Your Liberty is Our Interest

The Harm of Short-sighted Compassion

By Theresa Camoriano

Many government policies have arisen out of a sense of compassion for people who are undergoing a hardship of some kind.  While these policies have arisen from good intentions, they often have caused great harm, because they were very short-sighted, not taking into account their long-term incentives and effects.  For example, welfare policies that arose out of compassion for poor mothers and children have created incentives that prevent the formation of stable families and result in an increase in the number of poor children being raised by a single mother.  They also result in an increased sense of helplessness and dependency, which is very destructive to the human spirit.  Marvin Olasky wrote an excellent book on the subject, The Tragedy of American Compassion, which describes the traditional ways of dealing with poverty that preserved the dignity of the person and helped the person become more self-sufficient, and describes the harm the resulted from the new, “compassionate” policies.  It is clear that, while the supposedly compassionate policies may have alleviated some pain in the short term, they caused much more pain and harm in the long term.

Similarly, no-fault divorce laws arose out of compassion for the stresses involved when unhappy husbands and wives fought over who was at fault in causing the break-up of a marriage.  The result has been an undermining of the institution of marriage, a far greater incidence of divorce, and many more children being raised in broken homes and single parent homes, while still not alleviating the stresses involved in child custody disputes and other disputes.  Again, while the intentions were to reduce suffering, the result has been quite the opposite.  President Reagan said that signing a no-fault divorce law in California was one of his biggest mistakes.

Thomas Sowell refers to this problem as “stage one thinking”, with proponents of the policy looking only at the short term, while ignoring the destructive incentives and the potential for negative long term results and “unintended consequences” created by the policy.  This allows the people who promote these policies to feel good about themselves and think themselves to be kind-hearted, progressive, and superior to the backward traditionalists who oppose such major changes to tradition while putting all the costs of the policies on other people.  If you do not bear the costs of your decision, you are not likely to take those costs into account when making the decision, and that is what is happening.

Another example of such a destructive policy has been a liberal abortion law that has removed almost all the traditional restrictions.  This policy was based on compassion for women who were the victims of rape, incest, and the like, and women who found themselves in very difficult situations through no fault of their own, but it has resulted in the killing of over 45 million fetuses in the U.S. between 1973 and 2005, continuing at a rate of over one million abortions per year.  In the black community, more fetuses are aborted than are born.  Again, the unintended consequences of a policy based on compassion have been devastating.

Now, there is a strong push to redefine marriage as including not only opposite-sex couples but also same-sex couples.  This comes from a sense of compassion for homosexuals.  However, this proposed redefinition of marriage, which is the most basic building block of a civilization, has the potential to be very destructive and harmful.  It pretends that there is no difference between men and women and destroys the concept that it is ideal for children to be raised by a married mother and father.  But children need the stable environment and benefits that are provided by a married mother and father.  Mothers typically provide nurturing, while fathers typically provide rules and standards of behavior, both of which are very important to a healthy child. The idea that it doesn’t matter whether a child has two fathers or two mothers or a mother and a father flies in the face of reality and will result in causing great harm to many children.

Such a redefinition of marriage also will result in sexual confusion among young people, particularly women, causing them to make unwise and unhealthy choices for themselves and their children.  Many other negative repercussions from such a fundamental change in the most basic building block of society cannot even be imagined at this point but surely will result.

It is not necessary to redefine marriage in order to be compassionate toward homosexuals.  There are many ways to provide them with legal protections without changing the definition of marriage.  However, as with other government-sponsored social tinkering, the people promoting the redefinition of marriage believe themselves to be more enlightened, more compassionate, and generally superior to those who follow the age-old traditions.  They think they know better than everyone else.  But these self-proclaimed “enlightened” people overlook the fact that those age-old traditions reflect the wisdom and experience of millions of people over thousands of years.  Anyone who believes himself or herself to know more than the collective wisdom of those millions of people living over thousands of years and wants to impose that “wisdom” on millions of children and future generations is being pretty darned arrogant.  It is very easy for these “enlightened” people to stroke their egos, pat themselves on the back, and congratulate themselves for their superior compassion and intellect when they bear none of the costs of their policies, shifting all those costs onto the backs of helpless, defenseless children and future generations.

If these people really want to be superior and more compassionate than the rest of us, they ought to do something that is really useful and beneficial instead of working to undermine the most basic institution of civilization.  They could build clinics and contribute money toward medical research to cure AIDS and other diseases that have been very harmful to homosexuals.  They could volunteer to provide social services to children who are suffering from broken homes.  Those kinds of contributions are much more likely to be very beneficial and much less likely to have severe negative effects, but, of course, they would not stroke the do-gooder’s ego as much or give him or her the same sense of superiority.

Maybe we could come up with a way to let these people feel more “enlightened” and morally superior to the rest of us without causing such great destruction and harm — some kind of an ego-stroking machine that involves the person in a project that takes lots of their time and makes them feel superior by patting them on the back and emitting lots of nice sounds, aromas, and other positive reinforcement while producing no actual results.  Now that really would be an improvement!  Have any ideas?

August 14th, 2010 at 5:16 pm


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