Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The erosion of compassion...

I read his book (mayhaps I'll upload a review anon), but this piece by Daniel Gilbert was wonderfully insightful. I too automatically give to panhandlers (do we still use that term?) as often as not, simply because I can and I'm tired of feeling bad when I don't, but his analysis is helpful.
Most passers-by did what they were named for, but my wife and I stopped. The man looked up. “Please,” he sobbed. “I just want to go home.” My hand needed no guidance from my brain as it reached into my wallet and extracted $10. “Thank you,” he said as I handed him the money. “Thank you so much.” My wife and I mumbled some embarrassed words and walked on.

We hadn’t gone a block when she tugged my sleeve. “Maybe we should have gotten him into a cab,” she said. “He could barely stand up. He might need help. We should go back to see.” My wife is the patron saint of lost kittens and there is no arguing, so we went back to see. And what we saw was our horribly crippled friend walking briskly and happily up 68th Street, opening the door to a late-model car, getting in and driving away after what was apparently a short day of theatrical work.

I know two things now that I didn’t know then.

First, I now know that my hand did what human hands were designed to do. Research suggests that we are hard-wired with a strong and intuitive moral impulse — an urge to help others that is every bit as basic as the selfish urges that get all the press. Infants as young as 18 months will spontaneously comfort those who appear distressed and help those who are having difficulty retrieving or balancing objects. Chimpanzees will do the same, though not so reliably, which has led scientists to speculate about the precise point in our evolutionary history at which we became the “hypercooperative” species that out-nices the rest.

The second thing I know now that I didn’t know then is that this was the most damaging crime I had ever experienced. Like most residents of large cities, I’d been a victim before — of burglary once, of vandalism several times. But this was different. The burglars and vandals had taken advantage of my forgetfulness (“Why didn’t I double lock the door?”) and taught me to be better. [More]

We in the farm community - whether we admit it or not - are relying on the compassion of other citizens for our subsidies. Many of us feel that transaction keenly and work hard to develop a "case study" of need sufficient for our compensation.

We'd better hope nobody sees us walking away.


Anonymous said...

Wow! You nailed it! I always tell people to remember that "before government can give you anything, it has to take it from somebody else first." If we truly thought like that, and respected the reward of another's hard work (a type of private property right that most farmers like to defend), we would not be so quick to defend or plead for government largesse.

John Phipps said...

I am hopeful the ethanol boom will provide an exit strategy for agriculture to end these discussions. The activity of non-program producers could also dilute the effect of government intervention to irrelevance.

But then, I thought Ohio State would win, too.