Brass Tacks #2: Pity The Fool?

The second in a series of articles intended to boil down some of the problems we’re facing to their essential, skeletal, sometimes rancid core.

In the first installment of this series, I was inspired to question the intelligence of those who’s first instinct (especially when facing hardship of their own making), is to put their hands out, not begging, mind you, but expecting either institutional rescue and/or societal compliance with their demands. 

I went so far as to consider the strong possibility that whenever we facilitate such unreasonable expectations, it may be our own intelligence that’s suffering.  After all, “fool me once….”

Today, unfortunately, I’m forced to ponder the character of those who’s next instinct, when denied what – clearly – is considered to be an entitlement, is to take the object of their desire by force.  You see, the “potential renter” described in the last article, has – after being denied the opportunity to rent my neighbor’s house – actually taken possession of it, breaking in and laying claim to it.

Now, my first instinct, when considering this most recent installment in the series, was to entitle the article “No, Seriously, You Really Can’t Fix Stupid“.  Afterall, from a “life strategy” perspective, this particular move is going to end rather badly for the young family in question, something akin to “going from the frying pan to the fire“. 

Perhaps, in time, we’ll discover a long history of this sort of behavior; frankly, at this point, nothing would really surprise me.  However, if this turns out to be their first eviction experience, imagine what response their next rental application will likely evince.  In the end, this move is simply “not that smart”.

But, today, I’m not that interested in the question of intelligence, either theirs or ours.  No, I’m more interested in the question of character, especially in desperate times.

Our M. Ragazzo, rightfully, if maybe unnecessarily, wondered just how desperate these folks might be.  And, to be sure, they are clearly desperate.  There’s no other way to describe such an act, an appellation that might be used to describe the motives behind almost any act, criminal or otherwise.  

But, then, rationalization is not the same thing as justification.  To paraphrase one notable quote, we might consider that “hardship doesn’t build character, it reveals it“.

Can “the desperate act”, especially when it will undoubtedly harm one’s self, one’s family, and many others, truly be a principled act?  I must suppose that, quite possibly, it might depend on the circumstances.  But, more precisely, “do we forgive the starving man his theft of bread?” 

There are, of course, many – especially those with socialistic leanings who’s first instinct is the categorical forgiveness of such an act, with little or no regard to either the circumstances or, of course, to the appropriate remedy.   Of course, it costs them very little to place those burdens on someone else’s shoulders (or wallet).

In this particular circumstance, of course, the people in question had (and have) other options, notably simply choosing to live somewhere else.  Unless they’ve left a long string of burned bridges behind them, they have other options.  Of course, those options will, undoubtedly, be less desirable.  They might have to move to another town.  They might have to accept a smaller or older home. 

If, having burned every bridge, however, they find themselves confronted with no other recourse, then, whose fault is that, exactly?  And what should be done about it?  Inevitably, we are forced to ponder whether or not the “starving man” first turned work away or, worse still, never bothered to even consider that option. 

“No change of circumstances can repair a defect of character.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thus, while I might, in fact, sympathize with, even pity, such a fool as would, through defect of character, compound every bad decision in life with yet another bad decision, I feel little cause to empathize with (or personalize) their plight. 

Stated another way, I might well have a (Christian) duty to charitably address a genuine need in my community, but with that duty comes an equal responsibility to understand exactly what that need might be and respond accordingly.   

For the record, we are, in my opinion, now entering the early stages of mankind’s recurring nightmare:  desperate times.  And, by that, I implicitly mean: desperate times of our own making.  It matters very little that the blame for this isn’t universally (or collectively) shared; to one extent or another, the consequences will be. 

I also believe that most of us will be tested in the days ahead – in matters of character, of will, of faith.  In reality, that’s simply a matter of life, maybe with deferred interest.  Only in America, it seems, have we been so eager to forget or ignore the simplest challenges of living.  Our success, unfortunately, has increasingly bred a culture of entitlement.  Now, perhaps, our “eyes” have simply become bigger than our “stomachs”.  

You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man’s initiative and independence. – Abraham Lincoln

Sadly, it seems we’ve been doing just that.  However we might pity the fool, perhaps we ought not continue to reward him.  After all,  “fool me twice….”

Harry Tuttle



17 responses to “Brass Tacks #2: Pity The Fool?

