Growing up, my parents -my father especially- tried to instill in me a sense of self-sufficiency and the skills necessary to care for myself. My father would always say "I'm not always going to be there to help take care of you". This ominous warning of the inevitable served to teach me a valuable lesson about the importance of independence.
Today we live in a world that more and more sees dependence as a virtue, rather then a vice. The value of teaching a man to fish has been replaced with the ease of simply giving him the day’s fish. This is to be expected in a world where instant gratification is no longer viewed as impetuous or immature, but instead prudent and sensible. Why bother taking all that time to teach the poor man to fish? After all, he is starving now, and I can afford it. And besides, he probably can’t even learn how to fish. It is so much simpler to just give him the fish. And if he becomes dependent upon me to keep giving him fish, well, than that is just the sacrifice we have to make. Too often is this a common trend seen in well-intentioned, albeit misguided, individuals who advocate dependency as an unintentional, but necessary, byproduct of charity. Such advocates focus too much on what such dependency means for the depended and very little (if at all) on what it means on the dependent. Dependency is a spiritual ill. It weakens the faculties of the mind and soul. Dependency will corrupt a man and make him incapable of providing himself the simplest of needs. It is a debaser of humanity that puts him on the road to serfdom and slavery. Teach a man to fish, and you will feed him for a life time. Feed a man a fish, and not only will you merely forestay his starvation for another day, but you will enable him to become dependent on your subsistence. Which of the two outcomes seems more charitable?
Our Founding Fathers created a system of government designed to preserve our independence by declaring their own independence from a system of government that viewed them as subjects, not citizens, and that demanded their submission and obedience in exchange for the protections of the crown. Freedom cannot exist without accountability, and accountability does not exist without independence. This may explain our natural tendency towards dependency, given our natural aversion to accountability. But to give in to such tendencies results in the ultimate loss of freedom. Dependence on any body of government is the true opiate of the masses. It deprives us of our God-given liberty and agency, and like real opium, addicts us to its promises of security. To become dependent is to become a slave.
This does not mean that we cannot or should not help each other. We all at some point find ourselves depending on a helping hand to lift us up. Be it as children under the loving guidance of our parents, or as students receiving mentor-ship from the more learned and experience professor, or even the simple dependency of friends and loved ones in times of need, we ALL depend on someone at some point in our life. However, if anything, this should encourage independence so as to be able to become that hand that lifts the heavy heart, and strengthens the feeble knees. That dependence is as natural a state for man to be in from time to time as are death and illness make it no more desirable than either. In our quest for charity, we should diligently seek to banish dependence from our own lives and from those we would benefit. We should teach the man to fish.
A system of government that taxes one group to pay for the benefits and needs of another is not charity, but rather legalized looting. “Justice denies that the loss of freedom by some is made right by the greater good of others.” (John Rawls). Such systems appeal to our baser natures, by giving us cause to blame the wealthy and the prosperous for their wealth and possessions, and thus lay claim upon them. They allow us to hold someone else accountable, all for the simple price of submitting to their rule. And they are doomed to fail at some point for the same reason my father insisted I work towards complete and total independence –because someday, our benefactors will no longer be there.
All dependent, or dole, states will one day eventually find themselves deprived of their patrons. Even the wealthy grow old and die, or far more likely, tired of working for fruits they can never reap. Long before they die, those who provide to those who consume will eventually grow tired of their labors, and then demand that they be given the same recompense they doled out in life. With dependency comes the temptation to become more dependent, and with it, the incentive to give up one’s independence for the security of dependence. Why work when someone will provide for you, guaranteed, as they have for others? The number of taxable providers dwindles, and the government that so early promised the fruits of someone else’s labors finds itself with three choices: 1) Taxing the poor, (counter-productive to the dole society; 2) Forcing people to work so they can be taxed (slavery), or 3) diminishing or denying benefits (look at Greece and see how well THAT one takes…) None of these choices is desirable to a society dependent on the government to care for it.
In a society that adopts the doctrine of independence, will there be those who abuse it to justify their own selfish tendencies? Will there be men of such a callous nature as to deny someone in sincere and dire need, and hide behind the pretense of encouraging independence and self-sufficiency? Of course. But we can no more punish society with slavery for the selfishness of a few than we can punish a child for the sins of the father. To do so is a greater injustice than the one performed by the heartless miser who turns the beggar out at doors.
Charity is not the role of the government, but rather the role of its citizenry. If we truly wish to be charitable, let us, as individuals, donate our time and our resources to teaching the man to fish.