So, part of the issue with closing off Noah’s Boy is that, as you guys know if you read the second book Gentleman Takes A Chance, I have to deal with issues of kindness and lack of kindness, and when it’s right and just to be soft, and when being soft might cause more problems than being harsh.
Tom, my main characters (with his gf Kyrie) is, for reasons that will become obvious in the third book, sort of a “natural and universal daddy.” He’s always trying to help people and be nice to them in the second book. The big issue, of course, is that he doesn’t get the other side of the father thing: being firm and being a protector… until the third book.
In the second book and at the beginning of the third, Tom is having issues with this, and Kyrie has to be the “heavy” – who prevents his charitable impulses from biting them in the fleshy part of the behind.
This is something that took me forever to learn, and something that is, by and large, not taught in our schools. You are taught it is good and kind to help everyone, and that you shouldn’t judge those who come in search of help, and that you should give to all regardless of deserts. In fact the whole point of governmental charity (known as redistribution. We’re not talking here about short and self-funded safety net, but extended, long term help) is that because we all “belong to the government” as they kept saying at the Democratic convention, no one needs feel bad about asking it for largesse.
The problem of that kind of impersonal largesse – or what I would call the dopy largesse that “we must not judge and we must give to all, and if they’re worse off than you they ‘deserve’ it” – is that it often does more harm than good.
We won’t go into how it harms those who might need a lot less help, but for whom there are no resources left. That’s been covered in another post.
Instead, let’s talk about how it harms the “victims” of largesse.
Somewhere in my archives I have an article about Africa in which an African pleaded with the West to stop helping Africa. His point was that when a man with a physics degree can make better money driving some international charity mukety muck around, then Africa is not going to develop its native talent or stand on its own two feet. (And that’s before considering the fact that much of the money sent to Africa end up in the hands of war lords and despots, thereby not allowing Africa to develop a bottom-up political system.) I’m not sure I agree 100 percent, but I do agree most of the aid is counterproductive or worse, and it should be targeted at things like children, pure drinking water, and such. (And even that will cause distortions.)
Also somewhere in the archives is the story of when my youth group decided to help a poor family in the village. They lived in a horrible place, had a lot of children, and well, we wanted to help. So we collected a bunch of money and gave it to the father…
Only to be told by my mother that the adults in the village had been feeding the kids and giving the kids stuff forever, but tried not to give anything to the parents, because it all went to drink, and then the kids got beaten and were worse off. In fact, when feeding the kids you had to do it at your place. If you sent them back with groceries, the mom sold it for drink money. Ditto with clothes you gave the kids, which is why they went about in dirty rags.
Then there is the soup kitchen downtown in my city, which has such great and no questions asked services that bus-fulls of “homeless” come from Denver for them.
We’ll forget for a moment that it’s destroying downtown business (in cheerful collaboration with the city-council’s ridiculous parking policies.) because it’s really hard to run a bookstore – one of the businesses that closed – when vagrants come in and pee on the floor, or the books, while your patrons are browsing. Instead, let’s talk about my walking past a group of these and hearing a relatively young woman – around my kids’ age – say she could back to her parents, but they’d make her go to school and stop doing drugs, and why should she? She can get food, clothing and medical care at the soup kitchen, and she is “free” and no one can tell her what to do.
Looking at the wrecks of older derelicts around her, I couldn’t help but think that the “cruel” solution of making her go home and submit to rules she hates would be kinder to her in twenty years if she lives that long.
Cruel to be kind. Kind to be cruel. For a while now, the rule of thumb of my charitable giving has been “First do no harm.” We still give a lot, but most of it isn’t even deductible because it’s to people we know well who’ve hit a rough spot. For the “impersonal” charity I tend to go with the same things that we spend our money on: stuff that privileges the education of the young and the ability of families to earn a living. Or, occasionally, charities that help those who genuinely can’t help themselves.
Well, in this book (and for the next few) Tom has to learn to be a protector, which means occasional violence, but not unreasoning, not untargeted. Showing him learning that without turning into a “bad” guy is difficult and has to be very carefully negotiated.
I’m working on it.
And our whole society needs to work on it too, because kindness and giving without controls only encourages the vices that bring about destitution and need in the first place.
This being Wednesday, there’s a different post over at Mad Genius Club.