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Compassion at the System Level vs Community/Individual Level

An idea just popped into my mind that helps me understand why I’ve changed my mind from supporting a lot of liberal policies I used to support.

Liberals have a strong “compassion muscle” and want to exercise it in every issue of the state, world and social problems.  This isn’t a “diss”, when I talk about liberals I’m also talking about MYSELF only a couple of years ago, and I can’t exactly diss or hate my past self, cuz actually, she was a cool chick, just hadn’t seen the other side on some of these issues and had a strong compassion muscle.  A lot of issues that conservatives vs liberals disagree on are basically about compassion vs freedom.  We all know about that one, but another important point is that system level compassion can often look very different from compassion at the community or individual level.

For example, your cousin or friend becomes a single mom, her boyfriend ditches her, so your community does it’s best to shame him into being a good father, with no luck.  So, instead, you all step up and makes sure she has the support she needs.  That’s community level compassion for a unique individual.  That’s totally awesome and how early human tribes did things and, since it’s your community and the support is being provided freely out of love, it’s also in line with the principles of freedom.  Also, since it’s her family and friends that are giving of their hard earned money and time, she feels some guilt and, assuming she has some sense of responsibility and isn’t a sociopath or narcissist, she will only want to take what she needs and hopefully she’ll learn her lesson and not keep having more children she can’t take care of.  If she gets pregnant by another guy on accident, her community will start giving her a really hard time for her irresponsible behavior.  But they will also want her children to be taken care of, if they are a strong community and love her dearly.

Now imagine a welfare state, where, when that same woman gets pregnant, instead of reaching out to her community, who can try to help her get the dad to step up and also offer her community support that comes with love and is a gift from the hearts of those who care the most about her and her child, she applies for welfare.  Now there’s very little chance the dad will step up, since his doing so, unless he has a good job, will actually decrease her income from welfare and other support programs for single moms. Also, there are financial incentives to have more kids out of wedlock, rather than disincentives from guilt and shaming from your community, who is supporting you and your family.  Children growing up in homes with a mom and a dad really do have an advantage so it’s best to encourage it, rather than discourage it, with your social policy, to have system level compassion.

Of course, I have a friend who is a single mom and she was helped very much by said programs, so I have trouble with this topic myself.  I don’t want to take that stuff away from my friend and her daughter, who benefitted from those programs.  But, on the other hand, at the system level, it incentivizes families to split up or never form in the first place.  Each situation is unique and I don’t want to make children suffer, but in this case, I think compassion for those children at the system level may actually be making sure that the incentives are for strong, healthy families.  There will always be some single mothers and fathers, because life is cruel at times and people die even if all the parents can manage to stay together, but the more kids that grow up with a mom and a dad who get along well and envelop their children with love and support, the better for those children and for our society.

This same type of thinking repeats itself on other issues, it’s just this one is a very salient and important one to me.  72% of black children are born out of wedlock and that is not a good thing for our society, for so many black kids to grow up fatherless or with a dad who isn’t supportive and present to a significant degree.  The fact that welfare and other social programs for single moms incentive more births out of wedlock seems like it has accelerated the rise.  Perhaps if liberals want to be compassionate, they should go out to their local community, find a single mom, and offer to help support her, rather than supporting programs that actually seem to do more harm to children in the long run by encouraging more children to be born into broken homes.  Compassion through government is always less efficient anyways, even without the incentives, than from your local community of support.

I’ve thought for a long time that we ought to form smaller, stronger, tighter-knit more tribal-like communities of support and focus as much as possible on doing as much to help people on the local level, inside of these communities, rather than looking to big brother for help; big brother grows and takes away more and more of our rights and privacy and we just don’t want that; ask anyone who grew up in Communism and they will tell you, no es bueno!

