Penalties for Do-Goodery

I take it as a given that Christians are called to be a force for good and for decency in the world, and that this good and this decency are best exhibited face-to-face with people you know and live with. The debates that arise when I write about what I am going to write about momentarily always want to veer off into discussions of whether we should help the disadvantaged or no. This is a red herring; the question is always how best to help, not whether to help.

But this is a question (because it involves evidence) that a certain kind of person does not want asked. As Thomas Sowell points out in The Vision of the Anointed, there is a certain kind of mind that wants the propriety of all acts of compassion to be self-evident and easy, and this kind of mind reacts to all questions about whether or not “this” will actually help people as nothing more than hypocritical foot-dragging. They then propose a policy that will turn out to be disastrous for the folks they say they want to help, they brook no disagreement from critics of their proposals (who are probably being paid by the oil companies anyway), and then when the events prove the critics right, they are nowhere to be found. They are way farther down the road, blithly demanding that we do something, and quickly, about the next crisis that has come to their attention. The “anointed” have a false view of man, and a false view of their own abilities to fix man. Since that false view functions for them as the axiomatic level, it need not ever be questioned. It must not be questioned. Sowell’s subtitle for his book says a lot: “self-congratulation as a basis for social policy.”

The Bible teaches that people often need rough governance. The law is for wicked people. The magistrate doesn’t bear the sword for nothing. The people of Israel are told not to be mulish, not to require the bit and bridle. And Solomon says, “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” This last passage summarizes an approach to public justice that doesn’t rely heavily upon nuance. And of course, it does have application to many of the debates about public affairs that occur between sensible people and the “anointed” — to crime rates, to race relations, to sex education, and so on. But I want to apply it in a way that does exhibit some nuance.

The point I have been making is that we have to apply it to the anointed themselves. Not only is it true that criminals need to be restrained by swift and immediate accountability for their actions, so also do the chattering classes need to be held accountable for the consequences of implementing their proposals. We need penalties for do-goodery when it blows up. If life is complicated and has lots of extra variables after the disaster, then let’s hear about those complications and variables when you are making your strident, insistent, and simplistic demands beforehand.

The simplest mistake in the world is to think that an act of human kindness, extended from one person to another, is capable of being translated to the larger scale of millions of people, with everything essential in that compassionate gesture remaining unaffected and unchanged. The mistake is a natural one, but it has nevertheless ruined economies, ensalved millions, killed millions more, led to streams of refugees, and untold misery. But, if you do that kind of thing enough, it is far more likely to lead to the Nobel Peace Prize than to public humiliation and disgrace. We need to apply Ecclesiastes 8:11 to that.

We need memories longer than whatever the current debate is. Everybody gets distracted by current outrage, and there appear to be no consequences for past outrages. So Jimmy Carter was kissing the Hamas guy last week, and of course sensible people were revolted. But if we knew our business, all the questions we asked him would have some connection to Rhodesia. “Would you be pleased if we implemented your proposals for the Middle East, and twenty years from now they turned out as well as your proposals for Rhodesia did? Is this what we have to look forward to?”

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