In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
In contrast to the seriousness of Christ’s message, consider a related irony that is comically absurd. Commonly referred to as the “U.S.” our nation consists of grossly deformed social, political, economic, and cultural systems that indoctrinate us in the quasi-religion of “it’s all about me” while conditioning us to reflexively reject nearly all things related to the collective “US.”
Self-satisfied and narcissistic little careerists that many of us are, we remain oblivious to the immense suffering we are inflicting on the world as we gleefully pursue the American Dream, replete with the requisite Hummer, McMansion, trophy spouse, 2.5 “perfect” children, and all the trappings to which our American Exceptionalism entitles us at the expense of billions of other humans, hundreds of billions of non-human animals, and Mother Earth herself.
Sure, many of us hear Jesus’s parable and think of ourselves as the Good Samaritans. After all, our humanitarian imperialism has made the world safe for freemarket-dom and corporatocracy for years. And those “ignorant savages” whom we have “rescued” by bringing them the “stability” of ruthless dictatorships and showing them how to put their resources we exploit to good use damn well better be thankful we bestowed our “compassion” upon them. So in a very perverse sense, we are Samaritans when it comes to our foreign policy because we often involve ourselves in the affairs of others, but no argument based on a shred of intellectual honesty would support us being “Good.”
Generally speaking, we have much more in common with the Levite than the Good Samaritan. From the moment the doctor retrieved us from the birth canal and severed the umbilical cord that nurtured us for nine months, our sponge-like minds began absorbing the idiocies of the distinctly “American” myth of rugged, hyper-individualism. We devote such exhaustive levels of emotional and mental energy to aping the ridiculous archetypes personified by the likes of “go it alone hard asses” such as John Wayne, Sylvester Stallone, and Bruce Willis that our capacity to experience empathy, compassion, and deep connections with human and non-human animals is severely stunted.
How beguiled are we with a cultural dogma that elevates the individual to the level of a deity and portrays collectivism as a plague of Biblical proportions?
Let’s examine some of the contradictions and distortions to which many of us are blind.
Even the “lone wolf” legends of the silver screen can’t escape their humanity. They were conceived by two human beings, developed in their mother’s womb for nine months, brought into this world by doctors or mid-wives, raised and nurtured, educated, and remain(ed) highly interdependent with the rest of the human race.
Few people other than Ted Kaczynski can claim anything close to true independence, and even his wasn’t life-long or absolute. Yet many of us conduct our lives with a thinly veiled “me first and to hell with the rest of the world” attitude, as if we are the only ones on the face of the planet who really matter and as if we don’t need a soul to help us as we bull-doze through life to attain our goals.
As a nation we have seriously defaulted on the social contract to which we are each bound as long as we participate in society. Our moneyed elite, petite bourgeoisie, and wild-eyed libertarians insist that society provide them with Rock of Gibraltar assurance of their negative rights to attain profit and protect their infinitely precious property–and they want heads rolling if someone violates these “sacrosanct” privileges. Meanwhile they struggle (often successfully) with nearly every ounce of their being to minimize, diminish, or obliterate the use of public, communal resources to uphold and fulfill positive rights, such as access to health care, education, food, and housing.
In the propagandistic jargon of the ruling class and libertarians, negative rights are “freedom” and positive rights are “welfare.” Associating their coveted “rights” to profit and private property with the word freedom, a universally beloved ideal, and positive rights with the word welfare, a pejorative term, is a clever way of keeping the masses working against their own interests.
For instance, what decent human being would argue that we don’t have a moral obligation to tend to our sick and dying? Even in the amoral chaos of war soldiers do their utmost to care for their wounded comrades. Yet as is common knowledge, Michael Moore recently made a documentary which clearly demonstrates how depraved and grossly inadequate our profit-driven health care system is. And there is still incredible resistance to universal health care. In the “me first society” we have no problem telling Christ to go to Hell with all that compassion nonsense.
