Despite the tenor of several recent essays it is not my intention to morph Dragon City Journal into a backdoor journal of moral philosophy. But it seems appropriate, in light of recent events, to revisit my recent essay on what I regard as a “sin-biotic” relationship between poverty and the achievement of Christian “merit” via the Samaritan ethos wherein I treaded a narrow edge that risked sounding like a denouncement of Christian charity. That essay had been percolating in my thoughts for some months, but as it happened I tuned it up for a posting only a few days before the earthquake/tsunami disaster of S. E. Asia, with no idea that such thoughts might be cast in secular relief by current events.
I received a few comments on that piece, but none made any connection between my remarks and the international aid and assistance that has been available to the afflicted countries. So I will make that connection myself.
It will be recalled that initially the Bush administration announced that it was earmarking the paltry sum of $35 million as our contribution to the relief effort. This parsimony is, of course, consistent with the general stinginess of American foreign aid. Americans generally do not know that we are, among developed nations, the least charitable, with less than a nickel out of a hundred bucks going to foreign aid. In any event, somebody tapped Bush on the shoulder and the assistance package was raised ten fold to $350 million (contrast that with about $8 billion a month going to the war in Iraq).
But while the dollar amount matters (and today’s dollars have a lot less purchasing power), these remarks are more concerned with the philosophical dimension of the issue. It caught my attention yesterday on the radio that Bush said (I’m doing this from memory) that “the American government is sending $350million in aid to the tsunami victims” but that “the American people should also show their charity by sending individual donations.” He went on to announce that he was asking his father and Bill Clinton to lead the effort to encourage private giving. Clearly, Bush feels that “we, the people” are not the same thing as the “American government.” Should we surmise that those taxes we pay each year become his personal account to wage war or play the Good Samaritan? What hypocrisy, for the man who has done more than anyone to destroy the reputation of Americans throughout the world, to arrogate to himself our national charity, measly though it may be.
Americans should, of course, be willing to help out others with their own donations through such organizations as Medecins Sans Frontiers. But they should not, like their president, be Samaritan opportunists and do so only when there is international pressure and high-visibility circumstances.
Which brings me to a broader, underlying theme. The Bush administration represents a hypocritical posture towards the role of government in society and international affairs. It runs its rhetoric on an anti-government philosophy, but uses governmental power and wealth to impose its will and interests, both domestically and internationally, and advance the interests of its corporate and ideological supporters. In the coming months and years it will attempt, under the oxymoronic aegis of “compassionate conservatism,” to make permanent unjust tax cuts, and privatize and shift the burdens of health care and social security away from governmental responsibility, and limit the rights of those it deems morally unworthy, all while prosecuting an aimless and unjust war and running up deficits that will be borne by the least able.
Such Machiavellian policies transcend the “moral issues” which the administration confines to women’s rights, same-sex marriage, and Hollywood. It is an abuse of power and responsibility that installs the Samaritan ethos in our government and, in the end, makes those most in need, like Blanche DuBois, dependent upon “the kindness of strangers.”
©2005, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 1.4.2005)