The poor may indeed be blessed; but they are not necessarily right. It is a fallacy to suppose that because someone is poor that they must be sounder or more virtuous than one who is rich. The argumentum ad Lazarum, after the poor man, Lazarus, takes it that the poverty of the arguer enhances the case he or she is making.
The guru has nothing to gain by lying or fooling anyone; all he has are the nuts that he lives on.
(And the ones that he teaches.)
Poverty does not contribute to the soundness of an argument, any more than riches do. The fallacy consists of giving attention to the person instead of to the contentions which he or she is putting forward. It may well be that the poor are less exposed to the temptations of affluence, but it may equally be that the rich are less distracted by disease, hunger and degrading toil, and the temptations to escape them. Even if we take it that a person who eschews wealth is not acting for material gain, we should remember that there are other ways of achieving satisfaction. ‘All power is delightful’, we are told, ‘and absolute power is absolutely delightful.’
Although we should not take account of the circumstances of the arguer, the ad Lazarum is deeply engrained into our thinking. We tend to suppose that the poor have less opportunities for error, having less opportunity, full stop. The literature of our culture compensates them for their poverty with extra measures of wisdom and virtue, sometimes of beauty.
With her clogs and shawl she stood out from the others.
(It could just have been malnutrition, though.)
The poor are probably more likely to prefer the means of acquiring real education, health and respite from an arduous life than to want the phantoms wished on them in the rose-tinted imaginations of detached observers.
The politician who astutely recognizes that most of his con-stituents are poor will often go to extraordinary lengths to feign a similar poverty, thereby hoping to command respect. His limousine is left at the frontier with his well-cut suit, as he changes down to the car and clothes of his constituents. Those self-same electors, did he but know it, probably regard him as no better than themselves, and reserve their admiration for the guy with the flash car and the swanky outfit. The point is that the argumentum ad Lazarum is a fallacy which appeals to the well-to-do. The real poor have no time for it.
The best view I ever heard on this was told to me by a simple, honest woodcutter…
(Who was probably smart enough not to depend on the views of woodcutters…)
Woodcutters, like aged peasants with weatherbeaten faces, should be lined up in orderly squadrons in support of your arguments. A few simple fishermen should act as outriders, with a score or two of wise old washerwomen in reserve. Their faces, lined by experience, should nonetheless reflect an inner placidity and acceptance of life. The views which you put forward were, of course, gained from sources such as these.
He puffed reflectively on his pipe, then looked at me with those strangely quiet eyes. He told me that, although poor himself and honest, he had always reckoned that deficit spending by the government could stimulate production by priming demand, and similarly…
(If he’s so sincere, how can he be wrong?)