Equality, Social Unity, and Cooperation

Chris H. continues his epic guest stint with us.

Author’s Note: The question of equality came up in the comments that developed on my post about Martin Luther King. Ultimately, my perspective on equality has roots in Rousseau. For him, disparities of wealth make it impossible to have a real social contract, one where all are committed to sustaining the contract. Inequality, particularly in extreme forms, undermines the possibility of social unity and cooperation. I dealt with this topic a bit in an essay that I wrote for Patheos.com. I will share it here with slight alterations. It gets to the heart of why equality (and not everyone having the same amount of money) is so important to me. It is the basis of community and democracy.

Jacob, the Book of Mormon prophet, laments in a speech to his people that their blessings of great wealth and prosperity have caused them to become prideful, even to the point that they “persecute [their] brethren because [they] suppose that [they] are better than the[ir brethren].” (Jacob 2:13)

This encroaching Social Darwinism (not called this during Jacob’s day), the idea that one’s wealth is somehow a sign of natural or even spiritual superiority, has been a challenge to Christians throughout time. Pride not only causes problems for the prideful, who begin to view their wealth as a result of their own effort instead of the providence of God, but also undermines the possibility of community.

Brigham Young was President of the Church during the rise of 19th-century Social Darwinism (again, he would not have known it by this term). He viewed this sense of superiority, along with its inherent acceptance and praise of inequality, as a threat to the community-focused approach to economics and development, which he had used to settle much of the Mountain West.

One of the best descriptions of the dangers of inequality to Christian community in Mormon sources is in the Book of Mormon. In 3 Nephi 6, we read about the condition of the Nephites around the time of Christ. Then, as in Jacob’s day, as well as during the industrial revolution or the 1990s, some achieved great wealth, while others were left behind.

(3 Ne 6:12) And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches. Some were lifted up in pride, and others were exceedingly humble; some did return railing for railing, while others would receive railing and persecution and all manner of afflictions, and would not turn and revile again, but were humble and penitent before God. And thus there became a great inequality in all the land, insomuch that the church began to be broken up; yea, insomuch that in the thirtieth year the church was broken up in all the land…

This great inequality in the land undermined the church, because the people no longer viewed themselves as one. They could not view themselves as all part of the body of Christ. The challenge of inequality to social cooperation is one that is not limited to faith-communities, but is also found in political communities and economic systems.

The 20th century political philosopher John Rawls argued that extreme economic inequality undermines the real possibility of equal democratic citizenship. The reason for this is that the drastic gap between the very rich and the rest of us creates two types of citizens, with the rich having a much greater control over the political process because of their wealth.

Even Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve Chairman and a long-time disciple of Ayn Rand, has expressed concern about the disparity between the wealthy and the middle-class. Greenspan worried that the large disparity between the rich and everyone else would undermine the faith in capitalism held by the average system.

Capitalism cannot be sustained over time in a democracy if people begin to doubt that the system benefits them as well as the wealthy. Such a view throws the system into crisis. In many ways, this is the current public perception of the government bailouts. We all feel tight. Some of us are out of work. But whom is the government helping? Banks and corporations. Now this is not totally fair, as all benefit from a healthy financial system. But as we look at the huge disparity between the wealthy and the rest of us, we are justified in being skeptical as to whether any of these efforts really trickle down.

How do we fix this? Taxes? Public ownership of the means of production? Jacob takes a different approach to answering this question. What we really need is not a different way of thinking about wealth. Instead we need to re-evaluate how we view our fellow human beings.

Jacob says that we should think “of [our] brethren like unto [ourselves].” If we do, then it will follow that we will “be familiar with all and free with [our] substance, that they may be rich like unto [us]” (Jacob 2:17)

I have long valued the second part of this verse, which speaks of giving to others. In particular, it clarifies that the goal of giving is not simply to keep the poor from starving but to bring them up to the level of everyone else. Of course, this is the stuff that stands out to me because my main interest is theories of distributive justice, However, I had failed to give adequate attention to the first part of this verse which says that we should think “of your brethren like unto yourselves.”

Ultimately, the obstacle that keeps us from adequately addressing our most pressing economic and social problems is our inability to see others as ourselves. Theorists of deliberative democracy have called this reciprocity, the ability to put ourselves in the position of others. John Rawls referred to this as our capacity to treat others as free and equal citizens. From a Christian perspective, we must ask ourselves whether we view all human beings as valuable children of God.

If we are instead driven by pride, we turn our backs on others and worry only about our own interests. I have my job, why should I worry about those who are unemployed? I have my health insurance and can afford it, why should we change it? Now, even these responses can be viewed as irrational, since everyone would benefit from a more affordable health care system. However, we seem prone, in our pride, not only to keep what is ours but also to get satisfaction out of the fact that others do not. This type of pride is the most dangerous, because we not only want more, but we also want to have more than everyone else.

If we are able to view others as like unto ourselves, the greatest benefit will be a greater ability to work together. Currently, we too often work against each other. We cannot work toward the common good if we do not feel that we have anything in common. Both democracy and Christianity require us to work together as one, despite our differences and disagreements, if we are to achieve higher goals, whether the goal is salvation or economic well being.

But we are so divided, is this possible? With faith in Christ, all things are possible. What about in the public square of democracy? Perhaps we need to have faith in each other.

