This past week we published news stories about the annual “Kids Count” report, a state-by-state analysis of children’s well-being in the U.S., along with an editorial about the worsening plight of poor children in Georgia and Alabama.
The “Kids Count” report is always a sad and depressing read. Whether it’s more depressing than some of the responses to it is another question.
The facts themselves are, or ought to be, genuinely heartbreaking: They are about real and profound human suffering. The telephone, e-mail and online reactions -- to the statistics themselves, yes, but even more to the editorial assessment of them -- really don’t go much beyond dispiriting, unfathomable, predictable and occasionally contemptible.
They follow a familiar pattern. The children themselves are an inconvenient statistical puddle to step over, quickly and dismissively, on the way to the more comfortable condemnation of indulgent government, the sins of the “dependent classes,” the downfall of the institution of marriage and even the value of the Second Amendment -- the relevance of which, in this context, is at best dubious and at worst despicable.
“Yep. The chilllllldren,” reads one online post. “Let’s keep throwing money at the situation When we want to get serious about eradicating economic and spiritual poverty, give me a call.”
“Shouldn’t we talk about handing out condoms and syringes to minors and drug abusers in our society who lack a moral compass,” goes another. “ It’s no wonder we have so many on government assistance.”
And so forth. (“They took prayer out of the schools” was conspicuously absent, but maybe I just didn’t give it time to show up.) The editorial and the online comments are still there, so you can judge for yourself whether I’ve distorted anybody’s tone or meaning.
It’s not that blaming children’s miseries on bad or absent parents, out-of-wedlock births, society, drugs, government, “the media,” etc., is necessarily wrong. In many ways it’s demonstrably right, both anecdotally and statistically.
What I don’t get is how that assignment of blame somehow absolves the rest of us. I don’t even mean any obligation to devote our lives to children’s welfare, but just the minimal and meager indulgence of compassion. (If I hear the miserable lives of poor children blithely dismissed with one more sanctimonious reference to “personal responsibility,” I think I’m going to puke.)
By what line of moral reasoning does ostentatiously self-righteous contempt for welfare statism, or irresponsible parents, or whatever, necessarily preclude intervention or even sympathy? If it does, then I’ve got news for you: “Spiritual poverty” has spread well beyond the poor parts of town.
OK, so nothing about the wretched lives of poor kids is our fault. Feel better? Good.
Because our self-absolution doesn’t provide prenatal care for young mothers-to-be, many of them kids themselves, or medical care for their children. It doesn’t give hungry, neglected, abused, forlorn children anything to do, anything to eat, anything to wear, any reason for hope, any clue that anybody gives a damn.
What it does do, apparently, is give the rest of us another lame excuse -- as if we were ever lacking in those -- for scornful and self-congratulatory wallowing in our own essential superiority.
What a reforming influence on the social order that promises to be.