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Voices / Counterpoint

Rejecting a chilling, ultra-Darwinian view

If you take love, empathy, and compassion out of the human equation, what’s left?

Susan Odegard cares for pets and gardens.

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. [...] It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”

—Nelson Mandela

Westminster West

RE: “Land of the free?” [Viewpoint, May. 8]:

Let me be clear: I found Gerard Cloutier’s piece disturbing, despite sometimes being couched in an arrested-development type of humor, which some might find amusing.

Ever so slightly underneath that attempt at humor was a rigid, shallow argument devoid of any attempt to understand the complicated nuances of our society and economic system. Moreover, it contained no hint of empathy or compassion. It was a chilling read.

“I realized that those with left-leaning views vote for their legislative representatives based on the ‘free stuff’ promised to them from every campaign podium,” Mr. Cloutier wrote.

His statement is mind-blowing. How can he possibly claim to know what leads every person with left-leaning views to support a particular candidate? And does he really think that so many people are just out to get as much “free stuff” as possible? How Trumpian.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think even citizen writers should do their homework and back up sweeping statements with some facts instead of making gross accusations about large groups of people without an ounce of evidence to back up their claims.

* * *

Let’s look at just one of the “free” items cited in Mr. Cloutier’s piece: reparations.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, working-class white people are the largest beneficiaries of social programs that lift people above the poverty line, even though Hispanics and African Americans have a higher rate of poverty. Despite the sins of slavery and the resulting inequities embedded into our society, African American people access social programs less often than those who are white.

Mr. Cloutier implies that it takes only hard work to move ahead in the United States. Such a simplistic notion ignores the many factors that might hinder the outcome of a person’s working life: physical or mental illness, disabilities, family dynamics and income, the community where one was raised, the quality of schooling and mentorship available and, indisputably, race.

Reparations aren’t trying to buy forgiveness — that’s impossible. They’re about acknowledging the generations of discriminatory roadblocks that African Americans have faced and trying to find pathways towards healing and fairness.

I think Sen. Cory Booker’s baby bonds idea is a good start (each African American newborn would receive a savings account, resulting in thousands of dollars by the age of 18, thus closing the asset gap that currently exists between whites and African Americans).

Will there always be operators who take advantage of anything and everything? Of course. However, I contend that many people work very hard to provide for their families, yet can’t meet their needs despite working multiple jobs.

The cruel joke of a minimum wage that can’t even begin to sustain families doesn’t appear to be a part of Mr. Cloutier’s thinking. Neither does corporate welfare that sucks taxpayers’ money away from their communities into the pockets of millionaires and billionaires.

I’d like to know if Mr. Cloutier plans on accepting Social Security and Medicare. If so, he will be one of millions who benefit from those social programs. According to a 2013 study by the Urban Institute, most Americans will take out more than they put in to Social Security and Medicare. For example: one heart attack would cost a lot more than an average person’s total Medicare contributions.

Take heed, Mr. Cloutier. If he lives long enough, even the manliest of men can’t dig ditches all of his life and may need assistance.

* * *

In 1992, British author P.D. James, wrote a dystopian novel, The Children of Men. I thought of a haunting passage in the book when I read Mr. Cloutier’s piece.

In one scene, elders (60 years old) and the infirm were forced onto barges, where they were sent into deep waters for state-sanctioned, mass drownings. The state convinced citizens that it was their duty to follow that course, and they complied because they didn’t want to be a burden.

Another chilling read.

The human species is a destructive one. Much of our history involves conquering and killing one another. Yet, we are also capable of great empathy, compassion, and love-in-action as we care for one another.

Mr. Cloutier’s piece seems to suggest an ultra-Darwinian path where you work hard to get what you want, period. If you’re in need, for any reason, tough, and shame on you for being in a hard spot.

I reject his view.

If you take love, empathy, and compassion out of the human equation, what’s left?

In short, I fear that if you take the humanity out of humans, all those amazing brains and opposable thumbs will just be used to kill each other off, and that will be the end of our species.

If that scenario plays out, my only hope — albeit a dark one — is that we finish the job before we take this beautiful planet down with us.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #510 (Wednesday, May 15, 2019). This story appeared on page D1.

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