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August 01, 2007


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Stuart Johnson

I wonder if there's a pharisaic tradition in every domain, including philanthropy. Narrow, intolerant of ambiguity, unable to deal with the messy complexity of human behavior. This tradition believes it's less important that the innocent be spared than that we punish those who would game the system. Being most familiar with their own foibles, those who are part of this tradition would naturally mistrust others.

I grew up poor and I don't think the poor are especially good people. I also don't believe you have to like the poor to see that they're getting a raw deal, struggling both against their own poverty and the multiple daily (hourly?) confirmations of their status as losers. Having this conviction is what think-tankers call "patronizing the poor."


Alibis for not caring are much in demand, as are self-lauding rationales for great wealth. The result are the moral grotesques that animate the works of, say, Blake and Dickens. You see that type too, as you note, in the Gospels.

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