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The Root Of All Evil

The Dawn Volume 2, Number 8. Sydney, December 5, 1889

IN spite of the popular belief that “there is a woman at the bottom of everything”, there are a few who still believe that the “love of money is the root of all evil”, and we need hardly say that in our opinion the latter is by far the more fertile cause of misery. During the last few years in Sydney, we have seen a long succession of prosecutions for fraud and embezzlement committed by clerks and others in positions of trust. These men did not steal to procure food for starving wives, or medicine for sickly children; they were all in receipt of salaries sufficient to procure them the necessaries and the comforts of life. They stole that they might spend more, or to enable them to gamble and grow rich with a bound, and their histories show clearly enough that crime is a natural outcome of this insensate love of riches and extravagant display. Even with the mass who happily keep honest; the same passion keeps men anxious and chafing, because forsooth they are not richer; they may have enough, yet they pant for more with as much vehemence as if tickets to Paradise were to be sold to the highest bidder. The amount of physical injury which results from the perpetual haste and friction caused by this starving for superfluities is incalculable; there is not any disease more insidious and exhausting than worry, yet how many men can be found who live placidly, content that they are decently clad, housed, and fed, and satisfied to be free from the horrors of poverty without craving for the extravagant and dangerous pleasures of wealth? The majority of people rarely look downwards towards the miseries of poverty, never reflect on the ills which they, themselves, escape, ills under which millions of their fellow-creatures writhe, but occupy themselves in envying those who are better off, sighing for some fresh luxury, grumbling because they cannot save more, chafing under the limits of their income which happily keeps their tastes and comforts within the bounds of untempted simplicity. The effect of this money craze on men and women alike, is always disastrous; temper and constitution are worn down by it. Character goes overboard when money is to be won, and no sooner does the pocket grow full than commensurate requirements


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develop to exhaust it. The actual selfishness of being rich, the indifference to human agony which is implied in the personal possession and use of a large fortune, is what no one seems to recognise, yet it perhaps explains why “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven”. It is easy for one who is not wealthy to profess gratitude that he has not committed the crime of devoting to his personal use that which other men, not less worthy, die for lack of; but it is probably the best of a poor man's unconscious and negative virtues that he is poor, and therefore not misusing for his own benefit that wealth which might bring hope into the lives of a hundred necessitous creatures. Of the terrible effect upon the world at large of the craving for wealth, the records of crime and of pauperism furnish sufficient examples. In these days of speculation many men are willing to grow rich upon the losses of others; in these times of fierce competition and rapid, cheap production many a man climbs to wealth up a stairway made of the living bodies of the poor. The desperate attempts made of late years to lessen the gulf between the very rich and the very poor have only been partially successful. The rich grow richer and stronger, the poor weaker and more numerous. Hundreds of thousands of pounds pour annually through the channels of charity upon the smouldering fires of poverty, and the generosity of the few is spread like a veil over the miseries of the many, who, being honest workers, should never need to take aught that they do not earn. The recent gift of a quarter of a million made by one Englishman for the purpose of building homes for the poor is a splendid example of individual generosity, yet it is but a bucketful of water thrown on a desert, it does not alter the intolerable social conditions of our time, for pity and charity should not be needed, and that system must be rotten at the root wherein honest labour cannot win enough for common needs. Have we nothing to learn from the story of the London dock labourers strike? that insurrection of the starving. The first simmering of a revolution was there, happily checked and moderated by generous help and timely success. It was only by the influence of John Burns that the firing of London in several places was prevented. To the brink of such disaster has the selfish fighting for riches brought the old world! Even the unions of the workers for self protection gives only a temporary relief, for the wealthy can unite also. Look at the gigantic “Trusts” and “Combines” in America; the Railway Trust, the Telegraph Trust, the Sugar Trust, the Rope and Twine Trust; all huge monopolies and unions of wealthy men, created to make rich men richer regardless of the grinding of the poor. Some day they may grind too fine. They forget past warnings;— the strike of the Illinois coal miners, of the New York freight handlers, the Chicago strike, the railroad strike, the Pittsburgh riots. Even America, by lust of riches and selfish disregard of the claims of human life, has prepared the explosive elements for a great social disruption. In London one person in every forty-seven is in receipt of charitable aid, and we have it on the authority of one who has worked fifteen years in East London, that for every one of the degraded poor who figure in statistics there are twenty persons honestly toiling long hours for a daily pittance which keeps them just alive, but always within arm's length of starvation. Such figures shew us an array of misery which no one can contemplate unmoved. The rich men who from their platform of comfort look on, are so many modern Neros. They all fiddle at the burning. They dine sumptuously, while within a stone's throw their fellow creatures are sharing a fragment of bread, or a bowl of pieces from the charitable “scrap-cart”. Over a costly bottle of wine men can discuss the women who earn a penny an hour! Better be a camel struggling at the needle's eye, than a rich man expecting rewards after death; there is more reasonable hope of success. In this comparatively young country we have not reached the condition of extremes in wealth and in poverty, but our methods, our rage for wealth, our whole social system being precisely a reproduction of the system of the old world, the result here must in the long run be just the same. Nothing but a change in social conditions can save us from the dangers now threatening America and England. We must set ourselves to discover a system under which all who are willing to work can earn the necessaries of life. Spasmodic Christmas time charity is not enough; it is the apparent duty of every man and woman to study the social question and to practise that real charity which sets the good of mankind at large above personal aggrandisement, and which makes the happiness of fellow creatures of more value than the social flattery and selfish pleasures which wait upon riches.

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