Comments

  1. Thanks again BCC (I am just doing this to get the comments going to my email).

  2. Great post, Chris.

    It seems to me that our persistent narrative that people who are on welfare/unemployed/in poverty are just lazy is another instance of this tendency to economically distinguish us and them. King Benjamin’s admonition to give to him that asks, because we are all beggars, strikes me as equally relevant to this point.

  3. I agree, John. King Benjamin’s discourse on the beggar is not just about how we treat the beggar, but also about homw we view our fellow human beings.

  4. I agree that we ought to have faith in each other. We can start by not ascribing bad motives to our political opponents. Most of us want the same outcomes but differ on how we ought to get there.

  5. It is an interesting concept that seems so many of us have a hard time grasping, especially in the world we live in, where everything seems so material and want, but not just a want but wanting more than what someone else has. One of my favorite scriptures to think about when thinking of this type of topic is Alma 1:27-32, and see the difference of those that seemed to see each others as equals, give, and not seek after the riches, compared to those who (in this case not of the church) pride themselves on their riches, and to see how pride could creep in and make matters worse.

  6. I adore that Jacob chapter. I would love to just read it over the pulpit next time I am asked to give a talk. That is probably why I am not asked to give talks.

    #4–madhousewife’s comment is probably the kind of Christlike advice that will send me to hell. You know, or our version of it.

  7. Most of us want to send you to hell but disagree on how to get you there. :)

  8. talk about inequality? The Supreme Court just ruled that corporations are just the same as human beings. How can one human being compete against a corporation? You think inequality is bad now, just wait. It’s only getting worse.

  9. Hey! I hereby revoke all my niblet nominations for you!

    (See? I’m getting closer to hell all the time).

  10. Dude, there was totally an emoticon after that sentence! :P

  11. I saw it–I just can’t use them myself. I’ll probably get over that–I used to not be able to write contractions (no STNG Data jokes, please). You can almost always pretend my comments include emoticons–it’s a safe bet. I’m one of those people who (unfortunately) get described as having a dry sense of humor.

    Sorry for the diversion, Chris! Your dignified post does not deserve this.

  12. post 2 said-

    “It seems to me that our persistent narrative that people who are on welfare/unemployed/in poverty are just lazy is another instance of this tendency to economically distinguish us and them.”

    might I add-
    The persistent narrative that people who are wealthy or affluent are just selfish, greedy, corrupt is used in the same manner. Pride is an equal opportunity sin.

  13. Daniel (8),
    Not to derail Chris’s great post on inequality, but no it doesn’t. Moreover, the inequality Chris is talking about is not fueled by political influence; rather, it’s fueled by refusing to see our fellow people as people with intrinsic value. To the extent I see my neighbor’s value as a person (and, ultimately, as a child of God), I will work to build him or her up and not to undermine him or her.

    This is a framework that can–and should–apply, whether or not corporations have First Amendment rights or not, and whether or not my job pays more or less than my neighbor’s.

  14. Chris, you said “With faith in Christ, all things are possible.” While true, it seems that we need a good dose of reconversion to that. I don’t see the average church member (including myself, sadly) as completely converted to this principle. I truly fear that this will turn out to be one of the most important criteria in our final judgment.

  15. However, we seem prone, in our pride, not only to keep what is ours but also to get satisfaction out of the fact that others do not.

    I wonder how common this really is. Honestly, I have no idea. It is a foreign concept to me, and not because I’m all stripped of pride or anything, but it just seems so irrational. I understand feeling “deprived” (even when you are relatively affluent) if you see others around you enjoying something you don’t have. I don’t understand wanting to maintain an underclass just so you can feel better about your lot in life. Maybe other people aren’t important enough to me.

  16. However, we seem prone, in our pride, not only to keep what is ours but also to get satisfaction out of the fact that others do not.

    I wonder how common this really is. Honestly, I have no idea. It is a foreign concept to me, and not because I’m all stripped of pride or anything, but it just seems so irrational. I understand feeling “deprived” (even when you are relatively affluent) if you see others around you enjoying something you don’t have. I don’t understand wanting to maintain an underclass just so you can feel better about your lot in life. Maybe other people aren’t important enough to me.

    I don’t really understand that feeling, either. I mean, I guess on a very, very superficial level I wish my iPod was the _only_ iPod and everyone adored it and wanted to see it and envied me, but that’s just silly and unrealistic.

    I honestly don’t understand any kind of true, sincere desire to keep others down.

  17. I wonder if he’s referring to the (perhaps less-malicious) idea that’s been getting a lot of press lately that our happiness isn’t linked so much to how much we have as it is to how much we have in comparison with those around us (i.e., the research that indicates that a person who makes $100,000 is less happy if everyone around her is making $120,000 than the person making $75,000 when everybody around her is making $50,000).

  18. As I read this post, it occurs to me that I am complaining that my raise this year is only a net $20.00 a month, when our best friends just learned that they make $2.00 a month too much to qualify for food stamps. And of course, the way they learned this was when their Food Stamp “credit card” (or whatever you call it) was declined when they tried to use it at the grocery store last week.

    I’m not sure how I feel about this juxtaposition, but it makes me feel almost petty for wanting a raise the size of the one I got last year when I already make almost twice what our friends do.

