Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

When Compassion is Too Easy

Roger Kimball writes with pith and wit about the all-too-earnest and all-too-easy compassion that (sadly) characterizes much of the talk surrounding disaster relief for Myanmar. A taste: The numbers, of course, are pure fabrications, so let me speculate that 10,000,000 will die unless you wring your hands and loudly tell the world how much you care–before, of course, you sit down for dinner tonight with the wife and kids and talk about your plans for the weekend.

Kimball argues that it is neither genuine nor morally superior to have real concern for people so far removed from your real sphere of influence. It’s not wrong, of course, to feel moved to action in the wake of such horrific events. But Kimball is probably right that guilt-inducing pleas for help to folks who are doing their level-best to be good and charitable in their daily lives (very often from folks who, well . . . are not) is more than a little off-putting.

Discussions - 5 Comments

I know I shouldn't disagree with Kimball when he finally says what I have strongly held for a long time concerning morality and taking into account your real sphere of influence, but I think his dig on John Stuart Mill might is off target.

Of course my John Stuart Mill takes into account On Liberty and his writtings on economics...and I generally don't like to reduce him to analytical propositions, his utilitarianism is more nuanced, rich and complex. Bottom line I really like the guy, so I take time to defend him. In any case here goes: “as between his own happiness and that of others, justice requires [everyone] to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator.”

I don't see any problem with this nor do I see this necessarily blowing up in the age of the internet to make "others" everyone that the internet and CNN makes available to consciousness, nor does John Stuart Mill I think imagine that this ideal is fully actualized even in very close quarters. In fact in his economics he makes an argument that suggest that it may be rational to only only be impartial and benevolent towards those that reciprocate, trade is after all an activity undertaken for mutual benefit. John Stuart Mill articulates the Golden Rule but not the Sermon on the Mount. Turn the other cheek may be a bit much, and certainly Socrates argument that it is better to be tyranized than a tyrant might be correct in Mill but he would never assume that humans would see it that way. The first businessman to follow Socrates would find himself in ruin shortly, while the first businessman to follow Mill might well flourish. In terms of greater evidence for why Mill's statements should not be universalized one should look to his An Essay on Government, were he basically argues for the importance of a middle class...but more to the point argues that it will be much easier for such people to understand their own local interest, he also demands that representatives be members of the community they represent....

So not only do I agree with Kimball but I use John Stuart Mill to do so.

One thing that also annoys me when it comes to Mill are conservatives who dismiss Mill and then quote William Buckley to the effect that they would rather be governed by the first 100 names in a phone book than Harvard Faculty but this sentiment(if not refference to phones) is deep in John Stuart Mill's view of government and the centrality of local interest.

In the case of Myanmar, what is there to do? Could we translate and adapt Common Sense to the Burmese language and situation and smuggle it to the masses? Is it a literate population?

My son, the Navy corpsman, was on a humanitarian medical mission to Cambodia for a couple of weeks. They still do not have doctors there, all these years, post Pol Pot. That medical team had hands on 700-950 people a day, both treating and medicating, and knew it was nearly a fruitless exercise. He wrote about it, here,
which he did not write with the wide world in mind, but it is a public blog. In that, he did not write about the sense of futility they had when they left. I heard about it on Mother's Day. For most of the people they saw, doctor for a day was not nearly enough.

With all of the flaws of our government - America is a wonderful place. Myanmar and Cambodia are examples of just how awful life is for most people in the world, because they have simply lousy governments. To fix what is really wrong in those places would demand - what? Does compassionate conservatism demand that we create regime change of every lousy government?

The pity of this is that pity and compassion only do any good to those within reach, because only there can one continuously care. Yet, can you imagine an America that did not try to fix sick children in Cambodia, or feed the stricken in Burma? I can't.

Thomas Sowell covers this in his "Conflict of Visions" with a quote from Adam Smith in his "Theory of Moral Sentiments",M1

Kimball's thoughts sound so familiar - you don't suppose he plagiarized an old sermon of John Paul II's, do you?

But why wasn't this attitude taken when we were told by our Great Leader to care deeply about those suffering under the undemocratic regime in Iraq?

(Julie I'm filing this post away in your Rock Bottom Ten)

I'm sure Craig gives all kind of support to Myanmar and them other terrorist countries.

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