Oct 212010

Samaritan SnareAny talk on poverty such as the one we had on our show last week will inevitably bring up discussion around compassion.  I received a note from Ralf, a loyal listener in Italy, who asked if “giving” is implied in the word compassion.  To this I would say no.

Compassion is an emotion akin to sympathy which arises out of a love of one’s own life.  We feel compassion for others who are suffering because we recognize that life has value and as you love your own life you can put yourself in the other person’s place and feel sympathy (or empathy as the case may be) for that other person.

Compassion may very well be accompanied by a desire to alleviate the suffering of the other person, but we have to ask ourselves if the person who is suffering worthy of our compassion.  Compassion is not unconditional.  We should not have compassion for criminals who are suffering because they are paying the penalty for their crime.  If we feel compassion for the victims of torture we should not feel compassion for the torturer.  To do so would be to negate the compassion we feel towards the victims.

Picture the Hollywood movie where the murderer is hanging from a balcony ledge and the good guy has a hold of him.  In most of those Hollywood pictures the good guy will take pity on the murderer and put his own life at risk by bringing the murderer up from the brink.  This would be an immoral act and rather than a display of compassion it is a demonstration that the so-called “good-guy” does not in fact love his own life.  He puts it at risk by letting the murderer live.  The murderer may try to kill him (as is often the case in these cheesy movies) or he may escape justice only to kill others.

Compassion does not mean that one should sacrifice their lives for the sake of strangers.  Nor does it give the sufferer a blank cheque on the largess of the man with compassion.  Just because someone is suffering does not give that person a right to be helped or the right for others to feel sympathy for him.

Giving is only moral if what you are giving does not constitute a sacrifice on your part.   If a hobo asks for some spare change and you have spare change you could easily part with no real loss to you it is fine to feel compassion for his helplessness and give him your spare change.  If your neighbour’s house catches fire and is left standing on the street with naught but the clothes on his back a person could easily put himself in that person’s shoes, feel compassion for him and help him out by perhaps offering him clothes, food and at least a place to stay until more permanent arrangements could be made.  If such acts constitute a sacrifice on your part then you should not feel obligated nor feel guilty that you cannot offer assistance.

In cases of emergencies such as floods, earthquakes, tornadoes and the like then it would not be immoral to offer aid to the point where normality is once again achieved.  The earthquake in Haiti is a good example.  Normalcy there was poverty at subsistence level.  While we may feel compassion for the Haitian’s before the earthquake taking them out of poverty was not an obligation nor would it be practical considering that their poverty was mostly a condition they brought upon themselves by suffering a corrupt political system.  When the earthquake occurred the situation became a temporary catastrophe.  In such cases giving personal private aid would be ethical as long as it was not a sacrifice to you.  Aid to strangers in emergencies should only be given to alleviate the emergency, to bring the situation back to normal.

Our capacity for compassion is often preyed upon by what I would refer to as professional sufferers.  Those among us who consider their lot in life to be poor and expect and demand that others help them.  These people have no self-respect and have no intention of trying to better their lot on their own.

Worse than these professional sufferers are the people who set up agencies to keep these people in poverty and need.  These are the agencies which turn to government to extract aid by the barrel of a gun.  They rely on people’s natural desire for compassion and use it as a weapon of guilt.

Private agencies who do not appeal to governments for assistance and who fundraise themselves to help others provide a service for those not only in need but for those who want to help and find these agencies a convenient way to do so.  The difficulty lies in trying to determine which agency is a legitimate agency for the poor and which is a parasite on both the government and the poor.

When guilt is used to extract aid from someone that person’s understanding of compassion is under attack and it can be difficult to understand that compassion comes from within and should not be forced from you.  Compassion should be an indicator of the level to which you love your own life.  It can be a motivator for decent acts of kindness.  We should learn to recognize it for these qualities.

(Originally broadcast on Just Right #174, October 21, 2010.)


Oct 072010
Canada on the Moon

Canada on the MoonWhen I was but a lad of 8 I watched the Americans land men on the moon and I became hooked on NASA’s space program.  I remember the Skylab mission and I remember recording the Apollo/Soyuz docking on my tape recorder while sitting in front of the television.  When the shuttle was announced I sent away to NASA for an astronaut application kit.  I still have it.  Unfortunately my dreams of becoming an astronaut where dashed when I read the visual acuity requirements.

