Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Applied Science

Living on the left you may eventually come across a very rare species, the principled, Hegelian cheap-skate. The few I’ve met have been Marxists, though I’ve read about other varieties, even anarchist skin flints. This scruple against giving alms or charity avoids corrupting the destitute into complaisance by making life too easy for them. You might ask what separates the leftist tight wad from those who make up a far larger percentage of the right? The ones who we justly think of as selfish swine? As usual, it’s different because it’s a matter of science. “Science” is supposed to settle all questions of motivation, isn’t it? You see, in addition to affording the poor the moral benefits of the strenuous life, whether or not they like it, depriving them the price of a sandwich is a means to force them to shake off their torpor and do their part in pushing the dialectic ever onward, back and forth, until the glorious day of its arrival at its scientifically determined destiny.

One example, who could be named but who may still be alive and, one imagines, might be litigious, was a minor fixture of the New York left of earlier decades. He was a noticeably comfortable psychotherapist who on at least one occasion said that he had held to the principle against charity since learning it as a red-diaper baby. And, being what he turned out to be, I’d guess he still holds to it. In less charitable moments one suspects that his subsequent drift from Marxism to neo-conservatism in the great migration of the late 60s and 70s was due to his realizing he wasn’t quite the figure in the left that he had believed himself to be. Though, thinking it over perhaps the former Marxist was doing his part to move history onward. No doubt, if this is true, he is just awaiting the word, printed in some small magazine with a plain cover and chaste type face, that the dialectic over Manhattan is on the move again. Propitiation sufficed. And, if he hasn’t since died, he will end his days as a neo-com.

None of the devotees of principled stinginess who I’ve observed, though, have undertaken self-improvement and applied their principle to themselves, voluntarily making their own lot more desperately miserable in order to rouse themselves from the coffee house table or book shop stall to the barricades and a more active part in the workings of history.

As we see, some principles of science are easier to put into practical effect than others.

First posted at Echidne of the Snakes in 2008

Update 2018  I just looked him up, he's still alive and still a big jerk.  The kind who would sue.


  1. Your obligation is to improve the state of your soul.

    My obligation is to see that you do so.

    1. I recently heard an interview with Rupert Sheldrake talking about when he was a conventional atheist and a young biology researcher.
      I then took a job in India,. In 1974 I became the principal plant physiologist at the International Crops Research Institute in Hyderabad in India.

      So, I lived in India for about seven years, partly because I was so intrigued by oriental philosophy, and the last thing I expected was being drawn back towards a Christian path, I thought I’d left that far behind me. But the longer I was in India, the more I realized that a great deal about my own nature and being was shaped by my Christian background.

      For example, I had a conversation with one of my Hindu colleagues, this was in the evening after work and he said, “Why do you do what you do?” and I said, “Well, I want to help poor farmers and I want to help poor people lead a better life by improving cropping systems and breeding better crops,” and I said, “What about you?” He said, “For me it’s a job, it’s a good job.” I said, “But what about helping people?” He said, “If people are poor, that is their problem, it is their karma, that is from their previous life. That is not your problem. Your problem is to look after your own spiritual development,” he said.

      Then, I realized so much of Southern Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism and Hinduism is about following your spiritual path that basically leads to vertical takeoff for those who follow it. The rest of the world is a hopeless place with waves of reincarnation and samsara and karmic bondage, things are basically getting worse, according to their world view and will continue to do so, and the only thing an individual can do is get off.

      Then, I realized that in the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions, there’s a very different dimension, it’s much more about community, about, we’re in this together, and this very strong sense of interlinking with a community, rather than just an individual quest. It made me realize I was much deeper in the Christian tradition than I’d thought . . .

    2. The difference between the pagan view of the world in the 1st century, and the Christian kerygma.