Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

Just Your Average Joe Blogging Away His Debt—In One Year or Less

Root of Evil

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Total Black: $83.40
Total Red: $270,623.78

Short post today because of a long day at work.  Another trial.  Expected to last all week again.  As I watched voir dire, I was struck by the depth of the problem of class and crime.  I must beg indulgence because today’s post will be off-topic.  I’m no bible-beater.  I value the book as a source of collected wisdom of one group’s beliefs and culture, and perhaps also a larger testament to humanity.  But the last time I blogged about the Bible was back at the beginning in Keeping My Brother and then a bit later in A Time For Everything.  The past few days, however, had me thinking about that famous biblical passage about money and evil. 

Many believe that the passage cautions that “money is the root of all evil.”  That is inaccurate.  The full passage reads: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”  1 Timothy 6:10.  It is not money itself from whence evil springs, but rather human desires, human emotions for it.  Our love of it.  And that makes sense.  Like any other inanimate object upon which humans place moral blame—guns, drugs—money too does not cause any consequences without human agents.  Just as a gun sitting on a shelf for twenty years will not kill anyone or marijuana growing in a field will not get anyone high until a human consumes it, money doesn’t lead to social ills without human beings.  One of those social ills is debt.  Another is crime.

As I sat in the courtroom today, I was struck by the number of people who indicated to the court that they had family members who had been arrested or convicted of a crime.  Clearly one reason is the disproportionate impact of the criminal justice system on black men.  Back in 2002 in an article “Study Finds Big Increase in Black Men as Inmates Since 1980” Fox Butterfield (who the hell would name their child that?) reported that “[t]he number of black men in jail or prison has grown fivefold in the past 20 years, to the point where more black men are behind bars than are enrolled in colleges or universities . . . .”  Yes, black men are committing crimes.  If they’re arrested with a joint on them, it’s illegal—at least currently—and that makes it a crime.  This isn’t the place to delve into the inherent complications in the criminal justice system.  Rather what I wanted to focus on was the problems caused by money—or the lack of money—on upbringing, education, and class even.

When asked by the court today what crimes the prospective jurors’ relatives had committed, quite a few couldn’t say.  Even a few mothers and fathers.  It  struck me dumb that a mother wouldn’t know what her son had been convicted of.  Or a father.  It reminded me of a talk I watched this weekend on C-SPAN.  Professor Robert Perkinson was at New York University discussing his latest book Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire.  At one point during his talk, Perkinson got choked up remembering a young male in a juvenile prison in Galveston, sentenced to 99 years.  His parents never visited.  Not even for birthdays.  Moves me to tears a bit too if I were to allow myself to imagine his sorrow.  Can it all be so simply explained by class?  If that young man had come from a wealthier background then his family would have been visiting him?  Or is 99 years too much for any family to endure?  There’s something so profoundly gripping about the prison situation today.  Boys turned into beasts because of the machinations of our systems.

And what is it about money?  It tears families apart.  It breaks couples up.  It’s absence causes some to commit crimes.  And it’s overabundance causes others to hoard it.  Seems the more of it you have the more you worry you’ll lose it.  And the less of it you have the more you want it.  We don’t really love money.  We crave it.  And we’ve erected class structures around it.  Build entire systems of justice, access, mobility, and worth—to name a few—in its honor.  In its glory.  We enslaved a race of people and destroyed another in quests for gold and land and riches in the New World.  Yes, I lump us all in there.  It’s all part of our collective human history.

Maybe the Bible got it wrong.  Maybe it’s not the “love” of money but rather the desire for money.  The desire for money is the root of all evil.  That seems a bit more precise.  More exact.  Devil’s in the details, right?

2 Responses

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  1. No, I don’t think that is more precise. I believe the Bible, by saying the “Love” of money (remember, this is translated into our English, which is sorely lacking compared to the original language as far a nuance) is referring to having a desire for money that is higher than it should be.

    If you desire money more than you desire to love your fellow man/woman, then you will be fine stealing, swindling, or killing to get it because it means more to you than that other person.

    If you desire money more than you desire to please God, then you will violate any or all commandments if you can become more wealthy by doing so.

    Etc. etc. etc.

    By the way, if you want a nice illustration of how our criminal justice system has caused that blow-up of black inmates, read: The New Jim Crow. I read it a month or two ago and it seems fairly accurate, based on my experience working “in the system.”



    July 13, 2010 at 07:58

  2. Look to the Bermudian penal model — at least for a Carrabean take. Very enlightened.

    set me up

    July 13, 2010 at 08:54

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