Save the Children

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Modern Americans are going to live forever. We must believe that; otherwise we would not rise up in spontaneous outrage whenever a stuck accelerator causes a car to crash or a surgical procedure goes awry. Science and technology have made our world not only foolproof but death-proof, or at least they would have, were it not for unscrupulous manufacturers and diabolical white males who roam the world seeking the ruin of bodies. Every natural disaster, human error, or manifestation of Original Sin is an occasion not just for an exercise in national breast-beating but for some piece of sweeping legislation that will eliminate risk or eradicate evil.

We are especially prone to legislative hysteria when children are involved. If a child chokes to death on a hot dog, the pediatricians of America want wieners to be classified as lethal weapons, and if a crackhead mother on welfare finally kills the baby she has been tormenting for months, we do not blame crack dealers or welfare or the degraded morality of urban African-Americans. No, we pass laws that strip normal parents of their traditional rights, beef up the budgets of child-protection agencies, and demand parenting classes for all prospective fathers and mothers—anything, in other words, except to confront the real issue, which is the nightmare we have created by paying people not to work and by pretending that all people in every culture are basically the same. If anything is to be banned in America, it should be the liberals who have destroyed so many lives with the stupid programs that enrich worthless drones in counseling and sociology at the expense of everyone else—and that was before the passage of President Obama’s healthcare bill.

For people allergic to leftist sentimentality, these past few months have been difficult. When the newsreaders were not chattering about the hot dog’s threat to world peace or touting the glories of socialized medicine, they were showing their viewers pictures of earthquake victims in Haiti and Chile, polio victims in Africa, the violence Michael Jackson’s children are being exposed to, or (and this is my favorite) the humanitarian award the United Nations has given “Shakira”—a Colombian pop star, apparently, who has some strange aversion to being fully clad. At the awards ceremony in Switzerland, she was described as a “true ambassador for children and young people, for quality education and social justice.” When some years ago I coined the phrase “pornography of compassion,” I did not realize how literally correct I was.

The child-savers have been afflicting the world at least since the beginning of the 20th century, when a conspiracy of WASP do-gooders with time on their hands succeeded in getting legislation passed to “protect” children—largely immigrant children—from parents who put them to work, neglected their education, inflicted corporal punishment, or refused to imbue them with the gospel of Horatio Al­ger and Carrie Nation. In reading hundreds of pages of the bilge written by these people, including Rockford College’s own Jane Addams, I almost never ran across an acknowledgment of the harsh reality that even substandard parents will probably take better care of their children than the most high-minded altruist who wants to rear other people’s children.

Even the madman Rousseau believed that an educated father makes a better teacher than the best of tutors, because the father cares more about his children than someone who gets paid to teach them. This is far more true today, when the only possible justification for public education is that it is guaranteed to stunt the mental growth of children and corrupt their character. Years ago, I knew a Jehovah’s Witness who had left high school to join the Navy. He was not exactly stupid, but about as ignorant as a man can be who only knows what he reads in the papers or sees on the network news. He and his equally ignorant wife decided, on moral grounds, that they had to homeschool their child, and after two years of this doomed experiment, their kid, whom nature had programmed to be decidedly below average, was two years above the national average on reading and mathematics.

Any normal couple will do a better job rearing their children than someone who is paid to take on this wearisome task. I am not speaking now of sex offenders, sadists, and drug addicts, only of the carefree and sometimes slipshod methods of the poor Irish, Italian, and Polish families who entered the United States a hundred years ago or the Mexicans who are currently overwhelming our welfare and criminal-justice systems. To take an extreme example, do we really know that children will grow up into better human beings if they are taken away from a mud hut in Somalia and reared in an upper-middle-class suburb of Los Angeles? Sir Peter Bauer once sagely observed that the premise of humanitarian aid is that people in rich countries are happier than people in poor countries. If that were so, then why are so many Americans so manifestly unhappy? Why is there so much depression and suicide here? Why do so many affluent women addle their brains with mood-altering poisons?

The answer I usually receive is that people in poor countries are so busy scratching out a living that they don’t have the time or energy to be depressed. Well, chalk up a point for poverty and hard work. If we cut off all aid to the indolent poor in this country, the gangbangers would either starve or pick up a shovel. “Root, hog, or die” is a true expression that works on many levels.

When we begin to worry about things like education and the “quality of life,” we have already fallen into the sentimentalist trap. Listen to this egregious nonsense from the Save the Children Foundation:

Our mission is to create lasting, positive change in the lives of children in need in the U.S. and around the world.

Our priorities are to ensure that children in need grow up protected and safe, educated, healthy and well-nourished, and able to thrive in economically secure households.

I suppose the boldface letters tell us that they really really care about education, nourishment, and economic security.

What this sort of thinking leads to was on display recently when a group of Southern Baptists were caught smuggling children out of Haiti. Whether or not the parents received any money, whether or not the child-savers really had an orphanage, whether or not they were acting even before the earthquake is of little interest to me. What is interesting is the moral arrogance of the Americans who assume, first, that the kids will be better off in a society that is committed to destroying whatever human norms may still exist even in Haiti; and second, that it is their right to impose Third World children with who knows what sort of native abilities and disabilities ultimately on the people of the United States.

Oh, but Haiti is such a poor and violent country. Don’t we have a duty to rescue Haitian children? But why is Haiti such a poor country and America so rich? Could it possibly be that it is because America is populated by Americans and Haiti by Haitians?

Not if you believe the other kind of leftists, capitalist libertarians like Douglas Casey, who recently opined that if Haiti were given the same dose of free-market economics that Friedman and his boys injected into Chile, Haiti could be another Hong Kong—as if anyone in his right mind could ever want to live in Hong Kong. Obviously, hard work and free enterprise are good things, but if 200 years of Haitian independence has only produced an immense violent slum run by witch doctors, it is just a little naive to expect that a mechanical fix will create an economic and moral paradise. It would be nice to have just one example in which such remedies have worked with people who were neither European nor Asian.

I have been no closer to Haiti than the pages of Graham Greene’s The Comedians, which is too close for my comfort, but I have no reason to doubt that if left to their own devices they might find leaders and institutions with which they could make a better life for themselves. It might not be the life I want, but, then, I do not know that other people actually want any part of my life or our life.

Human happiness is not a one-size-fits-all garment, and it is xenophobic to suppose that it is. This is what liberal philosophers are so fond of gabbling about—that the purpose of a liberal state is to make it possible for individuals to pursue their own life plans. Why does it always turn out that it has to be the life plan drawn up by a liberal philosopher, whether a leftist like Professor Rawls or a quondam libertarian like Professor Nozick? Why can’t they just mind their own business and leave other people to mind theirs?

If we can once realize that it is best to leave Haiti and Somalia alone, then we might begin to understand that we should also leave other people’s families alone. What is the alternative? If government officials and social workers have to tell parents when and where and how their children go to school, what sort of food they eat and TV they watch, what sort of sex education they receive, then not only those lawmakers and social workers but also the voters who give them power have to assume complete responsibility for the outcomes.

We have to quit letting them—and ourselves—off the hook with the comforting language of unintended consequences. If I were to fire off a few rounds into a daycare center, I might have had no intention of killing any particular child, but when a child is dead, I am held responsible. But when government programs ruin the lives of millions of children, no one, it seems, is to be held accountable. It is American governments and their employees, the voters who put the legislators in office and the taxpayers who pay the bills—it is we, in other words, who are responsible.

This article first appeared in the May 2010 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.

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