Under the heading "Dilemmas for Progressives" at the web site How to Save the World, Dave Pollard wants some comments about questions that are troubling his conscience. Dave, let me see if I can help.
Choosing Your Charities: There are a hundred good causes always asking for money, and hundreds of people on the streets asking for change, busking, washing your windshield, selling those 50 cent newspapers etc. How do you choose? Who do you give to, and when? Local or global? Health or social service? People you know raising money for luxuries or organized fundraisers supporting the really desperate? Cash or a good meal?Dave, I don't know if I have any standing in your court of opinion, since I am not a progressive, but one of those conservatives whom you know are snorting hogs with both forefeet in the trough, just out to get all that can be got with no thought for the wretched of the earth. Still, I have occasionally pondered such issues myself.
Have you ever considered the difference between Charity (caritas) and charities? One is a condition of the soul you probably don't believe in, a channel through which an infinitely compassionate God works through people in the world of time. The other, charities, are businesses whose business is "making a difference" (in the worn cant phrase). There is a place for both, but in our culture we mostly have the second without the first.
Your question implies that there is some formula to which all such questions can be referred, an approved template. Progressives as a rule don't much care for deciding ethical questions individually, preferring to subject them to an ideological litmus test. My advice, though, is to follow the old maxim: "You pays your money and you takes your choice." Since you can't support every organization doing good works, you go with the one that is closest to your heart, whether it's preserving the culture of the gypsy pickpockets, saving the endangered Kamchatka Snow Otter, or re-stocking the Amazon with tsetse flies. You might also consider which of the missions you consider is most practicable.
Government-Assisted & Centralized, or Community-Based: On the big-ticket issues where inequality is at critical levels, like education and health, most progressives like the idea of universal, free-for-all programs. But at the same time community-based unschooling programs, and community-run clinics that use volunteers to stretch dollars, have a lot of appeal and they're the antithesis of massive, state-run programs. And what is your position on voucher programs, that basically give people the money (or equivalent) and leave it up to them how to spend it (on food, on their choice of schools etc.)?You've got one thing right: "Most progressives like the idea of universal, free-for-all programs." For all their talk of diversity, progressives distrust individual differences, among people or communities. Nothing less than universal will do. A progressive's dream is the whole universe, from here to Alpha Centauri and beyond, working as one, thinking as one, being indoctrinated (I mean, educated) as one. And all for free. Only there is no such thing as "free," only the question of who pays. But if everyone is equal in your Utopia, who can the money be extracted from for your "free" universal programs? Still, for progressives, the struggle to overcome inequality will always be an unfinished project, so you can soak the "privileged" to make everything "free" for the unprivileged.
Immigration Policy: At current rates of immigration, the US population will soar to one billion by 2100, and the Canadian population to 100 million. Many people believe we have no right to keep people out just because of where they had the misfortune to be born. But such populations will wipe out our last remaining wilderness, increase pollution proportionally to their numbers, and devastate our forests and farmlands. So do you opt for human kindness or ecological sustainability?Dave, I have had the misfortune to be born with no sense of rhythm and no talent for translating dots on lined paper into sounds. But I will be glad to play the accordion at your next progressive fund raiser, for my professional fee, of course.
You deserve credit for at least admitting that that opening our country to everyone in the world who doesn't like it where he is might have its drawbacks, once we approach the population density of India. But the drawbacks, in your view, are all about the environment. The American and Canadian people don't matter to you. Their quality of life doesn't matter. Their traditions and culture don't matter. You're worried about forests and farmlands.
Not all of your progressive allies are principled when it comes to the natural environment. The corrupt Sierra Club refuses to take a stand against even illegal immigration, even though the Mexican invaders are trashing national wilderness areas in Arizona and around the border. The Sierra Club received a whopping cash donation from a progressive donor, on the condition that it not let out a peep about immigration or population size.
Stopping at Zero: Those who don't care about our environment, or don't know any better, have no compunction about having large families. What should we do about such people? Compensate by having none, or just one, of our own? Make it clear that we find their conduct irresponsible and reprehensible? Even if they're good in other ways, or the loved ones of our loved ones?"Compensate by having none, or just one, of our own?" Dave, how can you suggest such idiocy? Keep the presumably responsible people reproducing minimally, while the riff-raff have your leave to breed like sturgeon and become a rapidly growing proportion of the population? Oh, sorry, I forgot -- you're a progressive, which means never having to admit that not everyone is equal in every way, including intelligence. "Make it clear that we find their conduct irresponsible and reprehensible?" Yes, my good man, a quiet word to the wise, a meeting of the minds. That should make the baby factories see the light.
I have another suggestion. Sterilize everyone with an IQ below 100 after they've mothered or fathered two children. That offends your progressive notion of pretend-equality, that everyone has a "right" to whatever they want and hang the consequences to society. The difference is that my solution will work. Nothing you show any sign of agreeing to will.
Watch or Turn it Off: The news is mostly bad, and mostly unactionable, so there's a tendency to shut it off and not subject yourself to more grief -- you know what's happening, and don't need to be reminded. Or do you? Is there something in that news that is your undiscovered cause, something that you can do something about, something that you really need to know?Do you really think you're going to get any serious ideas about helping suffering humanity by watching or reading the news? There is almost nothing "new" in the news. It's the same stories, repeating year after year, with different names. Besides which, the news isn't a window on the world as it really is; it's a made-up tale, written and edited to meet commercial and ideological constraints and trimmed to fit the time and space available.
If you really want to find an "undiscovered cause" you first have to humbly acknowledge that there are no undiscovered causes, just ones that are undiscovered by you. There is no social or ethical issue that hasn't been considered and written about in the past by minds far better than yours. To find something "you really need to know," try reading more than superficially in the history of ideas, spiritual traditions, governments, philosophy, science.
The human condition has been probed far more incisively than you probably have any idea of. You don't need to -- in fact, shouldn't -- accept anyone else's ideas unless they ring true to you in connection with whatever else you know and learn. But you might find that some dilemmas for progressives are dilemmas only because of how progressives frame them.