Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Gaffe Defined

Republican Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer of South Carolina on charity:
My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed. You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail that type of behavior. They don’t know any better,

Of course, the press responded by noting how ridiculously stupid and offensive that remark is. I'm not running for office, so I'll say I think that's about right. One could nuance that, by saying 'The most melancholy of human reflections, perhaps, is that on the whole, it is a question whether the benevolence of mankind does more good or harm (Walter Bagehot). Or that 'The poor don't need money or pity, they need temperance, diligence, thrift and other bourgeois virtues'. Or that 'The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools' (Herbert Spenser). Same idea.

I think what's considered so offensive about the remarks is it implies these people are poor, in large part, because they aren't very bright. That means it's not someone else's fault, and thus responsibility, and thus the rich might just eat them like Soylent green! For a post-Christian society, we sure hate to judge, just like our bible-thumping predecessors. Better to point out the exceptions to 'disprove' the generalization, and say 'there but for the grace of God go I'.


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Anonymous said...

What's offensive is that he compares the poor to animals. You're overthinking it.

paul said...

we need to break the ethical monopoly that altruism has on society. sometimes the truth hurts.


Michael Meyers said...

My slant on this issue is that it takes a lot of thought and effort to make altruism work for the good, and often the easy solutions make things worse.


Eric Falkenstein said...

I think if it were merely the animal comparison that offended people, people would be pissed off my experiments that show monkeys prefer warm mothers to steel cages with milk. To the extent animals reinforce the vision of people as loving and equal, no one really has a problem, but start talking about things like 'Irish Setters are dumb' and then people get excited.

Anonymous said...

"I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it."

-Ben Franklin

coleman said...

To me, what's offensive is the suggestion it's admirable to let everyone who's poor starve to death without trying to help. I think this is qualitatively different from and more extreme than the nuanced alternatives you suggested, with which I tend to agree. I think it's possible to feed hungry poor people without destroying their virtues.

SatichDash said...

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killben said...

Better to point out the exceptions to 'disprove' the generalization, and say 'there but for the grace of God go I'.


One has to consider oneself lucky to be on the other side of the table in such a transaction!!