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Tuesday, 7.6.04: Demon children

On Sunday we watched the Brazilian movie "City of God." It's about the youth gangs who dominate the slums (favelas) of Rio de Janeiro. It's based on a true story told by a young man who got out because he was able to choose photography instead of drug dealing. On the same disc was the documentary "News from a Personal War" -- similar tale, only with interviews of all the hate-filled parties.

The formula for disaster is basically this: crushing poverty + big money from drug dealing + availability of guns = chaos and corruption. Fuel to the fire are government policies that favor making the rich richer and treating the poor like so much vermin to be contained and exterminated. The only government resource given to the favela poor appears to be a corrupt police force armed for daily urban combat.

I know that prosperity is the key to reducing crime. Violence fall when people have work. Governments that lack policies to convert the despairing poor into working class and middle class are governments that despise their own people.

That is my liberal intellect.

What I am really shocked by is how the thin veneer of civil society is so easily stripped away. It is one thing to hear 18-year-olds talk about killing. It is another to see a 9-year-old with an assault weapon. The younger the children interviewed were, the less conscience they exhibited. They thought killing was kind of fun and got no negative emotional charge nor felt any remorse. And these are babies who don't even play video games.

We like to think that children are born as angels who slowly become corrupted by their environment. We like to think that you have to get some hard living under your belt to be truly evil. But the murderous favela boys make we wonder if children are born with all the murderous instincts of a breed of particularly nasty primates. It is only an organized family and a civil society that slowly shapes what we think of as a decent human being.

It isn't just Brazil. You hear of boy soldiers recruited on every continent. They seem to be the cruelest fighters and they can make up for their size with big weapons.

The gun part is another stomach-churning aspect of the story. It is "first-world" industrialized countries whose private corporations pour heavy weaponry into the world. We rush around bombing poppy and coca fields with poisonous defoliants. Who will take out the gun factories that make the narco-business possible? A topic for another day...



City of God (Cidade de Deus), 2003. Brasil (Portuguese, with English subtitles). Included documentary: News from a Personal War



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