Both sides of the political isle are bought and sold by corporate interests, so every time you ask them to solve social problems, you are basically letting $ write laws and gain more power through the state.  When I was in college I wrote a research essay on the role of money in elections in my political science class and was traumatized by what I found in my research.  Since then I’ve know that that the most important thing to do before government can actually do good in any social problems is to sever the tie between $ and government.  Equal time, equal money public financing, and also changing the system rigging so that 3rd parties have more of a shot at getting votes, might allow us more options for actually getting our government to work by and for the people.  We will still have to think about system level compassion and we liberal-minded folks (I believe my brain is still wired liberal, I’ve just used logic to make it out-think it’s default leanings) will have to remember that we can and should help individuals at the community level and use our compassion to make those decisions, but system level compassion is a different beast altogether, and requires you to change your frame of mind to be truly compassionate.

From The Culture of Critique by Kevin McDonald, this is a very relevant passage to this topic:

Western cultures are typically characterized as relatively individualistic compared to other societies (Triandis, 1995) and there is reason to suppose that the affectional system is conceptually linked to individualism, that is, it is a system that tends toward nuclear rather than extended family organization.  Triandis (1990) finds that individualistic societies emphasize romantic love to a greater extent than do collectivist societies, and Western cultures have indeed emphasized romantic love more than other cultures (see PTSDA, 236-245; MacDonald 1995b,c; Money 1980).  This system is highly elaborated in Western cultures, and it is psychometrically linked with empathy, altruism, and nurturance.  Individuals who are very high on this system–predominately females–are pathologically prone to altruistic, nurturant and dependent behavior (see MacDonald 1995a).  On an evolutionary account, the relatively greater elaboration of this system in females is to be expected, given the greater female role in nurturance and as a discriminating mechanism in relationships of pair bonding.  Such a perspective also accounts for the much commented-on gender gap in political behavior in which females are more prone to voting for political candidates favoring liberal positions on social issues.  Women more than men also endorse political stances that equalize rather than accentuate differences between individuals and groups (Pratto, Stallworth & Sidanius 1997).

In ancestral environments this system was highly adaptive, resulting in a tendency towards pair bonding and high-investment parenting, as well as intrinsically motivated relationships of close friendship and trust.  This system continues to be adaptive in the modern world in its role in underlying high-investment parenting, but it is easy to see that the relative hypertrophy of this system may result in maladaptive behavior if a system designed for empathy, altruism and nurturance of family members and others in a closely related group becomes directed to the world outside the family.


Use your compassion, just use it intelligently at the system level and intimately at the individual level with those you encounter.

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  1. i m ch i m ch

    Oh ho ho oh, that “it’s” for “its” is something I didn’t expect to stumble on right here.

    You’re getting up-to-date :))

  2. i m ch i m ch

    Children growing up in homes with a mom and a dad really do have an advantage so it’s best to encourage it, rather than discourage it, with your social policy, to have system level compassion.

    Ok, I won’t argue over that. But the policies you criticize were designed to the aim of helping black people, and hispanic people to a lesser degree, specifically.
    When you argue rationally and speak of incentivizing the traditional family structure (husband, a male, wife, a female, and children) you forget rationality doesn’t reach irrational people, and lawmakers, as well as the country as a whole, have to deal with irrational people, a lot of them for that matter, who lack the intellectual resources to reason over what is best for them, or do any planning at all.

    (See black prominence in abortion, too.)

    Plus, since humans aren’t wired for monogamy (see, one of the best blogs on the subject), all of them will try to flee from a traditional marriage, and the only traditional marriages that resist time are those in which openness is accepted, and both spouses can have entertain relationships with other people while remaining married.

    You also have a lot of high-IQ women who choose to be single mothers, in other words, and naturally they influence lawmakers.

    • That was an interesting blog post. My experience has been quite different than they describe females having.

      Hmm, we should chat about this sometime. I’m actually thinking a lot about what the ideal modern family and relationship structure should be lately and I could use another brain with a different perspective to bounce ideas around with.

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