Friday, November 14, 2008

Those Poor Unfortunate Souls part I

Only a monster could be confronted with the amount of suffering we see in the world and not be moved. Poverty, sickness, death, crime, man's inhumanity to man. In the face of such things, most people are stricken with a great sense of loss, and helplessness.

Often, when confronted with the idea of a stateless society, people fear that the weakest amongst us would be left behind. Children, the disabled, those barely able to achieve subsistence due to poverty or disease. Regardless of what group of people you are most concerned about, they are the unfortunate. Those who, either through some unfortunate twist of fate or through their own missteps, have fallen by the wayside. Perhaps they have become wards of the state. Perhaps they exist only due to the efforts of charity. Perhaps they have lost everything and slipped through society's cracks, and live now homeless and hopeless, waiting only to die.

Most people are caring individuals, who want little more than to feed, clothe, and shelter their families, and be able to enjoy some measure of peace and freedom in their lives. When they are confronted with the idea of the unfortunate, they see in these sad examples their own mortality. How often have you heard things like, “What if it was your sister,” or “I can't imagine having to live like that,” or, perhaps darker, “Better him than me.”

It is their immediate and visceral reaction to empathize on some level with the unfortunates. They see that part of their humanity which all people share reflected in these poor souls, and feel fear. It is understandable. To do otherwise would reveal them to be uncaring.

And so, having never before entertained the idea of an alternative to the state to address the unfortunate, they fear for them and by extension for themselves. What would happen if the “safety net” of the state wasn't there. What would happen to these poor souls without the state there to help them out of poverty, to help them out of sickness, to help them recover from disabilities or at least to exist with them, to help sick children recover? What would happen if the same fate were to befall us? Who would be there to help?

First, you must consider the question. If a person is really, honestly concerned with the well being of the unfortunate, then they are already presenting the solution to their own problem. The unfortunate have always been, and will always be, on the receiving end of charity and benefaction. Those who truly care about others will see to their well being. The other alternative is that the person presenting the challenge doesn't really care about the unfortunate and is simply arguing the point, in which case they are hypocrites who are attempting to obfuscate the situation by raising concerns they don't genuinely hold. So, if you are presenting this challenge, then ask yourself, do I care about the well being of others, or am I simply antagonistic to voluntarism and really couldn't care less about my fellow man? I'll not judge your response, but understanding your motivation will help you to define your position.

I choose to assume that most people who raise this objection are genuinely concerned with their fellow man. They legitimately care about what happens to the weakest amongst us, and want what's best for them. If I am right, and what's best is their concern, then it is incumbent upon us to determine what is really best.

In order to do that, we will look at how private and public charitable acts work. What is their effectiveness? How many people are helped, and how successfully?

It is my position that people are helped best when they are helped just enough to succeed, but not so much as to encourage them to become dependent on the assistance to the exclusion of their own action. They should be taught to be free, not kept in perpetual bondage. A slave need not fear for shelter or food, because his master will wish him to be strong enough to work. A free person must effort his own existence, but in so doing will find opportunities far beyond those offered in subjugation.

So, does government create a system which encourages self reliance, or does it create a system which encourages reliance on others? How are private and public systems of charity funded, and which use their funds to greater effect? These are the kinds of questions we must answer in order to determine what is truly best, not only for the unfortunate, but also for ourselves. Remember, it is our own fear, our recognition of our universal humanity, which drives our empathy for others. It is in our own best interest to aid them, not in any way we can, but in the best way we can.

Are we?

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