No Obligation To Give

1 December 2006

by Scott Hughes

A few weeks ago, my grandmother told me about the veterans’ charities that asked her for donations. She told me that she regularly gave to a specific veterans’ organization, but that other organizations continued to solicit her. She asked me, “if I give to one, I shouldn’t be obligated to give to the others, right?”

I responded, “you’re not obligated to give to any at all.”

A lot of problems plague the world, and a lot of people need help. However, we still need to respect the right of anyone to help or not help as they please. I define slavery as forcing someone to help. Enslaving others or robbing them cannot help our causes; it just creates needless conflict and enemies. Yes, we need people to help, but we have to ask and persuade them to help, not force them, because nobody has an obligation to help or give, neither morally nor legally.

Indeed, different people have different opinions about what constitutes ‘help,’ and these different people can choice to use their own money, body, labor, and time to help or not help as they see fit.

Everyone has their own moral judgments. Using these judgments against others has caused much conflict in the world. A wise man who we call Jesus said, “judge not lest ye be judged.” And, he said, “let he who has not sinned cast the first stone.” To have a positive effect, we need to focus our moral judgments internally. Focused externally, people tend to use their moral judgments to excuse violence and conflict, and to force their will on others. In contrast, we can use our moral judgments to direct our own actions and better ourselves, rather than harm or coerce others.

I personally avoid using the concept of morality at all, at least in the public light. I try to analyze and describe everything amorally.

Legally speaking, unfortunately many places in the world force people to help or give. For example, consider taxes. Taxation literally involves robbery.

Again, many preventable problems plague the world. For example, 16,000 children die of hunger every day. Just like those children, the world needs help. Nonetheless, we cannot force people to help out or give. Even ignoring my personal disgust with theft and slavery, such offensive coercion cannot effectively solve these problems.

Attacking and coercing people only angers and offends them. It creates conflict. It creates problems, instead of fixing them.

To solve the problems such as hunger, poverty, and non-meritocratic inequality, we must not try to legally force people to help. We can ask for help, but not demand it. We can persuade people, but not coerce them.

We must tolerate the inaction of others. ‘Tolerance’ doesn’t mean ‘like’ or ‘promote.’ ‘Tolerance’ just means allow. We must allow others to do what they wish, insofar as they do not harm anyone else. We need to focus on actually solving our problems, and we cannot do that if we intolerantly waste time and effort using offensive force to coerce people who mean us no harm.

We have every reason to legally obligate people not to offensively harm us or anyone. Similarly, we have every reason to use defensive force to stop people from offensively harming us or anyone. Still, we must recognize the difference between ‘harming’ and ‘not helping.’

People have every right not to help if they wish not to. People have every right not to give if they don’t want to. For example, if a person works and earns money, that person now owns that money and can do or not do with it what ever they want, insofar as they do not offensively harm anyone else. Similarly, a person can use their body, labor, and time anyway they please, insofar as they do not offensively harm anyone else. That’s freedom, and we cannot solve socioeconomic problems such as hunger and poverty if we fail to respect people’s freedom.

This isn’t about morality. This is about practicality and effectiveness. If we waste time bickering and battling with others to offensively force them to do what we think they “should” do, then we just create needless conflict and more problems.

We have serious and difficult issues that we need to address, and come up with well-though-out and effective plans to fix. We cannot succeed if we lazily attempt to use the big clumsy hand of an interfering government to rob or enslave others, or “punish” them for acting “immorally.”

Instead, we need to use an open-minded approach to persuade others to help. We need to discuss and address the concerns of others, not pathetically attempt to coerce them to our line-of-thought. Based on voluntaryism, we can create non-governmental organizations and implement agreeable initiatives to actually provide effective help to society and solve the problems facing us, such as hunger, poverty, and non-meritocratic social inequality.

These terrible problems tear my heart apart, to think of the innocent children dying in the agonizing pain and suffering of preventable hunger. Like so many others, I desperately wish to solve these terrible problems plaguing our society. Nonetheless, we must not let that desperation trick us into using offensive coercion. We cannot afford to make enemies of our peers. Instead of working against each other, let’s work with each other. Let’s respect the rights of others, and fight the problem not the people.

About The Author: In addition to this blog, Scott Hughes administrates the World Hunger and Poverty Forums, where you can discuss this article and poverty in general.

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Children suffering from Poverty