are inherently honest and rich people aren't. That weird little belief went over big, apparently, among some congregations of people from the shallow end of the economic pool.

The flip side of that notion is the "prosperity gospel," which was popular a decade or so back, among another demographic. And was, I think, equally daft. But I'm getting off-topic again.

That's a couple flavors of Christianity in America. The idea that there's a cause-effect link between poverty and inappropriate behavior (not everybody believes that things can be "wrong") shows up in some of the 'better' circles of American culture, too.

I think that the resumes of the 9/11 hijackers and the people involved with the London-Glasgow car bombings helped shake the assumption that poverty causes crime. For a while, though, it looked like we'd have a new stereotype on our hands. ("Cool Heads, Lukewarm Brains, And Dr. Haneef" (July 30, 2007)) Which is yet another topic.

Poverty Causes Crime, Right?

Which is why crime ran rampant across all the land, during the Great Depression.

Wondering why you haven't read about that in your history text? The Great Depression Crime Wave didn't happen. Crimes were committed: but luminaries like "Pretty Boy" Floyd and Bonnie and Clyde (1932-1934) stick out, I think, because they were the exception to the rule. And, arguably, colorful individuals.

There doesn't seem to be some vast right-wing conspiracy to cover up a huge crime wave during the Great Depression. It simply didn't happen.

Implications of the lack of fit between the 'poverty-equals-crime' belief and America's monumental economic slump seem to be sinking in. About seven decades after the fact. ("Experts: Bad Economies Don't Cause Crime Waves," Laura Sullivan, National Public Radio (November 20, 2008))

And that is not getting off-topic.

Poor, Poverty-Stricken Osama bin Laden?!

Osama bin Laden, who put his family on America's cultural landscape back in 2001, probably isn't enjoying an affluent lifestyle right now.

Being intimately involved with an attack on America that resulted in about 3,000 deaths will do that. The fuss over Bonnie and Clyde is nothing, compared to American authorities' response to Al Qaeda.

Osama and his family weren't exactly poverty-stricken at the turn of the millennium.
"...Osama bin Laden is one of more than 50 children of a Yemeni-born migrant who made a vast fortune building roads and palaces in Saudi Arabia and his extended family spans the globe. Many have been educated in the United States and the family has donated millions of dollars to several American universities...."
(CBS News)
Incidentally: there's little-to-no reason to believe that many or most of Osama bin Laden's relatives share his views about killing people who aren't sufficiently Islamic - by Al Qaeda's standards. And, let's remember that the FBI helped many of them get out of America, before red-white-and-blue-blooded American nitwits lynched them.

Stereotypes: Convenient, But Poor Substitutes for Facts

I've run into quite a number of odd beliefs in my time. At various times, I've heard or read that:
  • Commies are behind all problems
  • American imperialists cause all problems
  • All problems are caused by
    • Blacks
    • Whites
    • Chinese
    • Japanese
    • Jews
    • Catholics
    • Religion
      • Especially Christianity
    • Whatever
  • Poverty causes crime
I'm a bit skeptical - to put it mildly - about all of the above. If nothing else, those sincerely-held beliefs paint reality in strokes that are 'way too broad.

Take 'American imperialism,' for example. I'm not happy about the way the Hawaiian Islands were confiscated, and I am happy that the federal government has finally started recognizing treaties it made with the American nations, well over a century ago. But I don't see big, bad Amerika as the imperialist warmonger it's made out to be in some circles.

After all, we recently elected a Hawaiian president: Is that really the act of imperialist oppressors?

And the notion that the way to fight terrorism is to end world poverty is - excessively hopeful, in my opinion.

I think it would be nice to reduce or, if possible, eliminate the root causes of poverty.

I'd also like to see an end to all disease, and live in a world where all women are beautiful, I could eat as much as I like and not gain weight, and cable television is free. Somehow, I don't think that's gonna happen.

But, although I don't think it's possible to eliminate relative poverty - human beings are too individual for that, in my opinion - I also think that trying to reduce or eliminate conditions which inhibit human enterprise are laudable.

Work to End Poverty? Fine! But Get a Grip

I think it would be folly to believe that poverty alone causes terrorism, and to treat terrorists the same way that we treat individuals who commit crimes.

As I wrote earlier this week, terrorists - the leaders, at least - don't seem to be misunderstood street kids who just need a break. And giving them art lessons doesn't seem to make them into nice people.

Acting on the basis of high ideals that were groovy when Woodstock was news might feel good. It would also, in my opinion, get a lot of people killed: people who weren't trying to kill other people who, like myself, aren't sufficiently Islamic. Again, by Al Qaeda's standards.

The War on Terror is a real war. Leaders of the other side won't like us, or even tolerate our existence, unless we embrace their peculiar brand of Islam. Which isn't all that likely, considering how much Americans and others like beer, dogs, and soccer.

More-or-less related posts: Background:

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.