In a matter of weeks, many of you will be handed a college degree. On this day of anointment, no doubt many of you will reject the traditional career paths that white collars have been traditionally groomed for. Many of you, sensing the futility of acquiring a decent job in today’s gloomy market, will opt instead to devote yourself to altruistic, humanitarian causes.
For those of your bent, there is a burgeoning source of jobs (or callings) in the nonprofit arena. With such a job, you may not enjoy a hefty salary, but you will assuredly be able to bask in the social status that these positions seem to automatically earn. Or, if you’re like the president’s wife, you might possibly be able to enjoy both the sainthood from working for a nonprofit and the extravagant salary of a Wall Street tycoon.
But whatever you end up doing, I must submit a note of caution to the next generation of do-gooders. The first point that must be soberly attended to is one which is often overlooked. You see, many people assume that by becoming a do-gooder, they naturally and inevitably become agents of good.
This is hopelessly mistaken. It is important to remember that the road to hell is most often paved by those with good intentions. Nowadays, it is distressingly difficult to find a true black hearted villain. Yet still the world is without respite in turmoil and agony over the trouble that people cause one another.
Evil abounds, but self-admitted evil-doers do not. How is this? We must come to grips with the fact that a great deal of evil is perpetrated not by the evil-doer or even the disinterested, but by those with the purest of intentions and the noblest of motives. For even these can use the wrong means to achieve their objectives.
This observation may offend sensibilities, but it is difficult to deny the evidence. After all, consider all the evils which humans have committed against one another — crimes of murder, rapine, fraud, etc. Even a limited accounting of all the atrocities committed by man against man will quickly illuminate the statistical impossibility that villains are always to blame. There simply aren’t enough scoundrels to accomplish the job.
The second point which cannot be hardly overemphasized is that the vocation of humanitarian is not for everyone. In fact, it is probably best reserved for only a very few.
Over the course of history, society has generally suffered only a minority of the population to act as professional humanitarians. After all, the career humanitarian is a unique breed. The humanitarian seeks alms for the poor and must, in turn, seek alms for himself to continue his alms-seeking vocation. And from whom does the humanitarian seek alms?
From those with the means to give alms, naturally. This is a neglected portion of society, I’m afraid. Of course, there are those of enormous means who make sensational headlines with their giving, but I don’t speak of those. I refer to the bedrock of society, the backbone of industry, the ordinary people of means who, prompted by religious or moral convictions, give humble amounts out of our marginal surplus.
It’s ordinary people like this who are the unsung heroes of every despairing and humbled person. For it is vital to recognize that the humanitarian is necessarily limited and defined in his efforts to promote good by those who are able to give. A world inhabited only by humanitarians of the usual variety would quickly whither from lack of production.
Those who enable the generous habits of humanitarians are part of productive society, and their roles is at least as important, if not essentially much more so, than the humanitarian’s. They go to work and make money; their earnings are not considered donations but payment for productive, meaningful labor; they are, in a word, capitalists. They are society’s true humanitarians.
Jeremy Hicks is a 2008 political science graduate, the founder of the Cal Poly Libertarian Club and a Mustang Daily political columnist.