Death

"The justice that was the sign of God's covenant with Israel was measured by how the poor and unprotected -- the widow, the orphan, and the stranger -- were treated. . . As followers of Christ, we are challenged to make a fundamental "option for the poor" -- to speak for the voiceless, to defend the defenseless, to assess lifestyles, policies, and social institutions in terms of their impact on the poor. . . Those with the greatest needs require the greatest response." Economic Justice 16
Your new moons and festivals I detest; they weigh me down, I tire of the load. When you spread out your hands, I close my eyes to you; though you pray the more, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood! Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim; redress the wronged, hear the orphan's plea, defend the widow. How have you turned promiscuous, the faithful city, so upright! justice used to lodge there, but now murders. Isaiah 1:14-17, 21

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A scary aspect of modern American social policy is the increase in death-talk about the poor. The Journal of the American Medical Association article referenced in the Crime section noted the growing problem of co-morbidity among the poor and the attitude among some government employees and politicians that poor drug users should die as a punishment for their social pathology. The LA Catholic Worker house associates feel that their most appropriate response to the current situation of the poor is to operate a hospice for the dying indigent. The Houston Catholic Worker reports: "The teenage guests of Casa Don Bosco have developed a cottage industry of making coffins for the poor. There are many deaths among immigrants" (March-April 1997, 2). LA Catholic Workers note that talk radio hosts regularly advocate a twisted vision of a "humane" solution to the problem of the very poor, "Do them a favor, put them to sleep" (21). Such comments have been noted in other radio talk markets (Dietrich 21).

It is easy to dismiss talk radio, but Charles Murray is a respected economist whose books are the philosophical and economic foundation of the welfare reform movement. In Losing Ground, he writes, "Some people are better than others" (234). He develops a thesis throughout his books that some people are expendable, they aren't worth saving, they deserve their doom -- he advocates social triage, which is a medical procedure in a disaster situation for identifying which patients can benefit and be saved by treatment, which ones don't need treatment to get better, and which ones are going to die anyway so they should not be treated.

Since the holocaust of World War II, there has been a lot of sociological study regarding the process of genocide, as social scientists have been intrigued by the process whereby a "civilized" country could transform itself into a nation of vicious murderers engaged in a genocidal campaign of extermination of the socially unpopular. The process is well attested in the literature and hardly mysterious at this date. It begins with demonizing an Other, usually for some kind of nefarious hidden motive. In the case of Nazi Germany, this was the need of an obscure wacko political movement to gain public attention and electoral success, and which therefore fed a steady diet of lies and myths to an electorate confused and troubled over macro-events such as their loss of World War I, the punitive Treaty of Versailles, and on-going economic deprivation, chaos, and crisis. It is the projection of "unexpressed alienation and pain onto others and (then) seeing in them what we hate in ourselves". This kind of projection can potentially be a problem for anybody, but it is specially troubling when it is projected by a dominant group onto a socially weaker and powerless group that is characterized by "Otherness." It cannot be said too strongly that historically this is a very dangerous place for societies to go.

There are no natural boundaries (as we have already discovered in the war on drugs). The first attack always falls on the most marginalized, but the circle of destruction widens (Hilfiker 26, Hunt 311-312, Haughton and Schwoyer 8, Wallis 10). It can be instructive to note the parallels between current social campaigns in the United States (e.g. against drug users, the poor, and immigrants) with the development of the Nazi campaign on the Jews.

United States Nazi Germany
Legalized abortion Legalized abortion
Demonizing poor and immigrants for political purposes Demonizing Jews for political purposes
Used as a distraction from intractable problems Used as a distraction from intractable problems
Economic persecution of the poor Economic persecution of the Jews
Isolation of the poor in ghettoes Isolation of the Jews in ghettoes
No solidarity with the poor No solidarity with the Jews
-Blame laid on the poor Blame laid on the Jews
Wilfull blindness to the reality of the poor Wilfull blindness to the reality of the Jews
Indifference/avoidance of alternative resolutions Indifference/avoidance of alternative resolutions
Driven by electoral needs and greed Driven by electoral needs and greed
Enabled by ideologies advocating the inherent superiority of some humans Enabled by ideologies advocating the inherent superiority of some humans
Legal machinery: Euthanasia laws Legal Machinery: Nuremberg Laws


These parallels are ominous, and the situation becomes even more grave as we remember that this would not be the first time that the United States government has targeted a politically weak group for genocidal extermination. From the earliest days of European settlement and the sending of blankets infected with smallpox as gifts to Indian tribes, the colonial governments and then the U.S. government waged an organized campaign of extermination and ethnic cleansing against the native indigenous peoples. Alexis de Tocqueville, who is often quoted regarding his comments on the importance of civil society in America, also had some trenchant comments about our treatment of the indigenous population. He said that the U.S. was the only conquering country that had disposed of its indigenous inhabitants by due process of law and thus avoided the condemnation of the world that would have been the certain result if it had been done in a less "lawful" manner. We were also much more efficient at this than the Spanish and Portuguese were in Latin America, but then, our Protestant-dominated government was hardly likely to be influenced by Catholic encyclicals opposing extermination of native peoples.

The U.S. government willingly supported and protected slavery, and after the Civil War, cooperated with the states in maintaining a system of apartheid designed to keep African Americans poor and economically and politically powerless. There is ample historic justification for the involvement of the American government with genocide. To say that "it can't happen here" seems blind to the realities of both the current situation and American history. We've done it before, and we made a lot of money doing it. It was good for business. This becomes a slippery slope, and the closer the society comes to the edge, the harder it is to turn back. We've already decided that unborn children aren't human, and thus it is OK to use violence against them. It is now spreading to the old and the weak, and who knows where it will go from there. It would seem that the only pieces lacking are some good legal justifications acceptable in U.S. courts for euthanasia. The Oregon Medicaid program is ready to add murder-by-doctor to its list of benefits. This is, after all, the ultimate destination of the social darwinism that is so popular these days. The British did it in Ireland, and Murray for one is on record as approving the 19th century British government welfare policies as models for the U.S.

If there are too many poor people, one way to have fewer poor people is to kill them.

What's the point in having a big government if you can't use it to get rid of ugly and inconvenient people? If we kill the poor, not only will we have lower taxes and less crime, but we can gentrify their neighborhoods. It will, of course, be for their own good. Those who are inherently better than the rest of us know all about these things and they know what is best for the country. One extends mercy to a sick dog, why shouldn't society extend such mercy to those who are inherently inferior? They hurt our eyes. We don't like to look at them. Even if they aren't in misery, we are, so away with them into their graves, and the sooner and more cost effectively, the better.

Ah well, admittedly, it is hard to believe that somewhere there is a secret group plotting to reduce the deficit by killing off poor people, and that is not the point of this essay. But while this may not be a deliberate policy, it is the effect of the constellation of policies that are currently in effect. Consider how many millions of poor babies have been killed by abortion. And consider how the pioneers of the abortion movement such as Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood) were closely affiliated with the "Eugenics Movement" of the 1920s and 1930s, which had as an explicit goal the reduction of the number of poor people by reducing the number of babies that poor families have. We don't like to think about government policies that target people for destruction, but we can also remember that the law of unintended consequences has yet to be repealed.

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