There is a peculiar strangeness to virtues, to those things we strive to practice and which are good for us and society in general: you have to know when to stop.
An excess of virtue seems to turn to vice and derange the mind just enough that it doesn’t realize what it’s doing.
Perhaps part of it is that we’re a less religious society, so some people have never been warned of the dangers of keeping the form but forgetting the purpose. Or perhaps because so many people have forgotten the idea of “virtue” as such and just have these left over, ingrained reflexes of a post-Christian society. These people can usually be recognized by saying quite the most stupid things about who Jesus was or what he believed, while running down those who have any religious belief in the mean time. You’ve run into these critters, for instance, deploying memes on compassion to claim Jesus was an illegal immigrant (as though the forms and borders of the 21st century applied to the 1st) or deploying memes to say Jesus expelled the “capitalists” from the temple, (ignoring that the sin was doing it under the aegis of the temple, aka, confusing the market place with religion and vice versa which is not, usually, a sin of capitalists, except in those places corrupted by socialism,) or oh, telling us that we should be willing to pay more taxes because we ere enjoined to look after the poor, or perhaps my favorite from the party of abortion-on-demandTM reminding us that Mary was a single mother, (again completely missing that the forms of the society in 21st century America and 1st century Judea couldn’t be more different. She risked stoning, had someone not stood by her, and yeah, for the record I completely oppose stoning single mothers, even without divine intervention. OTOH I don’t remember her asking for government benefits for her baby. Must be a different translation of the New Testament I read.)
But this is not a religious blog, and at least one third of my readers aren’t Christians, as far as I can track. This was just to explain that the society retains the “form” of Christianity and a lot of the impulses, while having lost the why.
Which allows virtues to morph into truly repulsive behavior, which destroys lives while going unchecked, because it’s hiding under cover of something “we all know to be a virtue.”
Take charity, or if you prefer compassion — caritas, by any other name — which in many ways is unraveling society and destroying lives.
Charity, as practiced by all the Abrahamic religions is supposed to be a PERSONAL virtue. Sure you can band together with people of your faith or others to extend the reach of your charity. BUT you are not supposed to force other people to participate by force. That might be organized crime, or perhaps just extortion, and like some organized criminals, you might have the best intentions in the world, but it does not sanctify the arm twisting. Because you’re still “causing harm to do good” and that’s always bad. Because your knowledge of others is limited, you won’t know the unintended consequences of your actions, or even if you’re extorting from the “right” people. (Not that there’s any “right” people to extort from but people delude themselves about the “rich” paying their “fair share.”
Government is particularly bad about this.
Take us, for ex. I pay an unreasonably high tax rate, because I fall under a category that is meant to catch under-reporting lawyers and doctors, not free-lance writers. For the government, though, we’re exactly the same thing and if some government drone noticed that we fall into it too, he’d probably assume all moderately-successful writers are exactly like the series “Castle.”
And even programs supposed to be more discriminating (in the right sense) do very weird stuff. Keeping in mind I’m a writer: we learned earlier that when our kids applied for student loans, we had to make sure my money from writing was in another account, neatly labeled business and locked away by being part of a corporation. Because suppose I go a few advances, and had been doing well indie for six months, and had 40k in the bank the month the kids applied: the program ASSUMES all of it is available to pay for their tuition (we paid half of each) and none of it would go to taxes or other business obligations. Nor did it seem to understand the money might be there for some other reason: a new computer, or whatever the need for making more money was. There were a couple of years we had to shoulder the full thing, because my not unusual situation was completely opaque to what is supposed to be a fairly sophisticated ah “ability and needs” judging program, led them to believe we had a year’s income sitting around in the bank, waiting to be spent on tiddly winks and chocolate milk, and that the kids were only applying for loans out of joi de vivre.
In the same way, many a family business goes bankrupt when the main owner dies, because even though the business’s worth is invested (particularly in the case of farms or restaurants) in things that are neither convenient to sell nor can be sold without destroying the ability to make more money, the government expects the heirs to pay full tax on their WORTH. It’s amazing how many small businesses (not ours, though some of my colleagues got books seized when the copyright passed to heirs, and the assumption of the copyright value was… interesting to say the least) have a worth of a million or so, while barely making enough for a family of four, once you run it and pay employees.
The thing is this is all done in the name of compassion, which has been outsourced to the government and therefore is going after the — on paper — rich to give to the — on paper — poor. This is a lot like the left’s conception of Robin Hood (they have him as wrong as they have Jesus. Mostly Robin Hood stole from tax collectors and gave back to the people.) And they think it’s a good thing.
But the repercussions or our… ah, developmentally disabled tax system has destroyed many many lives. And not those of the plutocrats the left imagines it’s taking undeserved money from (they should know about undeserved money, since those of them who work work entirely on the parasitic mechanism of the state “equalization”machine.) It has taken the money from family businesses that had sometimes taken generations of patient work to build, it has made it harder to survive as a middle class working person than an indigent lay-about, and it has made it harder for families to climb out of government assistance, because after taxes the proceeds of honest labor are much lower than what you can get milking the system.
