On the Other Hand...

Teresa, Hillary, and Ayn

by Jim Davies

I'm happy to echo the widespread praise for Mother Teresa, who died recently in Calcutta. It's been said that a secret of success in life is to "find out what you're best at, then do it with all your strength" and if that's correct, this diminutive nun stands as a giant of our time. She knew how to provide immediate, compassionate, battlefield care for the casualties of the war with poverty, and she did that one thing better than anyone of our era.

One of the anecdotes broadcast on the day she was buried told of a typical working day, in which she took babies from the gutter and washed them, cleaning out their wounds, maggots and all. When someone asked her how she had spent her day, she at once replied, "I have been bathing Christ". Quite a lady!

No criticism of Teresa's tireless and inspiring work is meant, when I point out that it was limited to the one task of providing remedial care. She did what she was good at, better than any of us do what we are good at; and she did it till the day she died, at the ripe old age of 87. Even so, it's a simple fact that she did not choose to fight poverty in any other ways. As far as I know she never passed comment on the causes of poverty and child neglect, in India or anywhere else; she never explored the politics and economics of the matter, which lie at its root. Her focus was on immediate need, on urgent care.

Yet attention to the ultimate causes of poverty is, I suggest, at least as important as repairing its worst effects. If we understand its cause, we may be able to prevent it; and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Hillary

The President's wife attended the funeral, and gave a speech. Apparently she admired Teresa as well, or wanted us to think so. Given what Hillary Clinton believes and represents, I found that highly anomalous, very inappropriate.

She is a consummate politician, arguably the power behind the Clinton throne. She is, as clearly shown by her prolonged campaign for tax-funded health care, an unregenerate Socialist. Whereas Teresa and the nuns of her order spent all their days getting their hands dirty and subsisting only on funds that were given to them voluntarily, Hillary has spent many of hers attempting to increase yet further the obscene degree of grand larceny from the American people; not to inspire us to give charitably, but to force us to do so at the point of a gun. Yes, that is precisely what taxation is!

Can you even imagine a Sister of Charity cruising the streets of Calcutta with a begging bowl in one hand and a gun in the other?! Yet that is just what all governments always do: pay us, or we will force you into jail at gunpoint. And Hillary Clinton doesn't even pretend to want to reduce that; she revels in it. Instead of reforming our health care by withdrawing government from the system so that free enterprise and charity can minimize costs, she wants to increase yet further its "forced charity", the taxing, spending, spying and controlling.

For thirty years the US government has spent trillions of our dollars on its alleged "war on poverty" but has achieved nothing; by its own figures, poverty is as prevalent now as it was then. We are therefore all deeper in poverty, by the measure of those wasted trillions. What a profound contrast with the rich legacy of lives repaired by Teresa! Hillary Clinton had no place in Calcutta.

Ayn

Whereas Teresa passionately fought poverty and whereas Hillary's actions help create more of it, philosopher Ayn Rand knew both its cause and its remedy.

One of her remarkable books has the surprising title "The Virtue of Selfishness". Perhaps Teresa never read it. I expect that Hillary did, and am quite sure that if so, it made her very angry; for nobody, yet, has answered Ayn Rand's relentless logic, which goes something like this.

If "virtue" is to be obtained by helping people in need, then those receiving such help must be virtue-less, or "evil"; a repugnant, unacceptable conclusion!

Second, there must come an equilibrium; at some point (such as, 50%) the number of people needing help and compassion balances the number of able people eager to render them help. Therefore, it is impossible (on that same, basic and very commonplace assumption) for more than approximately 50% of any population to become virtuous. So about half of the human race is predestined to be "evil"!

And third, it necessarily follows that the virtuous will try to increase the number of available "victims", to enhance their own opportunity to do good. Again, it's hard to imagine anything more likely to hinder human progress.

Ayn Rand went further, as her book title suggests, by proposing that true virtue springs instead rather from helping one self, thereby relieving the rest of mankind from any obligation (real or alleged) to deliver assistance. It's in that sense that she uses the word "selfish"; she meant, "concerned with one's own affairs" and "seeing that one's own needs are met."

I think she was dead right. For a start, that philosophy means that all of us have a chance at virtue, without ever putting on a habit. Then, everyone in the world can do it; there is no limit, such as a shortage of victims. Finally the whole of society would greatly benefit; for however "virtuous" the work of such as Mother Teresa may be, ultimately it is an appalling waste of human talent, firstly that her beneficiaries do not help themselves (or their own children) and secondly that her own great talents were spent repairing damage instead of creating wealth. In other words, if everyone took care of his own, everyone's standard of living would see an enormous increase; that is, poverty would end.

True, there would always be a disabled few in need of the compassion of a Teresa - even if there were no Hillarys, to weave poverty out of whole cloth. But if the rest of us followed Ayn Rand, endemic poverty would vanish.

© Copyright Jim Davies 1999

Jim Davies lives in New Hampshire,
and enjoys contemplating which way is up.

The above is Edition # 224

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