years ago, I had occasion to work with a computer programmer named
Carl. One day, for some reason, we discussed a lawsuit which had
been brought against a national toy company. The toy involved was
a plastic "sprinkler head," which was attached to the
business end of a garden hose and, when the water was turned on,
transformed the hose into a kind of whirling dervish, which spun
around in the air, spraying water all over the place to the delight
of summer children everywhere. Unfortunately, it seemed that some
kid somewhere decided to place the device in his mouth, turn on
the water and, predictably, the child drowned.
Carl had no
sympathy. "Culling," he called it. Nature's way of weeding
out inferior designs. While I was shocked at Carl's lack of compassion,
deep down I had a gnawing feeling that perhaps he might be right.
A single kid, among hundreds of thousands, and among perhaps millions
of uses of this toy, was tragically killed because he thought it
would be fun to jam it down his throat and open the spigot. The
thought that this must have been an inordinately reckless, or inordinately
dimwitted child, nagged at me for days. It did sound pretty stupid
to do what he did, after all. On the other hand, kids do stupid
things. Should the penalty for that be death? In any case, we agreed
that the lawsuit brought by his parents was absurd. Hundreds of
thousands of kids used that toy without a problem; one kid did something
stupid with it and died, so that meant the toy should be taken off
the market and its manufacturers should pay millions in damages?
Obviously not; the fact that one individual out of so many suffered
a negative result due to his own misuse of a product hardly rendered
that product dangerous, despite the assertions of government and
its legal system.
Over the years,
we've all witnessed scores of cases such as the one noted above.
Million-dollar settlements, products removed from the marketplace,
labels on everything from Silly Putty to cattle prods. All of
this to prevent people from doing stupid things and making foolish
choices. Yet people continue acting stupidly, not just in regard
to consumer items, but in all aspects of their lives. They smoke
(sucking a solid into their lungs), damaging their health.
They overeat, and don't exercise, ditto. They spend too much money
and have more children than they can afford. This is all called
freedom, and people can do whatever they want to do to themselves,
as far as I'm concerned (but they shouldn't go begging to the state
when they find they've screwed up, of course).
called it. Social
Darwinism at its most brutal. It's not that I don't have sympathy
for people in dire straits, or even those in simple need. When I
encounter a homeless person on the street, for example, I recognize
that under different circumstances that could be me. I typically
feel a ripple of sorrow, and sometimes hand over a dollar (although
I fully suspect it will be used for alcohol, or worse). At the mall
a few years ago while waiting for the elevator, I found myself standing
across from a boy in his late teens in a wheelchair. He wasn't a
bad-looking kid, but from his speech and mannerisms I realized he'd
never have a normal life. Somehow this brought tears to my eyes
and I had to walk away. This kind of thing doesn't happen to me
often, but it’s necessary that I mention that little story because
of what I must write next.
You see, I've
reached the point where I have to agree with Carl. This is an unpopular
position, to be sure. When discussing it with friends, it always
ends up with my being labeled a hard-hearted hater of poor people.
With me supposedly caring not a whit about all the children who
never had the advantages I had. I'll admit I was fortunate enough
to have had good parents, a husband and wife who loved each other,
worked hard together, and tried their best to provide my brother
and me with a decent lower-middle class existence. They made sure
I did my homework and do as well as I could in school. Yes, they
scraped together enough dollars and paid my tuition at an unexceptional,
mid-city “commuter college” (in an era when, fortunately, it cost
just $300 per semester), and they were supportive in many ways when
I foundered in my career and my life.
don't seem to me to be extraordinary advantages, this is obviously
better than having parents who are alcoholics, who are constantly
fighting, who don't care about their kids, who berate them or beat
them, who let them run around unsupervised so they can get in trouble,
do poorly in school and fail to develop basic common sense or an
ethical system, or the ability to solve the slightest of problems,
or gain any skills for earning a living. Certainly most kids from
such an environment will have more trouble than I did in attaining
a modest, middle-class existence.
Not that it
is impossible, however. As the book The
Great Reckoning notes (quoting Economist magazine),
poverty can be overcome fairly effectively if teenagers do just
a few things: finish high school, don't have babies, and find a
job and keep it. Two people working full time, each earning just
$7.50 per hour, should have over $24,000 a year after income taxes.
They could spend a third of that on rent and have enough left over
to live decently, couldn't they? There could be some savings, too,
if they shunned the X-box, cell phone, widescreen TV and the new
car, right? They might not be living high on the hog, but they could
live in a dignified way, and would be stable enough to improve their
work skills, and get ahead, however slowly, wouldn't they? It seems
to me that people need to live within their limitations; it’s simple:
just don't spend what you don't have. Yet, "can I afford it?"
is a question no one asks themselves anymore. “Do I really need
this?” is another.
Like it or
not, those groups who do not or cannot live within their means,
act responsibly, perform useful work, provide for their offspring,
save money for their future, etc. are supposed to wither away; their
bloodlines are supposed to peter out. This is Nature’s way. Survival
of the fittest. Culling. Yes, it sounds heartless, but it is inherent
in life. The effective and competent members of a species survive
and multiply and, furthermore, they instinctively limit the size
of their families to match the availability of resources; those
who cannot do so vanish, and the species as a whole becomes stronger.
At least this is how it happens in all of the animal kingdom –
except in a single case. Somehow, civilization (specifically its
subset “government”) has altered this state of affairs where human
beings are concerned, and has turned Mother Nature on her head.
for and otherwise mollycoddling the incompetent, the state has ensured
the survival of bloodlines that were not supposed to continue. It
has given rise to “welfare queens” and unstable families, abused
and forgotten children, illiteracy, crime, and all the rest. Groups
whose “survival shortcomings” Nature did not intend to embrace are
instead nurtured by the state, and these groups may even have birth
rates higher than average. At the same time, the state taxes its
competent citizens so painfully, that they are ill-disposed to help
the less fortunate – especially since much of this taxation is
already supposed to be doing just that.
can, and should, be held accountable for their actions, innocent
children can hardly be blamed, since their plight is due to the
shortcomings of their ancestors, their families – in short, their
bloodline. As a civilized people, we don’t want to see them suffer;
we have empathy. I believe that most people in our society, if not
taxed as heavily as they are now, would give a lot more money to
various charities to help the poor, the less fortunate, all the
down-on-their-luck folks. (I know I would annually donate twenty
times what I do now.) Some might even “adopt a family,” not only
giving money, but also providing guidance and education. The difference
is that it would be voluntary and specific, not mandatory and expansive
as it is now, and that makes all the difference in the world.
So, when I
argue that government social programs and handouts should be scrapped,
that it’s not my problem if some people don’t have health insurance,
that it’s “tough luck” if the elderly reach retirement without having
provided for themselves, that all of us are responsible for our
own actions, for our own choices, and our own lives… I’m branded
as heartless. The question is: do I deserve this label?
S. Fischer has worked in various fields.