Friday, June 7, 2013

Makers and Takers, Part III (Updated): Hard Work Is Selfish?

(Update: I worked on this one for a week before deciding, "Just post it already," and still didn't like the last paragraph. So now there's a new last paragraph.)

That the Boy Scouts voted to admit boys who proclaim themselves homosexual to their ranks doesn't sound to me like the end of the world--merely the end of the Boy Scouts--but I've shared Lloyd Marcus' more worrisome concern that "independence, self-reliance, education, and hard work" are now sometimes seen as more selfish than welfare-cheating.

Nobody wants to be mean about the hardships and misfortunes that might constrain decent people to plead for some sort of tax-funded "relief." Even as we're thinking "Tracy wouldn't be suffering so much from the heat if Tracy had drunk less alcohol and/or done less 'experimenting' with street drugs," we're also aware that Tracy is suffering; we don't want to invoke karma, or constrain our consciences to bring us into contact with the undercooked meat or contaminated vaccine that might do to our livers what booze and pills did to Tracy's.

Welfare addicts and welfare pushers, however, who seem to have underdeveloped consciences in the first place and who are wide open to suggestions coming from those who want to destroy the United States, show no such reluctance to be mean about those of us who want to earn our livings honestly even if we're not super-rich right away. When they see someone trying to maintain a business, market an invention, promote their art/writing/music/etc., this emboldened Welfare Class no longer hesitate to step right up and tell us that we're fools, crazy, stupid, conceited, show-offs, etc. etc. etc.

Maybe, if we think an individual is salvageable, it's still worth handing the person a copy of Broke and explaining that, although Team Beck's interpretation of these statistics was debatable when the book was new, by now it's widely acknowledged that if anything Glenn Beck was too cautious. The United States cannot afford to continue offering welfare benefits in the style to which we've become accustomed. If we want to continue offering some benefits to the most needy and deserving, we're going to have to tighten the rules and push a lot of people back into self-supporting work, rather than sabotaging small businesses and encouraging more welfare dependence.

Not all welfare pushers are aware that they're participating in an effort to destroy the United States. In fact, when some of the more salvageable people who've been encouraging welfare dependence read the statistics, they stop pushing the welfare-cheating lifestyle...or at least they stop pushing it on those of their neighbors who are trying to be makers rather than takers.

Many people have problems with paradoxes, and this is one of them. When people insist on working and receiving payment for something they do, they're not being "selfless." They are being "selves"; they are, as Abraham Maslow put it, "actualizing" their best and healthiest selves. If you, thinking from your id, your yetzer, the part of you that's concerned with the most immediate and obvious benefit to yourself, are thinking about the difference between a have-less neighbor who stays at home sucking money out of the federal government (at least more of that money came from other people than came from you) and a have-less neighbor who wants you to buy a product or service, the one who's in business for himself/herself may seem to you to be aggressively placing her/his profits ahead of yours. Nevertheless, it's the have-less neighbor who accepts a parasitic lifestyle who is sustaining his/her self by doing harm to you...

For Christians, one step toward resolution may be to consider the history of the word and concept "selfishness." Although Christianity has a concept of self-sacrifice, early Christian literature presupposes that nobody had much of a problem with self-esteem or self-love. Pathological altruism was not a widespread form of mental illness at the time of Christ--nor is it now. Generosity meant then, and means now, considering others as equally valuable with self. Self was always recognized as being valuable.

Self-sacrifice was worthwhile only in relation to absolute good and evil. "That a man lay down his life for his friend" was not unheard-of; in fact some first-century Mediterranean cultures still had the custom of "surety," where someone could volunteer to be imprisoned and if necessary punished in someone else's place, and the Old Testament warned an idealistic young man to be very cautious about offering himself as "surety" for a friend. Jesus, whose death would otherwise have been a senseless piece of brutality on the part of a despotic government, was the Messiah whose perfect life and perfectly unmerited death made him a "surety" for all of Israel, or all of humankind, in a cosmic sense. For an ordinary mortal to be tortured and killed as, say, a thief, like the two men who were crucified beside Jesus, might be unfortunate or unfair but was not perceived as a sacrifice. For an ordinary person to try to be "sacrificed" was recognized as insanity.

The Bible provides absolutely no support for the idea of dependence on other people's generosity. In fact, the New Testament is quite harsh in condemning the first-century equivalent of welfare cheats. "Spots are they and blemishes." (2 Peter 2:13) "If any man provide not for his own, and those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." (1 Timothy 5:8) "If any will not work, neither let [them] eat." (2 Thessalonians 3:10) The early church was especially generous toward widows because contemporary laws were especially unfair to widows, often preventing them from inheriting property or control of businesses, but in time St. Paul had to prescribe limits even for generosity toward widows. The church could not afford to "take them into the number" if they were younger than seventy years old. (1 Timothy 5:9) Younger widows, if unable to manage businesses or property, would need to remarry or look for domestic work, because the church couldn't afford to feed them forever. There is no hint that it was at all "selfish" for these widows to be concerned about supporting themselves, whether they had children or not.

