Thursday, March 24, 2005

How The Other Half Lives

Jacob A. Riis. How The Other Half Lives. 1890.You can and should access this famous description of Gilded Age New York City online here:
Here is the first sentence of the first chapter.

QUOTE:1. THE first tenement New York knew bore the mark of Cain from its birth, though a generation passed before the waiting was deciphered. It was the "rear house," infamous ever after in our city's history. END QUOTE.

I've read the preface and introduction too. There are many references to Christianity and organizations of reformers, and so it sounds like the work of an evangelical Christian. In that sense, it attributes poverty to corruption, depicted as irreligiosity, in the culture rather than outright corruption in the political and economic leadership. The echoes of these justifications for poverty in public discourse are deafening right to the present and paralyzing to any effort to extend a more humanistic social democracy.
I am areligious and agnostic. In other words, I do not slam the door on belief by saying I don't know. I dislike public, shared religion, because the more public religion is, the more dangerous it is.The more contemplative and solitary religion is, the less damage it does to the community.I believe in consistent, institutional, secular solutions to the endemic problem of poverty. Any individual, organization or act that makes the world more unjust than it already is, is inherently evil and cannot be changed into good.

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