  19. Possibly, Sam B (only Chris H can tell us specifically what he means, so I assume he’ll correct you if you’re reading it wrong). Still, happiness research aside, I just don’t see that mentality very often in my own lived experience, though I can’t obviously claim to know what thoughts lurk in the hearts of people I pass on the street. I know lots of people who want a raise at work–but I don’t think I know any who want a raise explicitly because they want to make more than a coworker.

  20. guest (#12),

    Inequality is the result of an unjust (or immoral society) and not due to the rich being particularly sinful. That said, I have found that in discussing Mosiah Chapter 4, or other scriptures related to treatment of other (particularly the poor), that other Mormon often seem to come quickly to the defense of the rich, and indirectly to the defense of inequality.The persistent view of the poor as lazy and immoral has harmful implications in terms of policy and ideology.

  21. guest,
    I am happy to toss both stereotypes.

  22. madhousewife (#15),

    I view a common element of pride as being, not that we want more than what we already have, but that we want more that the next person. This is only one element of pride however. Is this common, I do not know. It might also not be a fully intentional thing.

    Let me give you an example. I was listening to a conversation amongst the ladies at my wife’s bookclub. One lady insisted that it would be wrong if janitors were well paid. Why? Because teachers are not well paid and if janitors were paid the same as teachers then it would not be fair to teachers. Is this pride? Well, the comment was mostly twisted, but it would be pride if that was the attitude of the teacher…..something like that.

  23. Sam B (#17),

    I think this is known as reference anxiety. My satisfaction is not base on whether my needs and wants are being met, but based on how I compared my status with the Jones family.

    Anyways, this line in the article is within a larger context.

  24. Chris H.,
    Right. But I think madhousewife and Scott B. are right in their intuition that most people aren’t actively thinking that they not only need a higher standard of living, but they need to keep others down while they do. Rather, I think the impulse is much more benign (though not necessarily less harmful). Rather than actively trying to keep our neighbor down, I think most try to raise themselves up. Sometimes that means just ignoring their neighbors, and sometimes it means neighbors be damned. And neither is Christ-like or Christian, but the thoughtless version seems less evil than the deliberate version.

    Which may, frankly, make it worse–it’s easier to prevent active evil than passive indifference.

  25. Sam,

    I can agree with that.

  26. Chris, I have nothing to add, but wanted to thank you for the thoughtful post.

  27. If the janitors were paid the same as the teachers, it would signal that their contributions to the school were equal to the teachers’. I think most people would say that the teachers’ and janitors’ contributions were not of equal value, but that would be harder to say, perhaps, if there were no janitors and the school never got cleaned. (I mean, if I wanted my children educated in the midst of filth, I would just homeschool them.)

    That is an interesting question, though. If I were a teacher, would I want some assurance that I was making more than the janitor? I think I wouldn’t want to know how much the janitor was making in the first place. But I don’t think I would care what the janitor was making so long as I was satisfied with what I was making. And if I wasn’t satisfied with what I was making, maybe I would quit teaching and take up janitorial work. (I’m lousy at both, so I’d probably be making more than I was worth in either case.)

  28. Mark Brown says:

    Thanks Chris.

    My thoughts on this are in a state of flux, so I’ll probably change my mind next week. And I agree, mostly, with the argument that we all pretty much want the same things but might differ on the means we should use to achieve those things.

    However, and speaking only for myself, I’ve found that it is uncomfortably revealing just what I am willing to tolerate. For instance, people who are mostly conservative probably couch their objections to health care reform in terms of budget deficits and out of control spending. That is a fair objection, but under Reagan we were willing to tolerate very large deficits in order to get tax cuts. And under GWB we tolerated deficits to finance the Gulf war. So I feel like a tool now to realize that deficits apparently matter to me only when it might mean a more egalitarian distribution of health care.

  29. madhousewife,

    I would argue that we should pay both more and that teachers should likely make more. Either way, both make a contribution that is undervalued. Additionally, they also have a value that transcends there career choice.

  30. “…their career choice.”

  31. Mark Brown says:

    It should also be noted one of the most reliable predictors of support for health care reform is whether a person has been without health insurance for a time. That may be justified or not, but it does speak to the point Chris is trying to make. Do we really see others as ourselves? Home teach an unemployed family without insurance whose child has leukemia, and all the talk about budgets sounds like blah blah blah.

  32. I think American janitors should be be paid much more than American teachers, because American janitors do not instill in young children an irrational fear and loathing of math.

  33. Great post. The Book of Mormon certainly makes this topic one of its central themes, especially with respect to the health of the church back then. Surely we need to be on our guard. I think you hit the nail on the head as to how to address the problem (view others as ourselves). We may all have different ideas about what public policy is best given the current situation, but privately we can’t accept the disparity as principled or we have missed a fundamental lesson from the Book of Mormon.

    One thought I had reading the OP:

    “If we are instead driven by pride, we turn our backs on others and worry only about our own interests. I have my job, why should I worry about those who are unemployed?”

    For me I don’t think it is pride that keeps me from being more generous; it is fear. When I know the world is dog-eat-dog and believe I can’t rely on community to help my family through a downturn, my hoarding tendencies take over. In other words, until I am confident that others will view me as King Benjamin advises, I better watch my back. Perhaps this is my ingrained “self reliance” upbringing gone sour. If we lived in a more community minded society, that fear would go away and we (I hope) would more freely give. I don’t think hoarding out of fear is more justified than pride, but I wanted to point out that it is just as motivating.

