Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Resisting Emotional Over involvement

Tibor R. Machan

Among the innumerable missteps professionals can take, getting emotionally over involved with their clients is one of the major ones. Yet there is no consensus about this. In fact in some professions, such as medicine, it is often argued that professionals need greater emotional involvement with their patients who, in turn, often praise doctors and nurses who have “good bedside manners,” something that suggests serious empathy and fellow feeling for patients.

Even as a college teacher I have at times heard the call for greater personal involvement in my students’ lives. Instead of merely considering their work, it is argued that who they are, where they come from, their families, hobbies and such need to be attended to in order to serve them properly. And there is something to this. After all, students, like patients and clients of other professionals, are human beings with a wide breath of experiences and influences upon their lives, including their work. To encourage them, to understand why they are doing this or that way with their assignments, to have a sense of just what may be expected of them—all these could benefit from a teacher’s greater involvement. And so could the well being of patients gain something from medical professionals who are closely attuned to them.

However, there is an obstacle that stands in the way of such greater involvement by professionals in their clients’ lives. No, it isn’t the problem of losing their objectivity when they have feelings about them, although that is a possibility. The more important problem is with the professional’s emotional capacity.

Doctors, teachers, attorneys, plumbers, car mechanics and all other professionals who deal with clients simply could not become emotionally close to all of their clients. Indeed, most of us find it difficult if not impossible to have more than a few really close friends who may freely count on our attention to their lives. This is actually a major problem with utopian politics, especially the kind forged by communist thinkers, since they envision a society in which we are all intimately related to one another. Their so called humanitarianism is actually a misconceived transference of personal intimacies into the social and political realm. By their vision, everyone will be emotionally involved with everyone else, in that communal fashion that has been the dream of the likes of Rousseau and maybe many hippies.

What’s wrong with this is that friends are demanding creatures so that friendship simply cannot be spread out to great numbers. Just think of this simple thought experiment: if you have more than a dozen really close friends, how could you take part in their joys and sorrows, since they would all have these all the time and you simply couldn’t be a part of it all. Putting it a bit crudely, one would need to pay heed to all these people’s significant events—births, funerals, weddings, promotions, bankruptcies, and divorces—all at once. One’s emotional reservoir would always be depleted, one would be exhausted and in the end able to maintain only the most superficial relationships, ones that do not demand serious emotional involvements.

If doctors took the general malady as distinct from the illness of every one of their patients’ to heart, what about their own family and friends with whom they have a primary connection? Sometimes this issue arises in very practical, concrete terms, as when professionals become estranged from their intimates. No dinners, no breakfasts, no quality personal time because they spread themselves too thin. And this can begin to impinge upon their professional preparedness, in the end, so that what started out to be a gesture of good will toward clients slowly turns into incompetence.

Of course, different people have different capacities for involvement in the lives of others and often those others wish for just a bit of extra attention rather than constant coddling. So generalizations here, as in many other areas, are risky. Still, there is wisdom in the idea of the division of labor—even if it’s the division of the labor of love.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Illegal Immigration and Morality

Tibor R. Machan

Paul McGuire, author of the novel The Warning and a talk show host, claims that illegal immigrants impose a $2.2 million burden on U. S. taxpayers and that it is “immoral to make American taxpayers shoulder this burden.” He made his remarks on Neil Cavuto’s Fox News TV program and as with nearly all those utterances, there was no real examination of the facts cited and the implications drawn from them.

Still, it bears noting that the immorality begins not with putting illegal immigrants on the welfare rolls or transferring to them costly services at the expense of American citizens. The immorality lies in the welfare state itself, in the government’s policy of coercive wealth redistribution. In fact, if there were any moral justification to such wealth redistribution, having the wealth go to illegal immigrants could be considered far more morally defensible than having it go to American citizens or legal immigrants.

After all, the argument for coercive wealth redistribution is that those in real dire straits cannot be expected to make it in life so they deserve to be provided with a break from others who are doing well or well enough. Nearly all the books defending the welfare state advance arguments along such lines—the desperate needs of others make it right to have a serious amount of the wealth of those who have it taken from them and handed to the needy.

But if this is so, which it isn’t at all, who but the illegal immigrant is more qualified? Such an individual is nearly destitute. Moreover, such an individual has shown some merit in having done something about his or her dire straits, namely, escaped from a terrible country where virtually no opportunity for advancement exists and come to one where with some effort one can make it. So such people, the reasoning of welfare statists should go, have a greater claim on the taxes collected from well (or well enough) to do Americans than have the claims, in relative terms—judging by global standards—of locals who aren’t all that badly off. It is just those illegal immigrants who can make the most use of “free” healthcare, education, welfare and such, given how badly off they all are.

