I am an Amoral, Self-Serving Bastard

Frequently in the universal health care debate, those opposed are asserted to be selfish. I am one of those amoral, self-serving bastards that would rather see people die than part with any of my money– at least, this is how it’s presented.

How can anyone of good conscience not be concerned about helping those in need? Aren’t we our brother’s keeper? We all have a moral obligation to care for others.”

Liberty-minded people often respond,  “The route suggested to accomplish these good deeds requires coercion and force by government. Robbing to help someone else is still robbery.

This is a valid argument to me, but will only appeal to those with similar views. Others quickly dismiss the argument as a questionable analogy. Those advocating being our “brother’s keeper” will still be convinced they have the moral high ground, because they are talking about saving lives and we are defending abstract concepts.

For them, the debate between the realities of someone dying vs. an aloof concept of personal freedom is foolish. To them, freedom isn’t a real and tangible thing. I understand. You can’t say, “Here–have a big ol’ cup of freedom on me.” Freedom isn’t something you can roll around in and say,  “Damn, this freedom feels good today!” You can’t eat freedom, freedom won’t keep you warm, and it sure won’t heal the sick.

To the liberty-minded, however, freedom is every bit as real as slavery. Unfortunately, it isn’t obvious just how real and vital freedom is until that freedom has been lost. Freedom is a hard sell in a world that isn’t meeting the basic needs of all its inhabitants. When I say, “I  don’t believe my needs and wants supersede the rights of others, ” the response is often, “So others have to die so you can have your freedom? Sleep well, you cold-hearted bastard.”

Just because there isn’t a state-run program to solve a given problem doesn’t mean no one cares. We rely on the morality of others every day, simply not realizing how much we depend on this moral capital. We don’t need police everywhere people gather, because only a small percentage of the population steals or harms others. Police don’t create peace; they are there to preserve peace that the group as a whole created spontaneously.

It’s true that relying on the kindness of others doesn’t sound very reliable. A law stating your needs will be taken care of is much more concrete (and comforting) than arguing people might choose to help if they are in the mood. To many, laws and police just force us to be good people. Some seem to believe laws create civility, rather than civil people created laws to protect one another from harm.

Anti-big-government types will point out times the government hasn’t helped at all–when it was people on the spot that saw a need and solved problems. I wholeheartedly agree that immediate needs are best met by free people taking action in the moment– as in the Christmas terrorist plot thwarted by a passenger. It’s a matter of having faith in others. You either do or you don’t. I have faith in others because I experienced their  kindness many times in my life, but I know others are rightfully cynical, because they’ve experienced cruelty.

Several countries have a state religion. In some, people are put to death for joining a different faith–that state believes allowing the people to choose for themselves what is right and wrong is courting immorality. To the state, having a state religion that mandates morality makes for moral people.

In reality, you can’t have a moral society without free will. State religions are akin to having someone follow you around your whole life with a gun to your head, telling you to “be good.” Even if you would choose to act morally on your own, you can’t take credit for acts of kindness, because someone else made the decision for you. The people with the most freedom are the most moral people, because their kindness is a choice.

I do believe I have a moral obligation to care about others. I am my brother’s keeper. I draw distinctions between helping others,  forcing others to help, and forcing help upon others.

Forcing others to help is immoral, because I would be taking away their right to decide what is caring. I like to think of myself as a caring and giving person, but I know there are others more caring and giving. I strive to be more like them. Striving to become a better person is a basic human right, as important as freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Forcing others to act in a caring manner dehumanizes them by robbing them of their own normal and natural development.

Forcing people to wear seat belts has saved lives. Forcing people to get regular checkups would save lives, and forcing people to treat illnesses will save lives. In matters of life and death, is it wrong to use force to save lives? If someone was terminally ill and there was a painful procedure that could prolong their life by a week, would you force the procedure? Where would you draw the line at when force is appropriate? What if the procedure would keep them alive for a month, six months, a year–where is the line between caring and cruelty? A moral obligation to help others doesn’t make it right to force that help upon others.

The moral high ground is in being our brother’s keeper, and with it comes with the moral obligation of defending our brother’s free will.

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2 thoughts on “I am an Amoral, Self-Serving Bastard”

  1. Interesting post. I found this on google while doing a search for the words “self-serving” and I have to say you’ve made some convincing philosophical arguments.

    I do disagree though, and specifically on this point. By your definition, nothing I do is moral or immoral as long as someone else forced me to do it – whether it’s paying my taxes for health care (as we do here in Canada) or shooting a civilian under military command. Acts themselves have moral implications – the moral good that comes out of saving a life stil exists whether or not I chose to save that life. That’s worth something.

    Obviously my freedom has been infringed upon in this country, and we could argue for days about whether the long-waiting lists or crowded ERs are worth the infringement, but we’re not talking about particulars right now. My freedom is curbed every time I choose to obey a law. Do I truly have “free will” right now? Do I drive on whatever side of the street I want, or dodge my existing taxes, or take things from stores without paying? Would I, if I had the choice? Probably – and if not me, many others definitely would, if not for the laws that currently exist.

    I’m interested – why is health care for other human beings not enough of a moral good to justify the government taking away some more of my freedom, which already happens every day in just about every so-called Western democratic society?

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