Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving Day. For many years we would pick the kids up from school on Wednesday afternoon and drive to Lincoln, Nebraska to spend a couple days with my dad and his third wife and family. He scored well on the third try, by the way.

I rang the bell for the Salvation Army at Fareway last night instead of traveling to Lincoln, but that’s okay. I pity the poor souls that don’t get to experience ringing the bell. I saw so many old friends and acquaintances to catch up with and I met a few people who read this column and encouraged me to keep it up.

As I always have running through my mind ways to improve the lives of my fellow man, it’s wandered to Ayn Rand. Rand is famous for selfishness. She contended that altruism is evil. At first this seems counter-intuitive. But look at someone like Mother Theresa. She lived a life of squalor in the slums of Calcutta doing charity work. Mother Theresa would not have been as effective in helping people if she did it as a self-righteous show of sacrifice instead of with a deep seated passion.

Rand was correct on so many levels. In a situation where honesty would simplify our relationships with others, altruism wastes time and material things. How many times have people sharing a family dinner said, “Oh no, I’m fine. You take it.” Then a scrap of food is given to the dog because no one was honest enough to take that last delicious portion. I appreciate the honesty of dogs.

The scheming and assumptions that come with trying to speculate relationships are like the welfare state compared to private charity. I remember back in the days after I quit college and an example of some roommates who moved from Boston to Oakland. They said, “Go get food stamps.” So I go down to this office. There’s this pile of papers pushed in front of my face and a somber bureaucrat says, “Just fill these out.”

Then there’s the other end of the process. Whether the money is printed (therefore devaluing the savings of anyone who has had the foresight to save) or taxed, the circuitous route taken to produce the funds for the food stamps is vastly more complex and expensive than personal help or a donation to a charity whose purpose is to help the down and out.

All across the political spectrum few will admit that government (thus coerced) funding for charity isn’t needed. I have to think that this is because people are generally more generous with other peoples’ money, which is sad. There’s even more joy on the giving end to be had than the receiving end. The unseen costs of the welfare state also form good arguments for its phasing out. The waste mentioned above is compounded by the replacement of the traditional family unit that is obviously responsible for a huge portion of crime. Charity from a faceless government agency robs the receiver of that charity of the gratitude that inspires a drive to succeed.

The gratitude we feel at Thanksgiving should be directed to return us to an honest economy before the money runs out.

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