  34. I tend to view deficits as a public finance mechanism and do not understand emotional reactions against them.

  35. I feel a need to note that the reason I chose the stereotype I did is because that is the stereotype I encounter most frequently in church. Perhaps if I lived amongst the poor and deprived, I would hear them describing the rapacious rich. At present, I don’t.

  36. John, next time I see you I will say nasty thing about the rich. Just trying to bring variety to your life.

  37. Cort, thanks.

    The post is more about the problem of inequality and not so much about the proper solution. I think we can agree on the problem and still disagree on the solutions.

  38. My comment in 37 is meant to be me agreeing with Cort. It does not read that way, but that is what I am doing.

  39. #37/38

    The scary part is that maybe we disagree not only about the solutions, but whether there is a problem in the first place. That is how the church got itself into a vert bad spot in the scriptures you quote. I take that to mean that us in the modern church better keep its eyes extremely wide open.

  40. I think American janitors should be be paid much more than American teachers, because American janitors do not instill in young children an irrational fear and loathing of math.

    Another excellent point!

    So I feel like a tool now to realize that deficits apparently matter to me only when it might mean a more egalitarian distribution of health care.

    Well, you ought to feel like a tool if this is your objection to any particular version of health care reform, but not if your argument is that we can have a more egalitarian distribution of health care and better health care overall without huge budget deficits.

    (Not that I care about budget deficits. Neither math nor accounting scares me!)

    This is what I mean when I talk about ascribing bad motives to people of the opposing side. It just isn’t true that people oppose health care reform because they don’t care whether or not people have access to health care. (Well, sure, some people don’t care, but they’re probably off on their yachts and not really contributing to the policy discussion.) But then, I also don’t think it’s true that people oppose health care reform because they have an irrational fear of deficits. I think they have a healthy fear of what the future holds for all sick people. They might be wrong about the consequences particular policies will have, but not because they’re indifferent to uninsured children with leukemia (even the theoretical ones they haven’t met yet).

  41. Mark Brown says:

    True enough, mad, but the fact remains that what we are willing to tolerate is pretty revealing, wouldn’t you agree? And people who didn’t give a rip when RR was tripling the deficit don’t have much of a leg to stand on now.

  42. “But then, I also don’t think it’s true that people oppose health care reform because they have an irrational fear of deficits.”

    To be clear, I did not say that. I just do not get the apparent fear/hyper-concern that people have about deficits.

  43. Mark Brown says:

    Chris, sorry for derailing the conversation with my examples.

  44. I didn’t mean to imply that you said that, Chris. Sorry. First my emoticons, now my deficit talk – I just can’t seem to stay on topic.

  45. Wow, Chris. Well said.

  46. ChrisH #20

    I do not believe that inequality in and of itself is always the result of an immoral or unjust society. We are taught that our Father’s house has many mansions, and many kingdoms, and none of them are equal to all the others.

    In 3 Nephi 6 it was not inequality that resulted in great wickedness. The verses prior to the one you quoted note that there had been continual peace in the land for years, even up to the preceeding year, and there is no indication that all things had been equal during that time. “But it came to pass in the *twenty and ninth year there began to be some disputings among the people; and some were lifted up unto pride and boastings because of their exceedingly great riches, yea, even unto great persecutions; ”

    It began with disputings and pride and the boasting of the rich, and great persecutions. In Jacob 2, Jacob indicates that again, it was not that “some” had been blessed more abundantly (and unequally) than others that caused the problem. It was the vanity and pride of “some” that led to them to persecute those who had less than they did.

    I have known wealthy people who are good, kind, and generous with their wealth. These people do not persecute others or act in vain or prideful ways and they are not immoral or unjust. I have also known poor people who are bad, unkind, and unwise with any money that falls into their hands. I have seen them persecute anyone who they feel has more than they have and act in proud and stupid ways.

    But I have also met bad rich people and good poor people. I simply reject the stereotypical assumption that people that share certain physical commonalities always share certain spiritual commonalities as well.

  47. guest,
    if that is the case, then you agree with the opening post. Ain’t it great when we all agree with each other?

  48. ChrisH

    One more thing. I’m not defending inequality, even if you choose to believe I am indirectly. I’m defending agency. The agency that grants us the opportunity to be selfless and charitable also grants us the opportunity to be selfish and uncharitable. Would those who would force society to do “the moral thing” with their money also insist on forcing society to do “the moral thing” with their bodies or their leisure time?

    Satan proposed the enforcement of “righteousness” upon all. I supposedly rejected that plan then, and I certainly reject it now.

  49. guest,
    I’m pleased that you are such a believer in agency. Tell me, do you let your children play with matches? Encourage the prisons to free their prisoners?

    As a society, we force people to do the moral thing all the time (or, at least, we try to). That is sort of an empty argument, I think, because generally we only use it when someone is seeking to restrict something that we personally feel doesn’t need restricting. But nobody is ever an across-the-board believer in it.

  50. I am playing nice….. I am playing nice…..I am playing nice…..I am playing nice….

  51. madhousewife,

    No problem, I didn’t think you were accusing me of anything. Just wanted to be clear. I love tangents. You should hear me lecture.

