Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Shaking Loose the Altruists

There is nothing like a natural disaster to inspire certain types of people to opine on its cause, how it should be addressed, or something of the sort. The Haiti earthquake is no exception.

For example, Pat Robertson claimed that the earthquake was the result of a sinister agreement with Beelzebub:
Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, okay it's a deal.
It would be quite easy (and accurate) to dismiss Robertson as a delusional idiot, but I will resist that temptation. Personally, I don't find Robertson to be a very credible historian, particularly given that he isn't sure which Frenchie had the Haitians under his heel. I will admit that I was unaware that the devil spoke French, but it really doesn't surprise me.

While most of the civilized world has been laughing off Robertson's claim, it seems that the Chronicle accepts his theory, for on Monday their editorial provided a stern warning:
As one of the world's so-called failed states, Haiti is not only an ongoing humanitarian disaster. Its chronic instability also poses a potential health and security threat to its Caribbean neighbors and the United States, with Miami only 700 miles to the northwest.
Since the Chronicle editorial board appears to have sworn off research, I would like to point out that Haiti is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. Their navy is a fantasy--that is, it does not exist, except perhaps in Pat Robertson's mind. Ditto for their air force. Given that Miami is "only" 700 shark-infested miles away, how in the hell is this non-military a threat to the security of the United States? I can only conclude that since the Haitians have a pact with the devil, the Chronicle believes that they have some nukes hidden in some of their mud huts.

Not to be outdone, actor Danny Glover piped in with his take:
What happened in Haiti could happen to anywhere in the Caribbean because all these island nations are in peril because of global warming. When we see what we did at the climate summit in Copenhagen, this is the response, this is what happens, you know what I'm sayin'?
Yeah Danny, I know what you are saying. You are telling the world that you have a political agenda to push and you aren't above using a tragedy to do so. Unless Americans submit to Obama's dictatorial desires, we too may have massive earthquakes tear our cardboard shacks to shreds. And then we will have to march through the streets clapping our hands and chanting, impatiently waiting for someone to help us.

While most of the world is trying to instill guilt in us for not rushing to the aid of the Haitian people, we have others--such as Robertson and Glover--using the occasion to promote their agenda. But in the end, there is no difference. One group wants us to sacrifice for the Haitians. Robertson wants us to sacrifice for God. And Glover wants us to sacrifice for Gaia. In principle they all agree.

Glover wants me to believe that because I have driven an SUV for the past 12 years I am responsible for killing Haitian babies. I refuse to accept that guilt trip, for 2 reasons. First, it is a bunch of bunk. Second, in 1974 I purchased a Vodou drum in the Iron Market in Port-au-Prince. I paid the handsome price of $5, which was a considerable sum to a teen-age boy. Given that the average family income in Haiti today is about $2 a day, I probably supported a family for a week or more. And rather than just give my money away, I got something in return.

There is nothing wrong with helping others, but it is not a moral obligation. Nor should one provide aid to others when doing so is a sacrifice. You have a moral right to your own life and your own happiness. Your only responsibility is to yourself and those you voluntarily choose to support (such as your family). And don't believe anyone who tells you otherwise.


Mo said...

it has got me thinking that times of disaster do pit the principles behind proper constitutions and governments against emotions. you either follow the principles of liberty or those altruistic emotions and coercive charity.

Brian Phillips said...

I agree. The suffering in Haiti is horrible, and I think it is only "natural" to want to do something about it. But wanting to do something doesn't mean that it is proper. Nor do the ends justify the means.

rhaacke said...

Wanting to help the people of Haiti is proper as long as you do it yourself or in voluntary cooperation with others who feel the same way. It is when we force others to help that we are in the wrong.

If you think about, perhaps the only time the ends don't justify the means is when we force others to provide the means.

Brian Phillips said...

While I agree that using force to make people help is always wrong, the absence of force doesn't make helping others proper.

Helping others is proper only when it does not involve a sacrifice. Sacrificing to help others, even if done voluntarily, is immoral-- it is counter to the requirements of human life.

rhaacke said...

You are right. Sacrifice is stupid. However, I do not feel that I'm necessarily making a sacrifice when I help someone. The quality of life is just as important as the quantity of it. Those who can look on and not feel that the quality of their life has been lowered because others are suffering are very cold at best. Don't get me wrong, I don't often go out of my way to help others. Most of the time those who are in a bad spot are there because of the choices they have made. Sometimes they are not. These are the people I occasionally help.

Brian Phillips said...

The quality of my life is determined by my actions in the pursuit of my values. The quality of my life is not lowered if I do not help those who are suffering--there will likely always be someone who is suffering. That fact does not impose any kind of obligation on me, and I certainly won't feel guilty if I don't help them.