My love of space flight has continued with me all these years and I still, daily, follow the progress of the various space missions and programs around the world.  Unfortunately there is very little to follow in my own country as Canada’s space program is only a fraction of the size it could or should be.

Since I have developed a political philosophy of capitalism I have had to come to terms with a proper government’s role in space research.  I have come to the conclusion that a free nation should have the capacity to launch, from its own territory, satellites and payloads which advance the defense of the nation and its citizens and which can augment the proper functions of a proper government.  For example the Landsat and Radarsat satellites survey and record changes in Canada’s land and ocean territory and can be properly thought of as a legitimate way to carry out the task of protecting the property of the government and of individuals.  Communications satellites are legitimate in-so-far that it is an essential part of government to be able not only to communicate with its citizens but also for its military to communicate with each other.  Research into the upper atmosphere enhances our ability to communicate and so again is proper.  Spy satellites would be a necessary role for a space program as would the ability to launch missiles against our future enemies.

Ayn Rand, herself praised NASA and the American space program when she wrote about her experience watching in-person the launch of Apollo 11.

if we do continue down the road of a mixed economy, then let them pour all the millions and billions they can into the space program.  …  Let it not be (the United States) only epitaph that it died paying its enemies for its own destruction.  Let some of its life-blood go to the support of achievement and the progress of science.  The American flag on the moon – or on Mars, or on Jupiter – will, at least, be a worthy monument to what had once been a great country.

Canada got off to a good start in September of 1962 when it launched (on a US rocket from Vandenberg AFB in California) Alouette 1.  Since the satellite was built in Canada we became the third country to have a satellite in space after the Soviet Union and the United States.  Since then we have let countries like India, Japan and Communist China surpass us.

Canada’s space budget is not insignificant, $370 million, but it is paltry to what it should be in order to carry out the tasks that it should be able to do.  By comparison, NASA’s budget is $17.6 billion; the European Space Agency’s budget is $5.3 billion, France’s $2.6 billion, Japan’s $2.1 billion, Germany’s 1.8 billion, Italy’s $1.5 billion and India’s $1.2 billion.

Given our GDP of $1.2 Trillion, the vast size of this country, its skilled technical labour force, its skilled scientists and its way of life to protect, Canada should expand its space budget to be at least that of its comparable G7 counterparts like Germany, France or Italy.  With 1/10th the population of the United States our space budget could easily be 1/10th theirs or $1.8 billion or almost 5 times what it is at present.  Consider that the Harper government wants to spend $2 billion over the next five years expanding the prison system to put teenage pot-smokers behind bars.

I understand that the Canadian Space Agency is currently considering a launch site somewhere on Cape Breton Island (probably chosen for its eastern and northern coasts which would allow for both polar and equatorial launches.  Typically launch sites have uninhabited down-range areas in case anything goes wrong.)  The government should pump as much money as it can into furthering this idea.

We need our own launch facilities for the same reason I argued we should have our own nuclear weapon capability a few weeks ago.  We can no longer rely on the United States, Russia or the ESA to do our heavy lifting for us.  Launches of a military nature must be done on our soil with our technology on our terms.  To go cap-in-hand and ask that the US, France or Russia launch our satellites for us is an abrogation of our sovereignty if we could do it ourselves.

A truly Canadian space program would capture the minds of young aspiring scientists and students who would hopefully have that same awe that I had when I saw Americans walk on the moon.  Again, Rand said it best when she said that

The most inspiring aspect of Apollo 11’s flight was that it made such abstractions as rationality, knowledge, science perceivable in direct, immediate experience.  That it involved a landing on another celestial body was like a dramatist’s emphasis on the dimensions of reason’s power:  it is not of enormous importance to most people that man lands on the moon; but that man CAN do it, is.

While I’m not suggesting that Canada has a moon-landing program I am suggesting we have a space program that will inspire Canadians to admire the possibilities of science and rationality as opposed to the current trend to admire mysticism and ignorance.

(Originally aired on Just Right show #172 October 7, 2010. To download the show visit //www.justrightmedia.org)