Natural and Artificial Camaraderie
A short while ago, I encountered an unusually bizarre speech on a leftist site. A cancer survivor, Jim Gilliam, detailing his physical and emotional struggles with cancer, explained how his very survival depended not only upon his determination, but upon a sea of knowing and unknowing participants in a sort of indescribable camaraderie. In fact, had his activist friends not intervened for him, causing such an uproar that a medical center felt obligated to give him a lung transplant, it is likely that he would be dead today.
It is entirely true, of course, that humans, in their quality of life, and oftentimes in life itself, are profoundly interdependent. But Gilliam's enlightenment immediately admits something of which conservatives, if they are interested in the perpetual establishment of liberty, should take note. His survival through surgery, though dependent upon a sea of men -- scientists, professors, surgeons, book publishers, technicians, code programmers, activists, and the like -- alongside investors and businessmen, and the more remotely associated yet essentially foundational farmers, soldiers, policemen, and such -- was not intended specifically for him.
Adam Smith once wrote of such natural camaraderie that "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest."
Yet, though the butcher's and baker's actions are not in themselves philanthropic, man can expect a certain benefit from them almost as though they were -- a sort of unintentional collectivity through self-interest. It was liberty, the ability to reap the benefits of ingenuity and labor, which gave Jim survival.
But it is only right to say that the camaraderie of mankind is deeper than self-interest -- that each has the capability to empathize with the plights of others, to place his own interest below that of another. And since life is passed on, and has been passed on since Adam and Eve, we know, on some level, that our neighbors are more than simply neighbors.
Yet this is again a natural camaraderie, a spirit which humans experience and share, though muddled by the divisiveness of nationalities and false religions -- sometimes darkened in distance, and in others by concentration. For the human mind, being incapable of knowing and developing relationships with all six billion of his closest neighbors, cannot ever be presumed capable of intentionally benefiting them all, particularly when groups form for specific purposes. So it is in this universal community and limited faculty that we find the other form of natural camaraderie: one of selective philanthropic intention which recognizes those to whom we bestow our emotional concern, shame not permitting the noble to live happily otherwise. Such comprises the institutions of parenthood and biblical marriage, the act of martyrdom or of the soldier, every social contract freely formed, and every truly charitable cause.
But there is another kind of camaraderie, entirely artificial, which results from such emotional awareness. It results from men recognizing without wisdom the value of empathy, and immediately declaring their impossible duty of empathetic collectivity to as many as they possibly can, almost as though they were suddenly married to the entire human race. But their resources, it must be noted, cannot extend too far beyond themselves. No, they cannot afford to pay for every neighbor's medical bills, as the story above maintains. While Gilliam may have bizarrely claimed that humanity, when combined, comprised the Almighty, it was not almighty for everyone. Men chose, through directed human consciousness, those whom they would benefit, and likewise those whom they would not. And it must be noted that because Gilliam received one of an extremely limited set of organs, another did not, and that other is probably dead now because Jim is alive. Therefore, Gilliam is as much a problem to socialists as even the worst robber barons, having used his unequal distribution of power to secure his survival instead of another's.
There is nothing wrong with choosing one man over another, of course, as man is not capable in many circumstances of doing otherwise. But when men recognize this incapability along with the immense amount of suffering in the world, their unfortunate tendency is to force their neighbors, by the sword of the state, to give as well. In essence, they declare that their spirit of volunteerism, their emotional state, must be extended with nothing less than the threat of violence. They declare that in essence, the choice itself is wrong, as it recognizes one sufferer and ignores another.
It is worth noting that Gilliam's friends, like socialists, are dangerous. For when Gilliam's friends acted on his behalf, though doing so for the benefit of a cancer patient, they slandered entire facilities until those doctors, incapable of living with unwarranted shame, caved. To what extent, then, did these activists believe empathetic status -- pity, in essence -- should drive men? Their actions declare that empathy for one should strip of empathy for another, that when one feels pity toward one man, another's very reputation and property are no longer sacrosanct. Yes, they have pity for others, as they should. But men whose sole law is the extinguishment of pity, at any costs, are above all else pitiable themselves. For pity, in momentum beyond the boundaries of unalienable rights, is violence toward another.
The question, then, knowing that men do have conscious responsibility to their neighbors, is whether or not camaraderie is a natural gift from God, or whether it must be enforced by the state; whether man has only certain duties to specific men, or all duty to all men. This, in our modern democratic state, constitutes the battle between the free world and the totalitarian. No longer do kings war against peoples foreign and domestic simply to build themselves monuments and establish their names in temporal majesty. But neighbors do war against neighbors, taking what is not theirs and giving it to others, pretending that their emotional imposition somehow makes them morally superior, though they neither possess any actual emotional goodwill toward even the smallest fractions of the entire human race nor combat suffering with their own labor. For if they do not labor themselves for another, they must, as Bastiat noted, plunder the labor of others instead -- in effect nothing morally superior to the life of a pirate. The main difference between a socialist and a pirate is that the pirate at least goes and robs another by his own strength. The Western socialist or the welfare pig has henchmen get it for him while he punches chads in the comfort of his living room.
Yet it must not be argued that man has no collective duty to his neighbor, as even Jehovah requires with His Law specific, limited means by which men must collectively care for the destitute, and that such is moral to enforce with the state. But when man does not defend those limits in principle, when he seeks to either abandon those social responsibilities or to infringe upon the rights of another by transgressing those eternal limitations, he has wronged his neighbor, fighting one set of pitiable circumstances by creating another. It is within these boundaries alone that men can have assurance that they have not crossed from duty to violence, or from liberty to dereliction.
So what, then, is true and natural camaraderie? It is a people who, united in their respect of the Law of God, determine to protect and provide for themselves and those in their midst, simultaneously granting man his unalienable rights so that the blessings of liberty -- the unintentional camaraderie -- can exist beyond emotion and, indeed, occur without people's even having to think about them.
So let every man give what he has been called by God to give, first collectively according to the principles of Divine Law, and second individually according to his own charity and pity. This, and this alone, comprises the rightful boundaries of camaraderie.
Jeremy Egerer is a recent convert to Christian conservatism from radical liberalism and the editor of the Seattle website www.americanclarity.com.