First, Do No Harm

Charles Murray’s latest book, Coming Apart, is receiving a lot of attention and attacks for its description of an increasingly isolated and disconnected upper class. The angst is understandable since most of the complaints are coming from people in that upper class. The more damning part of the book is its description of the impact of the Great Society and related programs in the destruction of lower class lives.

In an earlier work, Losing Ground, Murray focused on the black community. His latest work focuses on the increasing divergence of lifestyles among whites. But, at the end, he notes the results are virtually the same in the black community.

Murray argues that there is something more important than merely helping people avoid starvation, the current social welfare system destroys more than it helps, and that destruction could destroy the country itself.

There are two movies showing the differences in the black community between the 50’s and the 90’s. By watching these, we can see the impact and understand a similar impact is occurring in the white community.

Something The Lord Made portrays the life of Vivien Thomas and his work with Dr. Alfred Blalock at Johns Hopkins in the development of heart surgery and the “blue-baby” surgery on infants.

Thomas had been saving money for an education. He lost that money in one of the many bank collapses in the early 1930’s. He found work as a janitor in Blalock’s lab at Vanderbilt. Blalock saw him looking at medical books and, after determining Thomas’ excellent dexterity, assigned him tasks as a laboratory assistant.

When Blalock moved to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Thomas came with him and became the “surgeon of the hounds.” Lacking a medical license, Thomas was assigned the task of performing surgery on dogs to develop and test the methods for heart surgery.

How could Thomas do that? What skills could a janitor have which would prepare him for that work?  It could be argued that since carpentry ran in his family, that was the needed precursor. But there was something more important. He had good work habits and the ability to persevere.

Poor men of the 30’s, white or black, understood that they had a purpose in life. Even if their jobs were “menial” they still had people depending on their getting to work on time and performing the tasks they were assigned. Vivien Thomas’ financial difficulties and the unfairness he experienced are clearly shown in the film. What was not shown, because it didn’t exist, was indifference to the women and children in his life. Even before his laboratory work “became important” Vivien Thomas had a purpose in his life.

When we turn to the 1990’s, everything has changed. The Blind Side shows the early life of Michael Oher, who now plays for the Baltimore Ravens in the National Football League.

Oher’s  mother had multiple children by many men. The movie shows the complete breakdown of the community and the lack of purpose in the lives of both genders. Men are not needed. They can’t compete against the governments of all levels in their support of the women and children. No husband is better than a husband who can’t match the government’s funds, especially if a husband means you lose those funds.

But the assumption has been that we are somehow helping the women and children even if we are ignoring and hurting the men. But how can that be? Nothing in those communities is earned. The men can’t earn enough to get respect and the handouts to the women are also unearned. The children merely repeat the cycle.

In Something The Lord Made, Dr. Blalock quotes the guiding principle of medicine, “First, do no harm!” We have ignored this principle in our social programs. In the better neighborhoods we focus on our “self-actualization” while we try to show respect for, or “give esteem” to others. But that can’t be done.

Esteem, unlike courtesy, can’t be given, it must be earned. I know whether I am worthy of esteem when I look in the mirror. Your words can’t change that.

Tragically, the most important word for many of today’s poor is respect, or disrespect. We are told it is important not to “Dis” people. But aren’t we constantly doing that? When we help people in ways that make their own efforts pointless, we are showing them the height of disrespect.

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