To the extent that generations on welfare stunts the ability to be a contributing member of society this false compassion based on extortion has destroyed entire generations of people and might have done irreparable harm by creating a tribe of anti-socials in our midst, who consider themselves entitled to living as they wish while not working. I’m not sure how many of those a functioning society can support. I suppose at some time we’ll find out.
That’s the macro level.
The local level…. Ah, compassion.
Look, I do realize that some people, at times, are homeless through no fault of their own. We’ve never quite hit that point but after some exceptionally bad years, I won’t say we weren’t close. We stayed off soup kitchens by eating a lot of rice and frozen vegetables for years.
But you have to understand just like our “hunger in America” count dieting people (the question is “did you ever go to bed hungry” or “Do you normally eat all you want.”) so does homelessness in America count your kid who is between jobs and staying in your guest room, or your friend who just moved to town and crashed on your sofa for a week. The most common time someone in America is “homeless” is 1 day. Second most common is 2 days, etc.
But there is real homelessness. Of course there is. When Acacia Park, downtown Colorado Springs was infested with them (is it still?) I used to hear them talking candidly among themselves during their morning walk.
Do you know what I never heard them say “I can’t find a job.”
Do you know what I heard them talk about? Drugs, mostly. The young ones would talk about not going home, because their parents (gasp) would require them to stop doing whatever it is they were doing, drug wise.
There were also complaints about cities making it hard to beg, talk of having “dropped out” 30 years ago, and the injustice of even thinking of finding a job.
Were a lot of these people drug addicted or mentally ill. A-yup. Were a lot of the mentally ill drug addicts who were trying to self medicate? A-yup. Were a lot of them on the run from legally prescribed drugs that would control that mental illness? A-yup. Do a lot of drugs, when used over time, have the uncomfortable side effect of bringing on mental illness which might have been latent? Seem to. The relation hasn’t been very well documented or studied, but anyone who knows people who did a lot of drugs in the sixties has noted a difference before and after.
The one thing that’s certain is that encouraging (with money and freebies and that famous “compassion”) the homeless to continue in their destructive lifestyle has horrendous social consequences.
Those shelters and soup kitchens that cater to all without demanding sobriety will turn teens who left home because parents objected to their pot use into hardened street people who will not have any skills and fall, rung by rung into being utterly useless and unable to integrate in normal society.
But they do worse. Around these soup kitchens and shelters, if near residential areas, there grows an area of crime and desolation, because you know, these people still have to pay for drugs somehow. If near commercial areas, they blight the tendency of shoppers to come to that area, because no one wants to be followed/accosted or screamed at by people who are acting crazy (whatever the real reason.)
The do gooders then claim the fault is of “normal society”, of those horrible bourgeois who don’t want to live or shop in an area where they’re likely to be assaulted, insulted or mistreated, not mention robbed from.
But of course, there are very few (some of course) middle class people who are that by virtue of having inherited all their money. Most of us stay out of homelessness by working daily, sometimes brutal hours, so we can pay our taxes and still live and build a future for our children.
When you make the work and our limited enjoyments more difficult we move on.
Now the “compassion” in the more “progressive” locales has reached the point of if not outright encouraging, not discouraging “homeless” — which really should be “barbarians” because they’re actually not just homeless. The habitual ones are people who live outside our civilization as effectively as though they were the nearby tribe who lives from raiding us — from defecating on the street.
You know, I come from a society where many many illnesses were endemic that shouldn’t be: from cholera to TB to typhoid. They were finally controlled not by modern medicine but by a rigorous program of public hygiene; by making people buy shoes and wear them on public streets and spaces (in my mom’s time, though there was still a law forbidding going barefoot, which I fell afoul of when boarding the train to school on a day I had forgotten to put shoes on. Shut up. It was in finals.) Other things it discouraged included spitting or on ground. Or pooping on the ground, where it could contaminate ground water.
In the densities of people in cities, it is very easy for one barbarian to infect the entire tribe and I look forward to seeing what sort of new epidemics develop in one particular city. Or I would, if our society weren’t so interconnected and people didn’t travel all over taking their germs.
And ultimately that’s it. Like a gap in our immune system — or an exploit-worthy flaw in a computer system — this “outsourced compassion” and this non-judging charity without paying attention to when it actually becomes harmful, is a gaping and growing wound through which barbarism is invading civilization.
The idea that instead of people being secure in their possessions and in the enjoyment of their space, anyone who has anything is somehow beholden to those who don’t is a Marxist lunacy, (not Christian) and a part of that whole fixed pie economics fallacy. It’s the idea that whatever you have you stole from someone, and if you wish to enjoy a clean and safe walk through your neighborhood, you’re some sort of despoiling ogre who caused the filth and the aggression of your neighbor, and therefore must have your nose rubbed in his (never learned to restrain it) anger and filth.
It destroys decent life, enjoyment of the fruits of one labor and the safety that civilization is supposed to provide.
It’s not Charity. It’s the “Marxist virtue” of envy dressed in charity garb and strutting and dancing to fool children and idiots.
And unless we start combating it, it is enough, by itself, to undo civilization.