  52. 22, 27, 29–ha ha–I am a teacher and have sometimes wondered if the janitorial and secretarial staff at school out-earned me. I suspect they do, being a relatively new hire and considering that most of them have been in their jobs for decades before me (teacher pay scales are on the internet, so anyone could figure out how much I earn, but not those guys). I’m pretty OK with that–they do a lot of stuff that I wouldn’t be terribly happy to do and I rather like my job (and the education it took to qualify for it). Having taught in school systems where there were no janitorial and secretarial staffs (not in US), I know very well how much value these guys add to my work experience.

  53. ESO,

    Thanks for your insight. The secretary in my last department should have been paid more than the profs. She kept the place together.

  54. Stephanie says:

    guest, I’ll see your 3 Nephi 6 and Jacob 2 and raise you 4th Nephi:

    2 And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord . . .

    3 And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free . . .

    [many verses about how wonderful life was]

    17 . . . neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ . . .

    24 And now, in this two hundred and first year there began to be among them those who were lifted up in pride, such as the wearing of costly apparel, and all manner of fine pearls, and of the fine things of the world.

    25 And from that time forth they did have their goods and their substance no more common among them.

    When every single person in the whole community was converted to Christ, they had all things in common. They chose to live that way – not imposed. So, I have a hard time comprehending an argument that if everyone is righteous and keeping their covenants, then there will be inequality among us.

  55. Stephanie says:

    Although I do agree with where I think you are headed, guest: it’s not the capitalism or the wealth that leads to inequality. It’s the wickedness (of which pride is usually the first major sin). Imposing some type of egalitarian structure on a wicked, prideful society would not achieve equality. The inequality itself is evidence of the wickedness, IMO.

    I have a hunch that I would disagree with Chris H’s politics, but I wholeheartedly agree that the first step in overcoming the inequality is a good dose of “Love thy neighbor as thyself”.

  56. John C,

    You might have responded from the viewpoint that “the moral thing” is whatever a society views as legal or appropriate. If that is the case, then I would argue that as a society, we really do not have the ability to “force people to do the moral (legal, appropriate) thing” at all. We can only establish laws and authorize the enforcement of negative consequences upon those who choose to violate those laws.

    But that is not how I used the term “the moral thing” in my example. I’m sorry I didn’t clarify. Since the op uses scriptures that reference morality as it relates to the code of conduct (laws) of God, the “morality” I was referring to was right (vs wrong) or good (vs wicked) in His eyes. In that respect I cannot imagine that you believe it is even possible to “force people to do the moral thing all the time (or try to)” when political correctness prevents us from even suggesting that someone’s behavior might be immoral or ungodly in the first place.

  57. Political Correctness?

    Scott B,
    I am ignoring this crap in respect for you, but it is not fun.

  58. Chris,
    There is a fine line between persistence and anal-retentive butt-holery. If you feel that someone has crossed that line, fire away.

  59. I’d get upset at “guest” except he is too unclear to follow. Chris thou has the patience of a socialist Job.

  60. guest,
    I just erased a sarcastic and mean-spirited reply. You’re welcome.

    If you object to the possibility of legally enforced charity on grounds of agency, but not to the possibility of a legally enforced prohibition on murder on the same grounds, then I think you are being logically inconsistent. Can you explain to me, stupid and unspiritual as I am, why this is not the case?

  61. Stephanie-

    That is exactly my point. The noble goal of “equality” is not possible in a society in which all are not completely righteous and willing. Even if imposed upon that society physically, it is impossible to impose it upon them spiritually.

    If everyone was “righteous” and then made and kept the same “covenants” there would be no inequality. But according to the word of God, there has only been one society in all of history that was able to create such a society and maintain it, and there will only be one future society that will be able to do the same thing.

    In the verse from 3 Nephi 6 that ChrisH quoted, we are made aware that there were also extremely humble, submissive, penitent citizens and not just proud, vain and domineering ones. I just do not believe it is possible to create universal equality in any society where there are other children of God who do not want the same thing.

  62. I have cooled off. Where in the post do I call for any sort of government measure? I do appear to endorse democracy as a good. Is that problem? Then I am guilty and proudly so.

    A socialist Job. I like it. Though, I will take being cursed by guest over what Job had to deal with. I am pretty sure my children will not abandon me. I cannot get them to leave my room as I type right now.

    It is not my intent to convince everyone. I appreciate that people like Stephanie can see where we have common ground, eventhough she is right: we do not have much in common politically (we have interacted before around the ‘nacle).

    Maybe I will have to do that socialism post after all.

  63. Eric Russell says:

    I have no opinion on economic inequality, but I fully support spiritual inequality. People who don’t save up spiritually just don’t deserve to be on the same level with those who do. For my part, I reinvest all the stock dividends that my CEO in Heaven pays out and put it into a spiritual Roth IRA. This way not even God himself will be able to tax me on it when I withdraw. If that makes me spiritually wealthier in heaven than everyone else, so be it.

  64. One of the great goals of deliberative democracy is respecting those opinions that differ from our own enough to listen and understand if nothing else. Thank you Stephanie for your example of true charity and reciprocity.

    Charity suffereth long and is kind, is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, thinketh no evil, is not easily provoked.

    “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”

  65. guest,
    In all loving sincerity, could you please be clearer? Also, could you answer my question?
    Thanks in advance

  66. “If the saints are not equal in earthly things, they cannot be equal in heavenly things.”

  67. “Be excellent to each other.”

  68. “And party on, dudes!”

  69. There are strange things afoot at the Circle K

  70. It may not be possible to explain myself in a manner that satisfies you. I’m tired and it’s late, and I don’t know why I bothered to comment at all.

