May 29, 2005


What Do We Owe the Rest of the World? (Crispin Sartwell, May 27, 2005, LA Times)

Delivering a commencement address at Boston University, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said this about U.S. involvement with his country prior to 9/11: "The United States and other countries that had the power, and hence the responsibility, did not see it compatible with their national interests to address the plight of the Afghan people then."

It was that little "hence" that gave me pause. If one is powerful enough to help, is one morally obliged to help?

"With great power comes great responsibility" is a classic cliche, indeed the very slogan of Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man.

But great responsibility also brings with it great resentment on the part of those over whom one is responsible, which is rational and inevitable. The fact that you are responsible for your children, for example, is a justification for your power over them. But they cannot throw off your authority — as eventually they must — without throwing off your responsibility for them, including the fact that you pay for their car insurance or their groceries.

This is one reason why so much of the world has a deeply ambivalent relationship with the U.S. at the moment. They need us in order to rise out of poverty. But if they enlist our aid to rise out of poverty, their gratitude is a form of dependence and a source of resentment.

Just another reason not to listen to foreigners.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 29, 2005 4:51 PM

That "hence" is your entire world view.

Posted by: David Cohen at May 29, 2005 5:03 PM

David is correct. The "hence" is part of the world-view that comes down to us from the Apostles. The power has been placed in our hands, no less than in the hands of Rome, and it is our duty to use it justly when necessary. The world is one big Roman empire right now, whether the Romans and the barbarians understand it yet or not.

Posted by: Lou Gots at May 29, 2005 9:08 PM

Oh, and by the way, "Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man"?

Posted by: David Cohen at May 30, 2005 12:59 AM

C.S. Lewis talked about this in "Aboltion of Man": It's wrong because it is an attempt to turn an indicative statement ("You have the power to stop this crime.") into an imperative one, ("You MUST stop this crime."). It cannot be done outside of a moral framework that supplies the connective proposition "If you have the ability to stop an evil, then you MUST stop it." Clearly, God doesn't act as if such a connective exists, or if it does, it doesn't apply to Him. I do not care to worship a hypocrite, I don't think I need to obey the dictates of a non-existent connective that God doesn't obey either.

And exactly where does it end? If one does not have the capability, is one obligated to get it if they are able? And what if one has a different definition of evil, and thus, if possessing the capability to stop THAT evil, feels obligated to get the power to stop it? I think it a great evil for men not to believe in Jesus Christ, so does that justify my working to take over the schools and force the teaching of Christianity to other men's children?

Finally, where exactly is the virtue in doing what one is REQUIRED to do? Virtue comes when one does good out of free choice, and where the sacrifices necessary are freely chosen and given. When faced with such sacrifice, the recipients, in my eyes, seem obligated to at least say "thank you". However, if action is mandated by obligation, a "thank you" is not necessary: "You HAD to do it, so why should I thank you?" goes the reasoning.

If I gave away as much money to the poor as they receive from my cut in taxes in welfare, I would be considered a generous man, and be praised and thanked as decency and credit requires. However, because MY money was extracted by force of law and laundered by passage through the tax-man's hand, those same beneficiaries of my sweat and blood would be offended if I asked for a "thank you." Jesse Jackson, Sharpton, the Democrats, and the NAACP would scream against me, because THEY want the thanks and the credit. Why? Because the law REQUIRED me to do so.

Posted by: Ptah at May 30, 2005 7:36 AM

Virtue consists in doing what one is required to.

Posted by: oj at May 30, 2005 8:44 AM

If one CAN stop evil, but does not, then what's the point in believing in Jesus ?

Jesus had the ability to atone for the sins of all humans, and CHOSE to do so, which is exactly the foundation for the theology of salvation by faith alone.

So, if one professes to be a Christian, but turns a blind eye towards evil, the best that can be said is that one is immature.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at May 30, 2005 11:21 AM

There's a difference between turning a blind eye and bombing other countries into salvation. As Ptah says, G-d allowed for evil in the world. It follows, and all our experience teaches, that our chances of stamping it out are pretty slim.

Posted by: David Cohen at May 30, 2005 12:28 PM

Don't need to stamp it out, just oppose it.

Posted by: oj at May 30, 2005 12:47 PM

I don't think that it is that God has allowed for evil in this world, but that He has decided that it must be attacked in a certain way because humans are valuable to Him. In doing so, some tasks have been delegated to us, and some tasks He has reserved for Himself. In those tasks delegated to us, some must be done by the state, some by the church, and some by ourselves.

Things go very quickly to pot if we don't get the delegation right.

I should point out that the writer seems to buy into de-constructionism: He insists on looking at Charity from the point of view of power rather than free choice, and suddenly finds himself impaled on a dilemma: How, as a card-carrying liberal, can he call for wealth transfer from First to Third worlds in a way that doesn't get him lynched in the former by Jacksonians, yet furthers the power of the First World that he believes caused the disparity between First and Third worlds in the first place?

Posted by: Ptah at May 31, 2005 5:23 AM