Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Column on Helping People in Dire Straits

Kids aren?t A Resource

Tibor R. Machan

At times I watch BBC World News because it covers more international
issues than even CNN. So the other night I was watching and there was a
report on the AIDS epidemic in Africa. The report gave some harrowing
information as well as quotations from people trying to raise funds to
combat AIDS.

At one point the announcer read a quote from one AIDS worker to the
effect that it is especially vital that the children be saved. The reason,
I heard her quoting the AIDS worker, is that ?children are the future of

I have heard similar remarks being made when people discuss helping
children in various ways, educational, medical, economic, etc. Children
seem to be of concern because without them, the future of some country or
region of the world, or some important project is in jeopardy.

I have children and over their lifetime I have had ample opportunity to
provide for them in many different ways. But I must admit that my reason
was never, ever that they are needed for the future of America, the world,
or the Western Hemisphere or, indeed, my own future. My idea has always
been that as children of mine, I have signed on freely to give them
support so they can flourish in their lives a bit more and better than
they would without my support. In short, I was concerned with them, not
with what they might be good for.

The kind of thinking that lies behind wanting to give aid and support to
children because they are needed for the future of a country or science or
the arts seems to me to get it completely backwards. That?s because human
beings, as some moral philosophers have made abundantly clear, are ends in
themselves. That means their lives are for them, not some resource for
some other purpose.

Human beings, indeed, should never be thought of as instruments for the
advancement of something else, not unless that something else is chosen by
them as their own goal. People are important not because they make
contributions to something apart from them?sciences, the arts, politics,
business, the environment or whatever. They are important in and of
themselves. They matter as the individual persons they are.

Of course people make contributions to many projects throughout their
lives and whoever values those projects will welcome and encourage this.
But what makes those people worth supporting and helping when they are in
special need is not that they make such contributions. It is that they are
human individuals, like us, with lives and goals of their own.

If one generously supports the effort to combat AIDS in Africa or
anywhere else, one has no justification for demanding that some special
goal be advanced by those being helped. Generosity, charity, or
philanthropy are not the same thing as business whereby one expects to
gain returns from one?s investments. And even in business the gains depend
upon what those with whom we deal choose to exchange for what we choose to
exchange. It must all be voluntary otherwise it is bad business. But in
generous, charitable or philanthropic acts the point isn?t to derive
benefits for oneself or for something one supports, say, a cause or a
project. Such acts have to do with benefiting the recipients. And they
need not come up with something in return. Otherwise it is not generosity
at all that?s involved.

To think that the reason to help those afflicted with AIDS or any other
malady is to further some goal for which they can be useful is to
dehumanize these individuals, think of them as tools or instruments for
something more important than they are. Not that there is anything wrong
with advancing certain causes by supporting those who can help in this
task. But that?s not the point of helping people, not when they are in
dire straits, not when they are experiencing some emergency they aren?t
able to handle on their own.

Children with AIDS need help as the individuals who they are, not as
means to some other ends. That is why one ought to give emergency support
to them, not to advance some geopolitical or cultural objective. Thinking
of them as means to various goals is to fail to fully appreciate their
humanity. People, to put it bluntly, aren?t our or anyone else?s resources
but their own.

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