Sunday, May 10, 2009
Socializing the Good Samaritan
Today, I rode my bike to church to get there early, and my sweetie came later in the car, just in time for the 11:30 service, then we drove out to eat for brunch and went home, leaving my bike locked up at the church. This afternoon, I installed the old Yakima bike rack on top of our new car finally, so I could go retrieve the bike. It probably would've been easier to just walk down there and ride back, but we needed to get the bike rack onto the car eventually. All the previous information is prologue to my main point.
When I got to the church, I saw a man across the street, looking rough, and after two hours wrestling with my bike rack when I should've been working on homework, I didn't feel in the mood to talk to him. But then as I was taking the front tire off my bike and getting my bike on top of the car, he approached me, speaking weakly, with a towel in one hand and a spray bottle and squeegie in the other, asking if he could wash my windshield for some money. I had actually gunked up part of the roof while installing the rack, so I gave him $2 and asked him for the towel and sprayer so I could do it. I don't need the "satisfaction" of watching somebody else clean it for me. Anyway, I asked him his name and what was going on. He said his name was Lester Ray, and that he was going around trying to do people's windshields to get $14, because he was in the hospital yesterday (he still had the plasticy bracelet) and was diagnosed with pneumonia. In order to get the meds, he had to put together a $14 copay, so today he was out walking around (with unmedicated pneumonia) trying to scare up that small sum of money. The two bucks I had given him was all the cash I had in my pocket and I gave him the 50 cents in change I had as well.
After I got into the car, I thought about the fact that I could've taken him to a cash machine and drawn out $20. But we're not exactly rich. Then again, if I had invited him into the car to ride down to the cash machine, he would've seen: a new car, a bike on top, an ipod shuffle attached to the radio, a new baby car seat, and several other things that indicate that we were an order or two of magnitude more well-to-do than him. In the short term, I would've felt better getting him that money anyway, but I didn't. In the long term, there is something more that needs to be done.
You judge a nation by how it treats its poor.
If somebody in need calls to neighbors for help and most of them pass him/her by, then the one who actually is charitable is the one that pays (financially and economically, though they may gain in other ways), and they bear that burden alone. I will call these charitable people the suckers, because they're bearing the burden of . All of the other people who turn the other way, or make sure to stay entirely outside of the neighborhood of those who call for help are trying not to pay and try avoid bearing as much as possible of the burden of helping their neighbor. I will call these Ayn Rand-devoted people shruggers, because they are indeed shrugging off the burden that the suckers consider as needing to be picked up, and would shrug at the cost of allowing any stranger with pneumonia die, because it's "not their problem."
When that burden is spread out across the economy -- when governments levy taxes and put it into programs that create a safety net for all -- it is because the suckers are finally being listened to, and are able to make the shruggers stop shrugging (or shirking). Then, instead of the 5% most charitable people needing to privately pay for 100% of the needs of the needy, we have 100% of the people each paying for 5% of the needs of the needy, whether they believe there is a need or not.
When there is a Katrina survivor in front of you with one missing eye and a mottled leg just let free from the hospital to "go home" to the streets, you better believe there is a need! When there's a man with a decimated personal infrastructure (homeless and/or jobless) needing to acquire a squeegie and a rag to scare up $14 to pay for pneumonia medicine, you better believe there is a need!
To those who argue that providing health care and an economic safety net is just offering hand-outs to lazy people, I have to ask -- HAVE YOU LOOKED AT THE STATE OF THE ECONOMY? There are lots of hard-working and honest people who could use this help. They lost their jobs because of decisions made by bankers and by business owners (mistakes on the part of those who control the means of production), and most of them desperately want to work, if not only for a sense of self-worth, also to put food on the table.
But there are a ton of volunteer jobs out there that need to be done, ranging from picking up litter to planting trees, to tutoring youth to use software, to working for social justice. If those people who were out of work right now could have: 1) Health care, and 2) Enough assistance to cover basic housing and food, they would be able to devote much of their time toward necessary unmonetized volunteer work, and some of their time toward finding a job that pays.
In the meantime, there are many in our communities who are financially devastated. That is not a position in which you can expect somebody to pull themselves up. It's like expecting somebody with a totalled car to get driving. But those of us with cars that do run, I say it's our moral obligation to give them a lift to town and at least get them a bike of their own.
And as a nation, it's our moral obligation to be economically strong and efficient, so that its easier for us to take better care of the poor, and in fact, to provide a better commonwealth of services for everyone. Part of that means having everybody employed. People running around working hard to find jobs (that's exhausting work!) are not doing much for the economy. But if they're actively working (even at volunteer work), they're helping us in real ways that might not be reflected in the GDP or other standard economical measures. But if we're all scrounging around for privatized jobs in a shrinking market, that's a death spiral. Our moral obligation is to NOT go there. Are the local, state, and federal governments up for that? Or is there a way that our churches can start to step in and provide welfare?
I'm hesitant to go there though, because then the churches that are the best at providing welfare end up being conglomerate suckers, and those churches that focus on serving their own interests and shrug will be conglomerate shruggers (and they may weather the financial storm better, but maybe not the spiritual storm). Then again, maybe the truth will out itself, and people will start leaving the prosperity gospel churches in droves as the masks come off. Then again, I'm only 40 years old, and still trying to figure out human nature in this kind of context. But I think we can dodge the question, just by applying brute force toward green jobs, public works, and other economy-spurring employment for people that will make sure that the physical, material labor that needs to happen actually does take place.
"So when you see your neighbor carryin' somethin',
Help him with his load,
And don't go mistaking Paradise
For that home across the road."
From The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest, by Bob Dylan
chant/prayer/mantra: health to us all, especially lester ray.
agape to all,
She never once said "screw the world and never help anyone." She said its an individual choice. Charity is not a duty. Charity should not be mandated by law. It should be done based upon each individual's capacity, values, and interests. I, for one, help my family and neighbors ALL THE TIME.
It is only individualism, freedom, and the protection of individual rights via capitalism that is the moral social system. Charity as such is never the primary standard on which to base an ethics. Others are not an individual's first cause. Ethics properly defined starts with the proper life of the individual. This then leads, providing the correct method, to how properly to base individual interactions in a society. Charity is not a duty thrust upon you but is possible within a certain context.