Do-Gooders

Michael at Innocent Bystanders has a great post up on what happens when politicians from doing their jobs to doing “good” and he focuses in on the harm done in the name of civil rights/racial equality. It called to mind this old quote:

“The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.”  – G.K. Chesterton

I recently re-read “Inside the Aquarium”, a memoir of sorts of a Soviet defector from the 1980s. It’s a fascinating look at Soviet bureaucracy and the Cold War from the other side, especially when he starts talking about philosophy. Today’s quote:

“The [Spetsnatz] troops were convinced that human nature was basically vicious and incorrigible. They had good reason. Every day they risked their lives and every day they had an opportunity to observe  people on the brink of death. So they divided everybody into the good and the bad. A good person in their eyes was one who did not conceal the animal seated within him. But a person who tried to appear good was dangerous. The most dangerous were those who not only paraded their good qualities but who also believed within themselves they were indeed good people. The most loathsome, disgusting criminal might kill a man, ten men or even a hundred. But a criminal will never kill peoople by the millions. Millions are killed only by those who consider themselves good. People like Robespierre do not grow out of criminals but out of the most worthy and most humane types. The guillotine was invented not by criminals but by humanists. The most monstrous crimes in the history of mankind were committed by people who did not drink vodka, did not smoke, were not unfaithful to their wives and fed squirrels from the palms of their hands.”

Or from C.S. Lewis:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

People do have an innate sense of morality, mind you, but it’s very general in scope and often our mores conflict with one another. We’re very, very good at finding reasons why our specific action, while immoral, was the right choice.

There are those romantic enough, who have the leisure to suppose that this is not our nature – despite millenia of evidence to the contrary. If I was even more cynical than I am, I would postulate that they believe this so as not to have to confront their own weakness, so as to chalk up moral failures as exception or situational rather than a rule that applied to them, so that they may believe mankind to be perfectable here on Earth. And there’s no talking anyone out of something that they need to believe.

But reality is what doesn’t go away even if you don’t believe in it, to paraphrase Phillip K. Dick. Reality may very well get harsher here in our country. When it does, when we can no longer afford to bullshit ourselves or let others do so, then we as a people can get practical, limit our impulses to rule or “save” others and make right what went wrong during our Time of Dreaming.

Or we can go bankrupt. Or perish. Those are always  possible too.  Realists know that.

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