Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Difference Between Compassion and Foolishness

Hold on to your hats, folks: I'm about to discuss some more psychology. In particular, I'm going discuss the phenomenon of pathological altruism.

Pathological altruism manifests in many ways. You have, for example, the enabler: the family member or friend who financially supports a substance abuser because he wishes to rescue the addict from a life on the street. Drug treatment professionals are in near 100% agreement that enabling prevents recovery; it shields their patients from the worst consequences of their actions and therefore removes a powerful motivation for getting clean. Enabling, however, is so strong a temptation for an addict's loved ones that entire programs have been created for the sole purpose of dealing with its destructive force.

Another example: the animal hoarder. Hoarders genuinely feel for all the poor, abandoned creatures they take into their homes. Along the way, however, they lose sight of reality. They don't notice that their animals are constantly sickly -- or that their houses are coated in fecal matter and collapsing all around them -- or that they're struggling to pay the rent or keep the lights on because they're blowing their budgets on pet food. Pulling a hoarder out of this situation is traumatic and usually involves intensive psychotherapy.

A final - and even more common - example: the indulgent parent. Parents spoil their children not because they intend to raise brats but because they can't stand to hear their babies cry. But of course, if you give a child everything he wants and consistently puff up his self-esteem, you don't end up with a happy, healthy adult. Instead, you end up with a brittle perpetual adolescent who cannot regulate his emotions, delay gratification, display humility, or show empathy for others. You end up, in other words, with a campus activist who shoves undeserving students into walls and screams obscenities in their faces because his demands are not being immediately satisfied.

Pathological altruism is a clinical name for the disordered definition of love I've discussed in earlier posts. It is to compassion what psychopathy or sociopathy is to simple selfishness, and in many situations - obviously - it can be just as damaging. The problem, you see, is that this kind of altruism is divorced from rationality and truth. It encourages recklessness and cocoons people in their lies.

The left has chided us right-leaning folks for ages for our "failure to be kind." But it is not fundamentally kind to bankroll a man's bad habits with the federal purse; not only is that stealing money from people who might've used it more wisely, but it is also insulting the recipient's basic human dignity by implicitly denying his agency. It is, to put it frankly, a form of enabling. Likewise, it is not fundamentally kind to release violent criminals into the general population in the name of "mercy" and "rehabilitation." Again, I believe in the possibility of redemption as much as the next Christian, but prudence, friends! Prudence matters. Without it, you will needlessly injure - or even kill - innocent people.

Which brings me to the Syrian refugees. The virtue-signalling lectures on this issue are getting mighty tedious. I know most Muslims are not terrorists, and I am truly sorry that these refugees are being viewed with suspicion because of the actions of their radical coreligionists. I refuse, however, to blame my fellow Americans for their hesitation because I share it and think it is not wholly irrational. Many experts have raised objections to the administration's sunny optimism regarding our vetting process, questioning whether we really can keep terrorists from slipping in with the genuinely needy. Moreover, I think it's very important not to be misled by our experiences with our American Muslim population, which is generally very well integrated. The viewpoints of our neighbors and friends may not reflect the viewpoints of our new arrivals, who come from an area of the world in which, apparently, more than half of the population believes Muslim apostates should be executed. It is not inherently racist to observe that such a community standard will have a difficult time meshing with our liberal Western pluralism -- nor is it inherently racist to wonder whether people who have little experience with democracy will be able to adapt to our way of doing things.

So yes: Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free -- but make sure we're clear on that last bit, for it is foolish - not compassionate - to invite people into our neighborhoods who cannot follow our rules.

Edited to add: There Are Serious, Unbigoted Reasons to Be Wary of a Flood of Syrian Refugees

Oops, one more: The Christmas Story Is About Jesus, Not Obama's Syrian Refugee Policy

Thursday edit: 3 Tips for a More Civil Conversation About Syrian Refugees

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