People on the left talk incessantly about helping people, but it is not helping people that they are interested in; they are interested in fixing people.
That profound difference defines the conflict between the visions of classical liberalism and progressive collectivism (as Thomas Sowell wrote about in A Conflict of Visions). To help people is to accept them as they are, to understand that we are imperfect, flawed beings who are capable of extraordinary goodness, as well as unfathomable evil.
To help people is to accept that human nature exists, that our human nature is one of the givens of life, and that what any particular person needs is unique to them.
To fix people is to hold an ideal vision of how they should be. It is to reject the concept of human nature, and to hold a stance of rebellion toward a significant piece of reality. To fix people is to believe that you can fundamentally change who they are, and how they live their lives.
This is one reason why there is so little understanding between those who value a collectivist vision and those who value individual liberty. They hold fundamentally incompatible visions.
One vision rejects a portion of reality – human nature – while the other seeks to understand and work with it. One attempts to make something happen that cannot whereas the other tries to have what positive affect they actually can.
One tries to help real people as they are; the other tries to fix masses of people in the abstract.
Helping implies relationship and persuasion; fixing implies abstraction and coercion.
Research from Weinstein and Ryan (referred to here) shows what anyone paying attention to human nature could tell about the difference between helping people because you want to, and helping people because you are told to:
• Those who wanted to help someone felt more well-being, vitality, and self esteem.
• Those who wanted to help people helped more
• Those who received help from people who wanted to help felt significantly more well-being.
• Those who were told to help either felt no different in terms of well-being, or felt less well-being.
• Those who received help from people who were told to help felt significantly less well-being.
I look at these findings and I think of the progressive vision of coercing people to give to others through the government in the form of more entitlements, higher taxes, and greater regulations. I also think of the public service requirements that kids have to participate in these days for school.
By coercing people to be helpful, you are doing two things:
• You are taking away the great human joy in being naturally helpful and kind as the spirit moves you to be.
• You are replacing this with a regimented, inefficient, and joyless duty, to be performed in response to external force.
In doing so, you are sucking the humanity out of human compassion and caring. You are killing the most important benefit to helping: the benevolent cycle that is created when one person cares about another.
And you end up encouraging the kind of behavior we saw in France several years ago, when thousands of elderly people died in a heat wave while their own families were off vacationing, leaving the caring to their coercive government.
The only people who really benefit from such forced caring are the people who get to feel that they have made the world a better place… by forcing other people do things that they believe to be good. It's one big ego trip, benefiting the egos of the progressive leaders who seek to fix people.
They are "healing the world," or "fixing our broken world." They can't be bothered with the inconvenience of individual autonomy or human nature. They cannot accept that there are some people who will want to help a lot, while there are others who won't really do very much at all, but in the aggregate, it all works out better when people are free to choose. It's not fair, it's not equal, and it's not all pervasive.
Years ago I heard a radio interview with David Gilmore, the guitarist for the angst-rock band Pink Floyd. It was during Margaret Thatcher's term as Prime-Minister, and he was trashing her, talking about how he was attacking her policies in his song "On the Turning Away."
During Gilmore's spiel on compassion and caring for the weak and the weary, the interviewer – quite innocently – asked Gilmore, "How do you help the poor and disadvantaged in your personal life?"
This caught Gilmore completely off guard, and by the stunned silence and the awkward answer (paraphrased here) – "Uh… Myself? Uh….Well, I don't really do anything personally. I argue for the government to do these things" – it was obvious that this great weaver of musical tales advocating social justice had never considered that he could personally use his own substantial wealth, time and energy to actually help real people in need.
No, this is all abstraction. It's all about who gets to move which people around the chessboard of life, in order that the mover can feel good and worthy and useful and proud. It's about "fixing" people; "healing" our world.
This is the difference between the classical liberal vision of individual liberty and the progressive collectivist vision. The classical liberal wants to help; the progressive wants to fix.
Human nature will not be fixed. No human, or group of humans, will ever "heal the world" – whatever that means. We can and have certainly made great progress in our culture, but those are cultural changes, accomplished through accepting and working with human nature as it is.
Ignoring human nature is like ignoring a dangerous predator in your yard. Accepting and acknowledging it allows you to deal with that predator more effectively, taking precautions that make its more deadly impulses less attractive, and that encourage it to move elsewhere.
But if we ignore human nature, we do things that are stupid, naïve, and dangerous – like trying to force people to do things that they will never do, toward ends that will never be reached, and expecting them to behave as we wish they would.
Our leaders, filled with progressive, idealistic zeal, want to fix us. They want to pretend that human nature does not exist, which allows the worst of human nature to come out to play.