    I don’t think it is logically consistent to be in favor of legally enforcing charity unless you are also in favor of legally enforcing kindness, patience, humility, and a multitude of other moral behaviors.

    Real charity by definition is a voluntary act that involves a willing heart. If you force someone to do it, it is no longer charity. Society cannot force the end selfishness any more than it has forced the end of murders.

  71. Thank you, guest. I think part of the problem here is that you are reading charity as a Christlike attribute (which it is), but I am meaning charity as helping the poor. So let me restate the question:
    If helping the poor become less poor is a desirable and good thing (which God seems to indicate) and not killing people is a good thing (which God also seems to indicate), why is it appropriate for humans to legislate the second, but not the first?

  72. guest,

    #56,

    If that is the case, then I would argue that as a society, we really do not have the ability to “force people to do the moral (legal, appropriate) thing” at all. We can only establish laws and authorize the enforcement of negative consequences upon those who choose to violate those laws.

    There is an inherent contradiction in this statement. On the one hand, you say we do not have the ability to “force people” to do something, yet on the other you say we can establish laws and their inherent enforcement. You realize when you establish a law (stop at a red light), you are forcing someone to obey that law, that if they don’t, they will be punished for disobeying that law.

  73. Daniel,
    The fact or possibility of enforcement does not guarantee that someone will obey the law. Therefore it cannot be considered forcing someone. The number of people who run red lights is sufficient proof of that. However, you are right that we can encourage behaviors via legislation, sometimes by affixing potential punishments to behaviors we find negative.

    guest,
    In thinking about this some more, it strikes me that not killing someone, while good, is not of itself commendable. I manage to not kill someone almost all the time and I don’t think I deserve any recognition for it. However, we do tend to see our efforts to help the poor as commendable. Does that help define the difference that you see?

  74. John,

    Indeed, there’s no actual “forcing” of anyone as people still have a choice to make whether to obey or disobey the law. Guest’s point was that we cannot “force” people to be charitable. I was merely pointing out that in creating a law wherein people have to pay toward charity, you don’t actually force that on people, but like with all laws, people still have the ability to choose whether to obey the law or not. Governmental laws don’t take away anyone’s agency. They do put in place consequences that will eventually limit a person’s agency, but the onus to keep free agency rests on the individual still.

  75. John C.,
    You wrote:

    If helping the poor become less poor is a desirable and good thing (which God seems to indicate) and not killing people is a good thing (which God also seems to indicate), why is it appropriate for humans to legislate the second, but not the first?

    and

    In thinking about this some more, it strikes me that not killing someone, while good, is not of itself commendable. I manage to not kill someone almost all the time and I don’t think I deserve any recognition for it. However, we do tend to see our efforts to help the poor as commendable. Does that help define the difference that you see?

    Being a person more of the attitude that “guest” has, I would say that yeah, your latter statement is getting close. In very simplistic terms, the difference is between legislating what people cannot do, because it removes your neighbor’s right to life itself, and legislating what people should do, because it impacts the quality of your poor neighbor’s life.

    To me, the distinction between these two scenarios, and the different moral foundation for legislating them, is fairly plain.

  76. I will add that, while I have opinions here, I didn’t address whether the “different moral foundations” I mentioned render one worthy and the other unworthy; rather, I just think they are pretty obviously different.

  77. Mark Brown says:

    Scott, I think we need to change the example.

    Instead of murder, let’s just go with the laws most Mormons have no problems at all with: regulation of tobacco and alcohol, and laws regarding pornography. These are all laws impacting the quality of our (and our neighbor’s) lives, so we can get rid of the argument about life itself, and the argument is no longer about agency, because we are ready and oh so willing to stomp all over somebody’s agency if he wants to sell 3.2 beer on Sunday. So now the only question becomes: Why does somebody smoking offend me more than somebody living on the street? Why am I willing to tolerate one but not the other?

  78. Mark,
    I’m not willing to legislate smoking, alcohol, or pornography (except child), so you need a different example if you want to catch me.

  79. Steve Evans says:

    Scott, Mark probably has caught you. I’d bet that you’re more than willing to legislate all of those examples to some degree.

  80. Mark Brown says:

    Fair enough Scott, you libertarian, you.

    Can we agree that most conservative Mormons do not take a libertarian stance, and that therefore their appeals to agency when they argue against government intervention on behalf of poor people don’t hold much water?

  81. Mark,
    My experience is that many “conservative Mormons” are libertarians who just don’t realize it yet, because they haven’t figured out that opposition higher taxes on smokes and obeying the WoW are not contradictory. That is, libertarians who have been drinking the Utah political climate for a little too long, and need to get out for some fresh air.

    But, that is my experience, and I’m younger than many, so it may not be relevant for you. Inasmuch as my experience is not indicative of the general “conservative Mormon” population, you may be right.

  82. Actually, most of the reason people generally use to cite controlling tobacco and alcohol control is life/health. Even porn and gambling are addressed as public health issues.

  83. Mark Brown says:

    Not to mention flouride in the water.

  84. I am swamped with work today, but things seem to be going well without me.

    To be honest, while I know that charity is important, I am not sure how it is relevant to political economy. In political society, respect between citizens is required for democracy. This is a matter of justice and not charity. I have no interest in requiring or forcing anyone to be charitable. Instead, I demand that sociaL, political, and economic institutions.

