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The question of humanity:
liberty and decency


Guest Column/Jacqueline Gottlieb

Russ Karlberg's column in The Tech ["Individuals must make commitment to action," Feb. 15] gave a partial and distorted restatement of Ayn Rand's philosophy.

Karlberg was outraged by the Democratic Party's proclamation that "all men have a right to food, clothing, shelter, a job and even recreation."

That declaration represents one of the highest aspirations of mankind, an ideal so remote yet so badly needed that my heart thumps at hearing it. I had trouble understanding Karlberg's objection.

Our civilization has reached a stage at which aspirations to a good life can be entrusted -- if only in words -- to governments. The democratic governments can be regarded today as groups which strive toward the same goals as their electors: a good life for the governed.

Karlberg's most burning problem is that taxes are being "taken" from his income for welfare reasons. He speaks of "human achievements." The message is: "if you take part of my income from me, you take away my achievements."

A very painful thing.

Money is still only a convenience to facilitate social exchanges. The measure money gives to achievement is a pale coating.

With the importance of the economic setting in mind, Karlberg proposes that America is not far from becoming a communist society.

After all, there is welfare legislation.

Most communist countries are dictatorships. America is still a democracy. If one has no need for liberties other than in the financial sense, this distinction may not seem like much.

Citizens of communist countries suffer less from the fact that taxes are taken from them than from the fact that their taxes are going to support the small ruling class of party officials and no one else, from the fact that they are obliged by law to pay in order to perpetuate their slavery.

We, however, live in America. Why does Karlberg think it so unpalatable to give some of his money to people who genuinely need it?

Karlberg also has a novel interpretation of the meanings of --society and of government. The government's sole duty, he says, is to protect hard-working, upper middle-class individuals from the greedy hands of others who are unable to support themselves.

Karlberg believes societies consist of individuals who live together for the sole purpose of being protected from each other.

I would like to suggest that individuals live together by virtue of being human. That virtue can push such values as money, and even hard work, to a secondary place.

But Karlberg wants to have what he calls "freedom." The ideal situation for Karlberg would be for him to be aided when he needs it, to be protected from the greedy hands of others by his government and otherwise to be left alone.

He wants to be freed from any moral responsibility for injustices in his own country, not to mention the starvation and poverty elsewhere.

I would like to remind Karlberg that he is a member of a society. Not only does he live in the society of his own country, he belongs to the society of all human beings, whether hard-working or not, whether exceptional or mediocre.

I would like to remind Karlberg that he depends on others for his food and clothing. His own life and death are socially-regulated matters. Society will give him his job. Most people receive from society much more than they give.

To demand "freedom" and "no obligations" on one hand, and the luxury of enjoying the benefits of dependence on the other, is hypocritical.

I do not think there exists another society which does so much for the benefit of its members, without asking for any reward and without worrying about "who will provide the money."

The civilized world has the habit of supporting sick or handicapped individuals who cannot work for themselves. Their right to life is more important than anyone's right to $100. Is Karlberg going to protest violently against this malpractice?

Every individual is responsible for any death he could have prevented.

We should entrust our democratic governments with more authority for collecting taxes in order to redistribute the money more justly, rather than attempting to limit that authority.

Moral decency should prevent us from griping about "having to give" away money for others who are starving.

Moral decency should keep us from abusing the liberty principle until we twist it into egotism and greed.

I speak against those who have fallen into the fantasy of considering all others to be as fortunate as they.

I speak against those who would sweep the question of welfare out of the social scene and mumble, "I'll give money to charity of my own free will."

If Karlberg were a poor child or an old man in a wheel-chair, he would realize exactly how much "personal charity" is worth.

I urge Karlberg and others to summon their imagination to see that freedom is not slavery. Starvation and poverty are not comparable to tax raises. Being healthy is not the same as being dependent on medical help and social welfare.

Most people have little power in face of even the smallest of social injustices. Guilt arises.

People have strived for centuries to develop modes of life that are closer to an ideal of justice. But it is too easy for a member of a privileged group to advocate regression from that ethical status.

Some people do not recognize the ties that bind them to society and limit their absolute liberty. They refuse to sympathize with sufferings that affect them remotely. They manipulate social philosophies for their own moral comfort.

They live in an ethical kindergarten.