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We’ve heard a lot in recent years about “compassionate conservatism” or “conservatism with a heart.” But we already have too much of that sort of thing – too many governmental decisions justified by the heart with no thought of the consequences they lead to.
And there seems no end in sight. Just like Bill Clinton, George Bush justifies new governmental incursions into education, health care, welfare, and aid to foreign dictators with stories of “need” and pleas for compassion.
But this is compassion of the heart. Its purpose is to make you feel good about yourself – not to truly help other people. It isn’t really compassion at all. It is mere posturing – showing off as a humanitarian with someone else’s money and life and ignoring any bad consequences it produces.
What we really need is compassion of the mind – compassion for others that is directed intelligently and produces truly compassionate results.
A better kind of compassion
Compassion of the mind is measured by how much others are actually helped – in results, not in good intentions.
It doesn’t act without first confirming that it really will improve the intended recipient – by the recipient’s standards, not by the giver’s. And it doesn’t rob Peter to show off to Paul.
Compassion of the mind doesn’t shirk personal responsibility by turning to government and pretending to have improved anyone’s life. Government has failed so miserably at everything – from its war on poverty to its war on drugs – that you invite disaster, not benevolence, when you ask it to help people.
True compassion wouldn’t try to “save our children” by putting non-violent drug users in prison for long terms – overflowing the prisons so that child molesters and rapists have to be released early to threaten our children. Nor would true compassion separate casual drug users from their children.
And true compassion wouldn’t try to “save our children” by depriving people of the means to protect themselves and their families from those who would do them harm.
Compassion of the mind supports effective charities like the Salvation Army, Big Brothers, the Prison Fellowship, and others – charities that constantly monitor their own costs, operations and results to assure that they’re truly helping people. They aren’t perfect, but they’re good enough to be able to demonstrate to donors that their contributions are well spent.
Meanwhile, compassion of the heart spawns such wasteful, brutal, misguided disasters as the war on poverty, the insane war on drugs, Head Start, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. When only appearances matter, government coercion can always generate a few showy beneficiaries, even if the unseen costs and consequences are horrendous.
By contrast, when some people don’t provide for their own future, compassion of the mind doesn’t claim to help them by forcing all of us into a fraudulent Social Security scheme – a scheme that makes almost all of us poorer.
Compassion of the mind has none of the moral arrogance that justifies coercion in pursuit of humanitarian objectives. Such arrogance led to the Holocaust, the Stalin murders, and the Cambodian genocide.
Forcing people to be generous isn’t humanitarian, effective, compassionate or moral. Only acts that are truly voluntary for all concerned can be truly compassionate.
Compassion of the mind seeks to allow each person to keep his own earnings and freedom to care for himself and his family in whatever way he thinks best – and to be able to help others in his own way.
It recognizes that the greatest gift possible is the freedom to live your life as you think best – to face the consequences of your own acts – so you can grow and become more responsible, so you can take care of those entrusted to you, so you have a reason to work and accumulate, so you can help or not help people as you decide – not as some politician coerces you in order to improve his image or pay off some political group.
How to help people
Like many people, most Libertarians feel empathy and sympathy for less fortunate people. But they know you can’t have perfection in a world of limited resources. Thus they want to channel precious resources where they’ll do the most good.
How will the most good be achieved? Everything we know about human nature and about government tells us that individuals using their own money will achieve far more good for themselves and far more for others than politicians spending money they didn’t have to work to earn.
Compassion of the heart is designed to make you feel better. Compassion of the mind is focused on helping others feel better.
Compassion of the mind isn’t as showy as compassion of the heart, but it’s a lot more effective.
Which would you like to see more of – showing off or intelligent benevolence?