Of course there is a great deal wrong with this line of reasoning but not because it involves illegal immigrants. The problem lies with coercive wealth redistribution. Yet Mr. McGuire didn’t say anything against that—although perhaps because he didn’t have a chance. Well, I do want to say something about that and how immoral it is to rob reasonably (or even very) well off Peter in order to benefit destitute Paul. Such a transfer is not generosity, of course, because generosity must be voluntary, not coercive. All that the welfare state exhibits is how much bullying people will tolerate before they finally have had enough. And yes, sadly, too many people in America as well as elsewhere are entire too compliant where coercive wealth redistribution and other kinds of governmental intrusiveness are concerned. They are intimidated by those who claim that holding on to what is theirs is greedy or mean, which is bunk.

Those, however, who approve of coercive wealth redistribution have absolutely no case against illegal immigrants obtaining some of the loot that has been confiscated from American citizens. They have no case because illegal immigrants are in general far more in need of what the welfare state hands out than are American citizens or even legal immigrants.

There is a principle in logic according to which when one allows a contradiction into a line of argumentation, nothing can make sense any longer. And this applies to political economy as well. Once the welfare state’s principle of coercive wealth redistribution has become standard public policy, there is no hope of any kind of rational, intelligent solution to the problems that arise.

This is what is evident in the current debate about illegal immigration—the welfare state is the underlying fundamental problem. Until that system is abolished, until a revolutionary change occurs and no Peter is looted for the sake of any Paul—poor, rich, legal or illegal—there will be no solution to the illegal immigration problem.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

“Must We Mean What We Say?”

Tibor R. Machan

The tile of this column is the title of an early book and the title essay in it by Harvard University philosopher Stanley Cavell. Cavell’s work was to me fascinating because it argued, putting it very roughly, that when one uses words with widely understood meaning, one may not expect that one’s idiosyncratic interpretation of the words should override the former. And there is pretty plain evidence of the acceptance of this in how we treat each other’s utterances. If someone calls you a fool and you take offense, it is no good for the person to say, “But what I mean by ‘fool’ is ‘wise and sensible’.” When one says “fool,” one must mean what “fool” means. If one fails to realize this, that is a failure indeed and no one can escape the consequences by pleading ignorance.

In a recent column I made the point that explaining what Osama bin Laden and his cohorts did on September 11, 2001, by reference solely to the American government’s Middle East misguided, even very possibly immoral, foreign policy, served to suggest that the deed, the attacks of 9/11, was justified. Several people said to me that I am mistaken, some even claimed I was being outrageous in my suggestion and that it constituted a smear against Ron Paul who advanced the explanation in his comments during the South Carolina Republican presidential hopefuls’ recent debate. Others simply expressed polite disagreement with me, while yet others thought I was right. Given that my comment took up two columns of roughly 700 words, I didn’t have the chance to make fully evident my reasons for taking such an explanation to appear to amount to an implicit justification.

Now it is true enough that many times when people explain the conduct of others, they do not mean to justify this conduct. However, it is also true that whenever one does offer an explanation of another’s conduct, conduct that is normally blameworthy, there is the implication that the person involved isn’t really culpable—it is the factors that explain what he or she did that caused what ensued. In other words, in offering an explanation one is pretty much suggesting that the person is not responsible and even allows that inference that the action may have been justified (or made sense).

Consider that in a criminal trial if a psychologist or psychiatrists can explain someone’s unlawful conduct, this most often is done so as to exculpate the accused. “He killed his wife because he was insane” or “He rammed the car because the sun blinded him and he couldn’t see.” These do amount to explanations which are offered to as to eliminate or at least reduce guilt.

So when Representative Ron Paul stated during the debate that “They [bin Laden and others charged with the 9/11 terrorism] attack us because we've been over there, we've been bombing Iraq for 10 years. We've been in the Middle East,” arguably he was at least suggesting that the conduct of those individuals is explainable by reference to what we, that is, the United States government, has been doing in the Middle East. And that, if we must mean what we say, implies that the terrorists themselves acted because of what the U. S. government has been doing and are, accordingly, not culpable.

It is, of course, very likely that what Representative Paul wanted to say or would have liked to have said is that the U. S. government’s Middle East foreign policy plays a significant role in making sense of much of the motivation behind 9/11. He would probably agree that there is a lot more to it, as well, such as the barbaric way bin Laden & Co. went about reacting to that foreign policy, namely, to murder 3000 innocent human beings. In other words, part of what explains 9/11 is bin Laden & Co.’s viciousness in believing that killing 3000 innocent people is what one should do when one considers the American government’s foreign policy ill advised, immoral, wrongful, and injurious.

Nevertheless, what I was commenting upon is what Representative Paul said, in the spirit of Cavell’s thesis in “Must We Mean What We Say.” Saying that they attacked us because we’ve been over there means that is why they attacked us and leaves a great deal that needed to be said unsaid. But I was myself wrong to suggest that this amounted to saying bin Laden & Co. were justified in perpetrating 9/11.