Who is More Heartless?


June 19, 2013


Do you have a heart or a brain? You’ve heard it said, “If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain.” Apparently a version of this statement was first uttered by a mid-nineteenth century French historian and statesman, François Guizot. I thought Winston Churchill said it, but even the Churchill Centre says there’s no record of such.

Whether you’re a liberal or conservative, François’ statement may make you smile. But that doesn’t make it true. In fact, having a brain and a heart are not diametrically opposed. Having a heart doesn’t preclude thinking. Having a brain doesn’t preclude feeling. Just ask the scarecrow and the tin man in the Wizard of Oz.
Furthermore, the statement asserts blanket characteristics of liberalism and conservatism that are patently false. Consider the following questions:
Who is more heartless? The one who teaches a poor person to fish or the one who fishes for them, making them dependent on the whims and schedules of fishermen?
Who is more heartless? The one who helps the poor earn an honest living, or the one who keeps the poor dependent on cash forcefully taken from their hard-working neighbor?
Who is more heartless? The one who promises health care but won’t pay doctors enough to care for them, or the one who provides charity care to the poor using doctors, clinics, hospitals and staff who freely donate their services?
Anyone with a brain can see who really has a heart.
This all came to mind because of an interesting paper discussed in The Wall Street Journal that was also sent to me by its author, Barbara Oakley. She defines “pathological altruism” as “altruism in which attempts to promote the welfare of others instead result in unanticipated harm.”
Such altruism, she writes, can also “produce bad public policy” such as the housing bubble and the higher education bubble. Oakley says government programs may be beneficial, but “the federal deficit is clearly heading for a crisis,” which is the result of “manifold individual decisions, many of which were based on very real intentions to help others” but now put everyone “at risk for serious harm.”
“Such crises may arise, not as a tragedy of the commons, but rather, as a tragedy of altruism,” she writes. Furthermore, Oakley states,
“it is important to note that during the twentieth century, tens of millions individuals were killed under despotic regimes that rose to power through appeals to altruism…The study of pathological altruism, in other words, is not a minor, inconsequential offshoot of the study of altruism but instead is a topic of overwhelming scientific and public importance.”
We dare not blindly think most or all government programs are beneficent. No public program exists today except that the government uses the force of law to seize the workers’ wages – their private property – to give to those who never earned them.
Government handouts and liberal entitlements may keep the poor well fed but they are also well fettered. Entitlement is neither fiscally smart nor humanly compassionate, and developing government dependency in others is both unwise and unkind. The road to independence, self-reliance, dignity, self-respect, and a vibrant life full of the risk and rewards of living out one’s hopes and dreams is not easy --- but it’s only the heartless that would steer their neighbor anywhere else.
Twila Brase, R.N., PHN
President and Co-founder