Let’s follow the twisted logic here. John Calvin told us that the quickest way to ascend to heaven is to get rich. Universal health care is a form of socialism. And if we begin to surrender our beloved capitalism, ‘evil Commies’ will eliminate our freedom to think what television tells us to think, our “right” to buy more stuff, and our one in a billion chance to be like “The Donald.”
So, without yielding to the abject malevolence of collectivism, how do we deal with the problem of 46 million uninsured, the tens of millions more who are under-insured, the indigent whom the hospitals dump on Skid Row without treatment, and the millions of seniors who choose between having enough to eat and filling their prescriptions?
Quite simple really. We PRETEND to be the Good Samaritan while continuing along our private little “roads to success” like the Levites we are. We pass laws requiring that people carry health insurance (again we can thank John Calvin—this time for imbuing us with the tortured notion that punishment is a form of love for one’s fellow man since it cleanses our sinful nature). We produce scandalously deceptive commercials in which Montel Williams shills for a Big Pharma front called the PPA and leaves viewers with the impression that the major drug companies are going from community to community dispensing free prescription medication (when in reality the PPA merely provides information on public and private assistance available to the uninsured). We push for medical savings accounts. We shift the costs to those with insurance by raising premiums, deductibles, and co-pays. We shout down those who decry the obscene state of health care in the wealthiest nation in the world by telling them to quit whining about “entitlements” and to move to France if they hate America so much.
In the 18th Century Rousseau recognized that the ruling class was enforcing a grossly one-sided social contract which ensured that they maintained their wealth and power. Little has changed, even in the “land of the free.” How peculiar that we profess to be a nation of Christians yet tenaciously cling to a system that ensures extremely polarized socioeconomic strata, causes suffering for billions of sentient creatures and violates nearly every principle for which Christ was martyred.
Perhaps the most telling sign of our shattered moral compass is that many of the millions of US Americans who are finally recognizing that the United States is a brutish monster have stampeded to support a libertarian reactionary from Texas. While Ron Paul is principled and courageous in his stances against the establishment’s murderous foreign policy, he remains wedded to the libertarian ideals which rest on the deluded infantilism of hyper-individualism.
Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, there are no libertarians in homeless shelters. Libertarianism is simply a rather transparent guise for the myopic selfishness and naked greed that accompany our obsession with “me first and only.” To justify maintaining their negative rights under the social contract while minimizing or eliminating positive rights (which actually place a burden of responsibility upon all of us–and this very jejune bunch is apparently incapable of accepting such a load), they attack laws and regulations that “threaten” the “free” market and the use of public monies to provide for the well-being of society as a whole.
Some of the more rabid libertarian “thinkers” such as F.A. Hayek went so far as to remind the poor and working class to thank their oppressors and exploiters for their very existence.
“The proletariat which capitalism can be said to have ‘created’ was thus not a proportion of the population which would have existed without it and which it had degraded to a lower level; it was an additional population which was enabled to grow up by the new opportunities for employment which capitalism provided.”
Or in other words, forget about a living wage, safe working conditions, or reasonable hours, you miserable ingrates. Without us, you would not have been born. Bend over and say thank you!
Once presented with the glaringly obvious moral and practical deficiencies of libertarianism, capitalism, and hyper-individualism (each of which we have been conditioned to embrace as “normal,” healthy, and inevitable), most decent human beings recoil in horror. Objectively, we want to be the Good Samaritan, but have been dogmatically trained to be the Levite.
While most of us aren’t evil by nature, the psychic disfigurement caused by our dedication to hyper-individualism manifests itself in some very ugly ways. However, we have the power to regurgitate the intellectual manure we have been digesting since birth and focus our time, energy, thoughts and actions to honoring the social contract as Rousseau prescribed:
“Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will; and in a body we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole.”
It’s time to abandon the childish notion that it is “all about me.” The world is in flames, in large part because of us. We need to be Samaritans, not Levites.
Jason Miller is a recovering US American middle class suburbanite who strives to remain intellectually free. He is Cyrano’s Journal Online’s associate editor (http://www.bestcyrano.org/) and publishes Thomas Paine’s Corner within Cyrano’s at http://www.bestcyrano.org/THOMASPAINE/.