    Back to corrupting the youth of Utah County with my socialism.

  85. I’m probably jumping in here a little late, but there is a difference between legislating charity and murder (or whatever other example you want to use) on a societal level.

    Laws exist to provide a benefit to a society. Many exist for the sake of stability. This includes prohibiting murder, theft, etc. It also includes many property laws, etc. Knowing that you have a reasonable chance of not getting killed and are able to keep your property frees you up to do more for a society.

    Other laws exist for the “good” of the society. Some are for “good” health – tobacco laws, etc. Some are safety – traffic laws, drunk driving, etc.

    As far as “charity” however, it is a much larger question and one that a society as a whole needs to answer philosophically. There are many examples of countries where “charity” was enforced. The USSR is one that failed. Many European countries, however, do this to a large extent through high taxes and many services from the state serving to make everyone more equal. The US, however, was obviously founded on more of a capitalistic model.

    There are pros and cons to each model. If the US had the “equality” model of many other countries religiously, JS wouldn’t have been as able to form a new religion. Capitalism, for all of it’s faults, does encourage innovation, etc. When there is the possibility for someone to hit a “home run”, people tend to do more. The downside to this is it also allows for a disparity of incomes.

    It is therefore difficult to legislate “charity”. Nearly 50% of Americans already pay no income tax. 10% of Americans already pay nearly half of the income tax in the country. The only way to legislate “charity” would be to increase the tax burden even further, as that’s the only place to get more money. While this might have the societal benefit of “helping the poor”, if it removes too much incentive from the others, it may be counter-productive.

  86. Actually, most of the reason people generally use to cite controlling tobacco and alcohol control is life/health. Even porn and gambling are addressed as public health issues.

    John C.,
    Of course. But we need to talk about health of participants vs. health of bystanders. If you want to persuade me–or most libertarians, usually–of the benefits of some legislation, then it usually needs to be couched in some argument about externalities. Steve (up above) said that he would bet that I’m willing to legislate alcohol, tobacco, and porn to “some degree,” and may be true, I guess, though probably considerably less than he thinks. If an action unavoidably infringes on other non-participants’ welfare, I’m willing to engage it.

    For example, I oppose making alcohol illegal (or taxing it heavily, which I think is not fundamentally different than a government selling cocaine for revenue, and thus requires an asymmetric policy, which is stupid. Also, taxing addicts is kind of cruel…), but I am in favor of making drunk driving illegal–not because of the drunk driver, but because of the person he hits. And so on.

  87. Mark,
    My list of evil legislation goes as follows:
    1. California Special DMV fees
    2. Flouride Water Treatment
    3. Avocados

  88. Mike

    #85,

    There are many examples of countries where “charity” was enforced. The USSR is one that failed. Many European countries, however, do this to a large extent through high taxes and many services from the state serving to make everyone more equal. The US, however, was obviously founded on more of a capitalistic model.

    We should probably differentiate “charity” type things from other governmental services such as health care, fire departments, etc. European countries and other developed countries in other parts of the world have decided that it is in their best interest as a country to provide health care for every individual that resides within their boundary. This isn’t a matter of charity. They’re not legislating charity. Providing health care through a government funded system (whether that service is provided by private industry funded by government taxation, or fully government funded and provided doesn’t matter) is much the same as providing a fire department for a community through that same government taxes. We don’t consider a fire department a charitable institution, but rather one of necessity. Societies can decide what is a necessity within that society. Over in Europe, those societies feel their societies are best served by a communal pool of services to be provided for all, whether it is retirement security, health care, unemployment security, or any number of smaller, less talked about things such as maternal and paternal leave (which, let me tell you, would do wonders here in this country for our families). Those are not a matter of charity. It’s not like you go over to Europe and because of the “forced” government programs, no European will be “charitable” toward you if you need something. I find Europeans to be quite friendly and quite kind, as I do most Americans. And quite charitable, with both their time, talents, and money.

  89. I really enjoyed your article. It is often difficult to make the ideas expressed in the Book of Mormon make sense within a modern day context, but I think you hit it on the head.

  90. Daniel (#88):

    I agree with you in regards to your feelings towards Europeans. I’ve been there 6-7 times (including an LDS mission) and have met wonderful people. I think we are perhaps talking past each other with the use of the word “charity”. I still don’t think that you can “force” charity in the US the same way you can “force” someone not to commit murder.

    I do think there is a philosophical difference, however, that permeates the structure of society comparing us and Europe. In Europe, there is more of a sense of “best for everyone” as opposed to here with more of a sense of “best for me”. Using healthcare as an example, there are many areas where things that are not cost-effective simply aren’t done. If someone with multiple medical problems in Australia breaks their hip, it’s not fixed but they are given medication for comfort. In many countries, if you’re above a certain age, you don’t get dialysis. In many countries, spending $200,000 on a premature baby with a 10% chance of living doesn’t make “sense”, so it’s not done. If you have to wait 18 months to get your knee replaced, so be it. If a breast cancer drug only significantly improves chances for survival for less than 5% of people at a cost in the tens of thousands, you don’t get it.

    In the US, the social contract is different. In the abstract we are for similar things, but in reality, when it is my grandma or my premature baby or my own body, I want everything done. It doesn’t matter that it’s not cost effective to a society as a whole. Try being the first politician who suggests any of the above and see how long until there is an add showing a child at grandma’s side with a caption saying “xxxxx just wants grandma to die.” It’s just a different underlying philosophy.