In fact the Bible never suggests that it's "selfish" for anyone to be concerned about providing for self. The Bible writers presupposed that everyone would provide for self whenever possible, and only needed to be reminded that other selves deserved consideration too. Greedy exploitation of others was condemned, but demanding one's rightful wages and even one's right to inherit property was encouraged in the Bible.

"Unselfishness" became an ideal around the time Auguste Comte seriously proposed a Humanist religion as an alternative to Christianity. "Unselfishness" or "devotion to humanity" was supposed to replace devotion to God. (Hat tip: although Comte became my research project, I learned about him from Erica Carle.) While the Humanist religion was widely regarded, even by Comte's personal friends, as a symptom of his mental decline, "unselfishness" seems to have been attractive to followers of traditional religions in the nineteenth century...because in some ways it was easy. The old Christian ideal of generosity had called for practical action. "Unselfishness" could be watered down into an emotional mood, or at least into a bland, polite manner. Welfare cheats could pat themselves on the back for being "unselfish" if they let someone else take the white meat of the chicken at dinner.

When I started writing for Associated Content (when Priscilla King came into existence!) my motto was "Seeking the Highest Good for All." What this means is rejecting this false dichotomy of "selfish or unselfish." The Highest Good for me is not to harm other people. The Highest Good for someone else is not to harm me. Real conflict between the Highest Good for one living creature and another is rare, and usually involves members of under-predated parasitic species, such as dog ticks.

Sometimes the Highest Good for all parties involves not worrying so much about what someone else has. In the Bible Jesus told the story of an employer who offered the same wages to the emergency relief crew who started working in the last hour that he had paid to the regular staff who'd been working all day. Was that fair? Well, it certainly wasn't "equal," but as the employer said, hadn't he paid the full-time workers what they'd agreed to be paid? So, yes, that was fair. Maybe this employer needed to rethink his system of payments before the next payday, but for that particular day, giving people the unequal wages for which they'd agreed to work was fair.

"Equality" does not mean fairness; it can be used to mean outrageous unfairness. Equality of rewards for the same investment might be considered fair. Equality of outcomes, independent of investment, is not fair at all.

For example, the United States developed the most democratic and libertarian economic system on Earth. The United States then proceeded to become the most successful nation on Earth. People who are identified as poor in the United States today enjoy privileges and luxuries that were available only to the richest of the rich in other times and places. People in less democratic countries enjoy fewer of these privileges and luxuries, and may have listened to Marxist-influenced people who have told them that it's not fair that they're not equally as wealthy as citizens of the United States. Well, for one thing the extravagance of some people in the United States is dysfunctional and disgusting even to us, and doesn't need to be imitated by people whose cultural traditions of modesty, simplicity, and frugality may be worth preserving...that's a different rant. What should concern Americans today is that we've seen more socialistic nations go bankrupt, and our own economic situation shows trends that could lead us into bankruptcy too--and some people seem to be actively working toward the undesirable "equality" of going bankrupt, or collapsing entirely, just like the socialist nations.

The Bible does not actually tell us that we're all "equal in the sight of God." On the contrary, the Bible constantly hammers on the theme that after being created equal we raise or lower our value, in the sight of God and of humankind, by what we do with whatever God gave us.

Welfare-cheating, in which people who could work more and/or spend less than they do siphon benefits away from people who really need financial help, must be understood as one of those things that lower the value of a human being.

Whether it's the socialist religious training that gives some people in our current administration a blind faith that the U.S. economy can always support an ever-increasing number of welfare cheats, or a more sinister plan to destroy the U.S. economy, people who are concerned about ethics and morality need to confront the current administration's ridiculous claim that welfare-cheating boosts the local economy by putting more money in the hands of people who are more likely to spend it foolishly.

We're being told that trying to make or do something useful and collect reasonable payment for our work, living within our means, avoiding debt, and saving money in case of our own future need, have now become more "selfish" (and conceited and so on) than welfare-cheating. In other words, the behavior that made the United States a great nation is now more "selfish" than, er um, settling for an "equal share" of the poverty of the nations that have not been able to bring themselves to follow the example we set them during our 200-year economic rise.

We need to start admitting the truth. Really needing some sort of financial help is no sin, but sitting around depending on it, or enabling social workers to make a career of "helping" a designated welfare class make parasitism a lifestyle, is a vile sin. Welfare-cheating is selfish; it robs the disabled. Welfare-cheating is begging, only without thanking the people who hand you money. Welfare-cheating is prostitution, only without sex appeal. Welfare-cheating is robbery, only without the effort of breaking into buildings. Welfare-cheating is treason, only without any benefit to any other specific country. Welfare cheats are two-legged dog ticks.

Honest work, by contrast, does incidentally happen to feel good, and may (or may not) pay more than welfare-cheating or other vices and crimes, but regardless of those benefits it is still the right thing to do. Sometimes the right thing to do also happens to feel good, like drinking water on a hot day, or like telling your mother you love her.