If you are obligated, you owe someone something that they have the right to compel you to perform. Are you obligated to relieve the suffering in the world? To put the question a different way, should you be forced to help?
Does one of Sally Struthers’ kids have the right to force you to cough up $14.95 a month? Should you be sued if you don’t pay up? Or taxed? (Getting sued, getting taxed, it amounts to the same thing.)
You’re not obligated to the poor to help the poor. They have no enforceable claim on you if you pass by on the other side of the road.
This does not mean that the right attitude toward suffering and need in the world is indifference. Of course, you should care about other people, even strangers. That’s part of being a normal, decent human being.
You’re obligated to yourself, to what you want to accomplish in the world, to what kinds of differences you want to make. But it’s nobody else’s business if you decide to pass through the world without adding meaning or value. Other people are perfectly entitled to make negative moral judgments about you if you live a completely selfish, cold life–but they’re not entitled to force you to be warm and charitable.
There are many virtues that are entirely up to you. There are no general standards of acceptable performance, and you don’t deserve to be coerced about them. Things like being intellectually honest, working hard, persevering, overcoming fear, seeking knowledge, improving your skills and developing wisdom. And being charitable and generous.
How can you know when you’ve given enough to helping other people? How can you know when you have worked hard enough, practiced long enough, thought deeply enough, tried hard enough to solve a problem?
It’s up to you and only you to decide these things as part of deciding who you want to be. What basket of virtues do you want to exemplify? You have limited time and energy. You have people close to you that you can deeply impact and be deeply involved with and people far from you that you might be able to deeply impact if you were less deeply involved with those close to you. There are limited resources along multiple dimensions and costs and there’s To hell with it, I’m tired and I just want to watch TV. You could sacrifice the pleasure of giving an expensive Christmas gift to your own child to feed a dozen other children in Africa. You could wrap up Thanksgiving leftovers for the homeless–just the leftovers–or invite 2 or 3 of them to your home for Thanksgiving. Why stop at 2 or 3? Or why not 1?
There are no objective standards for these virtues that anyone has a right to enforce on you.
Once again, I know I’m not making a formal argument, but once again, I’m just trying to screw in a light bulb far enough that it comes on–
Helping other people is one of those virtues that is within your realm of choice, not within the realm of your mandatory obligations to other people. Liberals don’t believe this. That’s what sends them off down the road to totalitarianism.
Helping others is not nearly as important in the hierarchy of moral values as is helping yourself. If you can support yourself, you should. To take help you don’t need is a far worse offense than to not give help. The first self-regarding moral obligation of every human being is to try like hell not to need help.
Liberals have done a great job of ruining those they see as victims of circumstance by trading them a mess of subsidies for their basket of virtues. When charity isn’t local and personal, deployed by Little Platoons, it messes people up. And it’s not just poor people we’re talking about here. The list of victims gets longer as people learn that they can get freebies by acting helpless and victimized, and as others realize that if they don’t similarly lobby, they will be at competitive disadvantage.
When people think they have a right to be helped, they lose the humility and gratitude that could protect them from becoming leeches. And when people think they have a right to force you and me to help when we don’t want to, they have become our tyrannical enemies.