Kindness to Others:

Douglas, in the comments to the post on Beauty and Desecration, remarked:

"Bring back true chivalry, bring back the idea that love is more than hormones and lust, bring back the idea that one can take time to stop and contemplate something beautiful, to sit in silence and dream."

I still think it was a big mistake to start translating charity as love[i.e., translating "caritas" -Grim]. It moved from something involving action and possible cost, and instead became about feelings- just too self-centered for my tastes.

It's easier to feel love than to live charitably.
Ms. Jessica Crispin reviews a book that argues we are wired to be kind, as proven by all the unkindness in the world.
Even believing that humans are hardwired for kindness — and not that competition rules all — could affect everything from simple interactions to national policy on eldercare and the health system.

They write in On Kindness that while it’s always been a philosophical quandary as to whether man’s nature was genuinely kind or selfish, the cynics won out and convinced us that kindness is the clothing civilization forces us to wear, and that deep down we are all wild beasts. Instead of being the cooperative generous beings that primatologists and anthropologists have suggested we are, the argument goes, we need religion and laws to keep us from slicing each other open on a regular basis. Kindness, then, was relegated to your Christian duty, to be done as an item on a checklist....

It can be unpleasant, and there is a prevailing notion that vulnerability and kindness are signs of weakness — for a long time kindness was seen as the territory of weak-minded women, while competition, brutality, and selfishness were the powers of the superior man. Today independence and self-sufficiency are the true virtues, and the interdependence that comes with a kind nature is looked down upon.

And yet when have humans ever craved kindness quite so much? Phillips and Taylor write, “The modern Western adult’s fear about himself is that, to put it crudely as possible, his hatred is stronger than his love; that there is, in the British psychoanalyst Ernest Jones’s words, ‘much less love in the world than there appears to be.’”
I'm not sure how this turned into an anti-Christian rant, since Christianity was the main voice in Western culture that continued to insist on kindness. More, it did so in a way that claimed the virtue equally for men and for women, which seems to be the other complaint here.

(It's because Christianity made it into a 'duty,' instead of suggesting that it's something fun and natural. How oppressive. -ed. Well, when it is fun and natural we don't need to be led to it; the important thing is to be kind and charitable when it's hard, not when it's easy.)

The surviving point, though, is that kindness is an active virtue. It's not enough to have feelings of love for people, but do nothing. It's also not enough to feel a sense of charity, and therefore to vote for someone to do something about it -- but do nothing yourself. To realize the good of the virtue, you actually have to do something.

"Interdependence" isn't the thing that causes us to shy from being more open to showing kindness, though. It's dependence -- not ours, but others'. We all love to take in lost kittens and stray dogs; but if you make a policy of doing it, you very soon find yourself so awash in cats and dogs that every dime of your income is going to their upkeep, while they have long since shredded your curtains and ruined your floors.

The same applies to people. St. Francis of Assisi was able to spend his life in service to the poor because he was able to give up everything and live in a mud-and-branch hut. If you also are willing to adopt a lifestyle that is poorer than that the poor covet for themselves, there is no problem about this. Such a decision must surely be made individually: no one has the right to decide for us that we shall give up everything and live in mud huts, so that the poor may be given whatever we might have.

There are people who are unfit for the pressures of American capitalism, lacking either the ability or the will to do the work to support themselves. They desire protection or support instead of freedom. Many we imprison. Others we support via welfare programs, or by the kind of government job-as-sinecure that we find in every major bureaucracy, the kind where you are entitled to a paycheck and essentially cannot be fired regardless of performance.

I used to believe that these bureaucracies were purely wicked institutions for that reason. The job they do may need to be done ("may," I say, because many of them I think we could dispense with entirely); but it could surely be done more efficiently with private employees who were under threat of firing and other economic pressures. Forcing people to rise to those higher standards would mean that they did rise to them, and society would be better than it is.

Cassandra said recently, in another context, that it is a great fault of conservatives that they like to write rules with the best-equipped in mind. "The government that governs best, governs least" applies well to people who -- left alone - will strive unceasingly for the betterment of their families and beloved ones. Not everyone is like that, though, and leaving them without guidance may create problems. Telling them they must compete at the highest levels when they cannot may be equally wrong.

The problem of dependence remains. The government is currently in the hands of people who want to vote themselves, and their constituents, a living at the expense of others. That's no more sustainable than having the policy of always taking in stray cats and dogs when you meet them.

Even so, there is a duty to charity. We must find a way to support the weak with jobs and care, without the concern that we will thereby find ourselves voted into their forced servitude. We must reclaim the right to decide how much charity we can afford. Some will be generous, and some less, and a few will follow St. Francis into the forest.

The charity, though, will be freely given rather than stolen at sword's point. That's the other point missing from On Kindness' idea that our debates on public policy will be altered by a recognition of a human impulse to kindness. In order to get the benefits of the virtue, it has to be active: which means it has to be chosen. The effect on one's mind of choosing to be kind to the weak is just as they describe. The effect on the mind of having your taxes raised, or your property seized to pay for those taxes, is quite opposite.

If you want to raise the amount of love in the world, you can't do it by force. Not even with the government and its mechanisms as your handmaidens.

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