Consider the following schematic for a brief political exchange:
Speaker 1: [Orates at length about some "cause" he deems important]
Speaker 2: Tell me, are you one of these supposedly downtrodden types, or are you trying to persuade me that I am?
Speaker 1: Well, uh...neither, actually. But--
Speaker 2: Stop right there. So, by your own admission, this cause of yours is personally irrelevant to both of us.
Speaker 1: Yes, but we're more fortunate than--
Speaker 2: Excuse me. You've already made your pitch. But you're not asking me to help you, and you're not asking me to help me, so why should I care?
Speaker 1: But the welfare of a lot of people--
Speaker 2: A group that includes neither you nor me.
Speaker 1: But don't you care about--
Speaker 2: Emphatically no. I care about myself, my family, my friends, my obligations, and my future. Beyond those boundaries, I don't give even half a damn.
Speaker 1: [draws himself up haughtily] Well, some people--
Speaker 2: Are better than that? By your standards, perhaps. Not mine. You know what? If I were a member of that group you claim to be so concerned about, I'd prefer that you not care about me. You and every other busybody who agrees with you. Because your sort have never done more good than harm. So do the world a favor and care less.
Speaker 2 in the above is what the typical left-liberal Cause Person -- e.g., Speaker 1 -- would call "a typical conservative, concerned only for himself." I have come to the conclusion that his is exactly the right attitude to wield against the self-serving, self-glorifying, would-be do-gooders that infest the political landscape:
- They're intrusive beyond endurance;
- They wear an air of moral superiority founded on how much they "care;"
- They think we need to be "re-educated" or have our "awareness" raised;
- Most damning of all, they don't really "do good."
Tell them, in exactly those words, that you don't care. Be as blunt as possible about it, to the point of being personally offensive.
Would you be lying? Even a little?
No doubt you've heard the term compassion fatigue. It first entered our sociopolitical lexicon in the Eighties, when the relentless demands of the New Deal and Great Society social-engineers finally jarred a good many Americans into a pattern of rejection against government meliorism. The underlying idea was that we'd been worn out by the unending stream of attempts to prick our consciences into action on behalf of unnamed others. We simply couldn't bring ourselves to care about any more causes, any more supposed victims of injustice, or any more casualties of the uncaring Fates. It was a useful phrase that expressed a useful idea, but like many political catchphrases, it was partially fallacious.
We weren't fatigued. Not most of us. We were irritated.
A man's proper concerns are with his own objectives and obligations. Even should he elect to go beyond that sphere, it must come first. A barrage of demands that he go so far beyond it that he's impeded in attending to it will either cripple him or evoke hostility from him. But the social engineers and do-gooders of that era didn't realize that. They pressed us far beyond what we were willing to bear.
The Reagan Administration was in part an expression of our irritation over being so beleaguered by the do-gooders. It hardly mattered whether we believed, individually, that the "causes" were mainly good ones that deserved attention. We'd had enough; we were depleted of the energy and emotion required to maintain our own nests; we had to withdraw into our shells and let the world beyond them see to its own needs.
Unfortunately, Reagan and his advisors were never willing to frame the matter quite that way. Instead, they concentrated on federal overspending and, to a lesser extent, over-regulation. The do-gooders never got the stinging rebuke they deserved for their merciless relentlessness, which so many Americans ardently wanted to see them receive.
We shall pass in silence over what fraction of the do-gooders were motivated by true charity or the sense of injustice. We shall pass in silence over which "causes" were fact-based and genuinely deserved redress. Those things were irrelevant to the irritation and resentment they evoked with their unending demands that we engage with one "cause" after another.
It seemed, for a little while, that the meliorists had drawn the moral from Americans' massive withdrawal from "causes." But they were back with a vengeance, as relentlessly demanding as before, when the Clinton years arrived.
And they are upon us today.
The typical American of middle-class means engages in a modest degree of charity. Sometimes his neighbors know about it; sometimes they don't. One of my purposes in this screed is to make the case for anonymity in one's eleemosynary activities. This idea rests upon more than one foundation:
Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly. [The Gospel According To Matthew, 6:1-4]
Beyond Christ's explicit exhortation (and subordinate to it) is this:
If the reason for this isn't pellucidly obvious, take a few moments to think about the dynamics involved in not knowing whose expectations you have to meet to continue to appear to him to be worthy of his largesse. Jesus of Nazareth would not have told us to conduct ourselves in a manner that disserves social utility and harmony!
(Yes, this also militates against involvement with uncritical charitable organizations, which depersonalize benevolence and give without monitoring the consequences of their giving. But you've heard me rant about that many times before.)
Concerning other sorts of "causes" -- i.e., campaigns for tolerating this, legalizing that, or demonizing some third thing -- it's equally wise to be publicly indifferent. This is completely independent of how you feel about the matter privately. Public engagement in a "cause" tends to be "noisy," to evoke reactions from those around you that, on net balance, would degrade your social space, and can cause your friends and acquaintances to recharacterize you in a fashion both monochromatic and unkind. These things cannot help but affect the persons you love, as well.
Quadrennial election years are boom time for Cause People. They're never quite as thick on the ground as during a presidential election. They're aware that their chance of attracting some pandering from a candidate is greatest at this time. To augment that chance, they seek to rope as many persons as possible into signing petitions, participating in polls, attending rallies and demonstrations, and so forth. They need as many sheep as they can gather into their flock.
Don't be a sheep. Don't agree to be counted among them. Be better than that: be someone whose concerns are closely held and whose responsibilities are discharged as privately as possible.
Politicians, ever desirous of securing the largest support base possible, kowtow to Cause People with a shameful predictability.
Don't be a politician. Be better than that: be someone who wants nothing from anyone except to be left alone to tend your own garden and enjoy what you've justly and honorably earned.
Don't be a Cause Person, and don't be one of their victims.
Whatever your true concerns, keep them to yourself, in word and in deed.
Maintain a respectable public attitude of total indifference.
Be a self-sufficient, self-contained, sovereign individual.
Be an American.