Poor me. A month or so ago, I received an email from a member of an online religious discussion group I enjoy. A prior post of mine had confused him because (in so many words) it expressed sympathy and compassion and he hadn't known that I could do that. In effect, his email was meant to encourage me in my softer side. I thanked him and responded to specific points he had made. Since I never heard from him again, I'm relatively certain that I offended him afresh and that my compassion has been safely filed in his mind among those things that happen occasionally out of the aberration of human personalities and that I remain as harsh a bastard as before.
Which happens a lot when the topic is poor people. That's because I'm a firm believer in individual responsibility and fiscal autonomy (if such a thing is possible). I think that people should work and that if they aren't making enough to support their families, that it is typically their own fault. Particular examples that came up in that discussion included a teacher who loved to teach and whose family had barely enough and the father spent time with the children, but they didn't have much materially (my opinion—good for him! He is fulfilling his duty to his family and doing so responsibly). And another example of a father who loved being in the Highway Patrol, but due to lousy wages he had to hold another (and sometimes two) job that kept him from his home (my opinion—the selfish jerk is sacrificing his family's interests just so he can work in a job he enjoys). And a single mother who lived so close to the bone that she didn't have a TV (in the U.S. where 98% of the population has a TV, this is a pretty extreme level of poverty) and lived in a house too small for her children and when her car broke she went to her bishop (equivalent to what ya'll might think of as pastor or priest—the head of a congregation) for help (which is what she should have done) who told her that she should be budgeting a little each month for just such emergencies (my opinion—the jerk bishop, you do not make such statements unless you first ensure that you are intimately familiar with the realities of her life and can give specific advice about things that she can/should change—information that it is his duty to obtain should he feel his advice is necessary).
You can see why someone might be confused. While talking in terms of principles, my position can be pretty harsh—people should shoulder their responsibilities and provide for their needs as much as possible. But when I talk about real people, I have no trouble admitting that sometimes the principle doesn't apply (as in the case of some single mothers). And in all my examples above, I'll freely admit that there are details that might mitigate, even reverse, my opinion. And my principles are harsh—personal responsibility often is.
The interesting thing is that the same principles that you apply to individuals can often be ported into the realm of nations. And again, my attitude is often described as harsh. Right now, poor countries are gathered together for an economic conference. In the past, this conference is mainly a meeting to discuss tariffs and so on. This year, just to change things up I guess, they decided to complain a bit about how globalization discriminates against them,
"The envisaged benefits have not materialised for most of the poor countries and even when they have, these are not equitably shared while the costs are borne by all," the statement said.
First, it's a stupid statement. I'm willing to bet that the costs aren't equitably shared, either. And frankly, anyone who gripes that, hey, I'm getting help but someone else is getting more, isn't going to get access to my heartstrings. Now, assume that their statements are true—they're still behaving like people in a downhill race without any gas who complain about bumps in their tires—smooth tires might help, but let's stop kidding ourselves. Poor countries don't have to be poor. And they aren't being kept poor by evil Americans.
The way to stop being a poor country is no longer a mystery—but it does take a lot of work and sacrifice by the people least likely to want to work or sacrifice in the country—the rulers. Fiscal responsibility, freedom, private property, the rule of law, and building an infrastructure of knowledge and innovation are how it's done. If you aren't willing to do the work, then you don't have a lot of call on my sympathy. Countries have pulled themselves up with nothing but rock or desert for natural resources—Singapore, Taiwan, and Israel to name a few. Turkey and Iran could be next if they can manage to get over the internal forces holding them back.
The problem is, though, that if I ever get popular enough for people to start listening to what I'm saying, I guarantee that I'll be called all kinds of bad names starting with mean and probably not ending until I withdraw. It's much more acceptable to sit back with a show of sympathy and maybe some weak token assistance. Well, the point I am trying to make here is that these shows of sympathy and even the money being given are not only not helping they are actively harming the people they claim to want to help. Assistance that is not accompanied by true concern and a willingness to confront harsh truths is waste and, worse, it builds dependence and undermines actions that bring lasting change.
The people of Iraq are poor, with inadequate health care, medicine, and sometimes food. But a lack of food and medicine is not the cause of their poverty. Now, some people have the audacious mendacity to claim that the cause of Iraq's problems is the U.S. embargo. As if everything was perfectly fine there until we imposed it (here's a clue: they weren't). Anybody with a lick of sense can see that the cause of the poverty is the ruler. Iraq is an easy case, but other countries aren't that hard to understand, either—provided you're willing to take a hard look and not assume that external factors can be found for every ill.
Which is why I am so unwilling to soften my principles. Weakness kills. Vacillating when lives are on the line is irresponsible and, just maybe, evil. Showing sympathy and giving pocket change to look good to your friends is selfish, immature, and wrong. And I'm tired of being yelled at about how mean I am when I'm the one who cares about the well-being of those in need.
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