    So, there are downsides to how our society is set up in the US. At the same time, it encourages innovation and the generation of capital. Fortunately, societal pressures on even the richest cause them to ultimately give most of it away in “charity” (ie. Gates, Buffett, Rockefeller, etc.)

    I think we can be charitable as individuals, but it is difficult in a capitalistic society to force it.

  91. ScottB-75

    Thank you for framing it with the clarity I found impossible at 1:00 am.

  92. Scott and guest,
    The reason that I find murder and government charity analogous is because I think both affect the health and life of people other than us. If I keep more than I need, my hoarding results in a lack for someone else (assuming that economics is roughly zero-sum, which may be inaccurate). Government can balance that by taxing to support welfare or offering deductions for charitable giving. That’s why, I think , gov’t intervention is necessary (or, failing that, desirable).

  93. John C.,
    I don’t see how your explanation in 92 relates murder and government charity to each other at all. Could you restate it? Because to me, the difference is really plain: in one case, you remove a complete, full _right_; in the other, you potentially, partially, impact the _quality_ of a _non-right_.

    To me, they are worlds apart from each other, logically and morally.

  94. (I rush to add that I am considering a right to life as a natural right, not one bestowed on me by the United Nations or Delaware.)

  95. I suppose that for me the difference is in the manner in which we value rights talk. I don’t find it all that inherently valuable. When it comes to public policy, I am much more concerned with outcomes. If the purpose of the both government programs (prosecuting murderers and providing welfare to the poor) is similar (protecting life), then I find the programs similar.

    Your contention, as I understand it, is that both programs are about fulfilling potential obligations incurred by rights (right to life and, in your understanding, right to a living wage (or something like that)). The question of whether people have a right to a living wage is an open one (its nice if you can get one, but only the UN insists that it is a right (aka no-one important believes it is a right)). So, to you, rights and obligations are not justly evoked in support of charitable giving to the poor or economic equality. However, I think that there is a strong populist notion that the rich are more heavily obligated to give to others than the poor. That’s why support for flat taxes never really materializes and why Robin Hood remains a culture hero. So long as there is a notion that some people have more than their fair share, society will continue to impose culture, governmental, and fiscal penalties for that. I don’t think that is necessarily wrong, either, but that may be where we part ways.

  96. Fear not, Crawdaddy. I’ve been informed that I only disagree with you because I’m an abject idiot, so I’ll probably pack it in on this one.

  97. Having contemplated ChrisH’s stance longer, I’d like to put something forward to him with all sincerity.

    As I read it, your interest/passion is equality-not necessarily financial equality, but social and community equality where none are viewed as superior or inferior even though they may be very different. You believe that in order to do that, people must stop making distinctions that create a sense of “us and them”. The pride in Jacob 2 caused some to persecute others because they “supposed that they were better than their brethren”. Do I have that right?

    If I do, then isn’t it imperative for all people who believe that such a society is a “good” and “righteous” goal to stop distinguishing one “ite” from another as suggested in the verses from 4th Nephi that Stephanie quoted? Do we not draw “us vs them” distinctions when we address ourselves or someone else as a “liberal(ite)” or “conservative (ite)”, or a “capitalist”, or a “socialist”?

    You said that “The persistent view of the poor as lazy and immoral has harmful implications in terms of policy and ideology”. Doesn’t that apply to any persistent view of another group as negative or inferior? For example, a persistent view of conservatives as old fashioned and stupid? Or of liberals as brainwashed and communist?

    I agree with you that as members of society today, we rank people in far more ways than just wealth. Aren’t they all equally destructive? If they are, then as long as any of us “rank” people in our minds and hearts in any manner-whether it be according to education, career choice, political party, where they were born or where they live, or even such things as doctrines they do or don’t embrace or the media they follow-we are part of the problem.

  98. Steve Evans says:

    “Aren’t they all equally destructive?”

    No, they are not.

  99. I agree with Steve, but I also agree with guest that negative stereotyping is quite destructive, no matter whom the class stereotyped is.

  100. I think they’re all equally destructive in the sense that I think they are all likely sinful, and any sin, unrepented of, would keep a person from God’s presence. However, even I can’t agree that, from a simple public policy or practical impact stance, they are equally destructive.

  101. “Do we not draw “us vs them” distinctions when we address ourselves or someone else as a “liberal(ite)” or “conservative (ite)”, or a “capitalist”, or a “socialist”? ”

    I call myself a socialist for a couple of reasons.

    1. It is (more or less) empirical fact. Technically I am a liberal egalitarian, but nobody know what the heck that is. JNS, a long time ago insisted that this was no different from being a socialist and I have since warmed to it.

    2. It usually has a negative connotation. So, in a way, I have adopted the label socialist with pride, in the way that homosexuals have taken on the label queer, a term that was once a slur and now used with pride. (This paragraph may cause more confusion than anything else).

    By claiming to be a socialist, I am not claim that this makes me better that a capitalist (or whatever) but that this is who I am. Now, a problem is that few people really understand what I mean when I use that term. It is complex with a rich and mixed tradition. What do I mean when I say that I am a socialist? Well, I am hoping to put that up some time Saturday.

  102. I am obviously not superior in my typing skills.

  103. Make that South Carolina.

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