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I feel no need to empathize with those three children whose defects of character have left them effectively homeless. As you point out we might have a christian duty to help them, if it wasn’t so clear that their plight was their own fault. Snotty nosed whippersnappers. I too am reserving any actual charity for a genuine Dickens style orphanage.
    I take inspiration from the gospel stories where Jesus refuses to help beggars because its their own fault for being poor. We should remember his example of always doing a careful accounting, so that we do not throw pearls before swine.
    Note that it is oppressive so called “child labor laws” that keep the free market from employing those children at natural market rates, to the detriment of both the children and the local landed gentry.


    • Wading past the the sarcasm, I must ask whether or not your apparent disapproval is quite serious. That’s really your take on this?

      Rather than sarcasm, I might request some practical suggestions. I didn’t notice, for instance, an offer to let these poor, poor children (and their parents) move into, say a vacant RV on your property. I’d be happy to pass along the offer for you. Really. Take heart, it wouldn’t actually require much in the way of real Christian charity. I’m quite certain that even your home (never mind the RV – or my home as well) wouldn’t pass muster with these folks. Even with little or no rent obligations.

      Now, for the record, I am also quite certain that I avoided impugning the character of any children involved. I’m personally quite distressed that these children in particular and many, many others generally have to suffer the consequences resulting from their parent’s character flaws. Some actually grow up without ever hearing or understanding the word, “no”. And, sadly, one of most common consequences is their likely, passive, absorption of those same flaws over the course of their childhood.

      Again, I’m open to any practical solutions you’d care to offer. A daring kidnapping/rescue perhaps? Are you volunteering? Do you need a get-away driver? How about their forcible removal by the state to that Dickensian orphanage? Yes? No? Sale at auction? What, precisely, do you recommend?

      So, please, please, please educate me with any and all means that you personally are willing to undertake on their behalf and I’ll be more than happy to pass those along. Why, I’ll even consider joining you in the effort if you can convince me that something good might actually come of it.

      In the meantime, I’ll reiterate what I personally did in response to this family’s plight. First, I advised my friend (who owns the home and to whom I also have a duty) that, unless she was both willing and able to personally support this family, she’d be well advised to find better qualified tenants. Sadly, she’s having her own financial difficulties. I also suggested to her that, she’d be doing this family no favor to allow them to take on more financial burden than they could really afford. (I rather wish some lenders had taken similar care in recent years.)

      Next, since she was unwilling to personally break the news to them, I took that duty on as well, which, at least, allowed me the opportunity to offer to help them find more affordable housing. Each and every suggested alternative was summarily dismissed. To far, too small, too hot, too cold. Nothing was “just right” for Goldilocks.

      And, yes, I believe we have a Christian duty to help people in need. Yes, even these people. Sometimes, however, that help means allowing people to insist on making their own mistakes. I don’t know about you, but I’ve actually tried to learn from my own failures and I can’t imagine living in a world where my choices and the consequences of those choices were divorced from one another.

      Sometimes it also means saying “no”. Imagine, for a moment, your own children not ever hearing that word. Now you’re getting a clearer picture of the people I’ve been dealing with here. Again I can’t imagine what you might suggest ought to have been done. I would hope that it’s not your position that a Christian’s duty is to say yes to each and every unreasonable request put before us?

      And, maybe it’s just me, but I don’t happen to recall any of those beggars you mention dictating terms to Jesus. I’m fairly certain how he might have responded to that.


  2. “Hardship doesn’t build character, it reveals it.” Good quote.

    I don’t think desperation justifies what these folks did. But I know enough of my own weakness to say that I can sympathize. Sympathy is not approval, however. I can’t see that there is anything for it but to evict them now. If I were the landlord and they came to me with serious and deep apologies, I would try to do something. Probably what you have already tried to do – suggest more affordable alternatives. But it doesn’t sound like that is likely.

    The Starving Man
    I can imagine a situation in which I would steal to feed my family. I can imagine a situation in which I would be morally obligated to steal to feed my family. I think a situation like this must be extremely rare in the real world and all other options must be exhausted (and it doesn’t apply to our case here) but I wanted to add that to the discussion.

    • M:

      Thanks for your input. Ditto on weakness (in all of us).

      For me, the essential problem is still the age-old (and continuous) battle between will and desire; might we say our “sinful nature”? It is far to easy for any of us to rationalize entitlement, as that “episode in the Garden” makes rather clear.

      In the cultural and political realms, this battle is “writ large” in the surging tide of mankind’s on-going attempts to legitimize almost every desire, banish all consequence, and deny any standard of judgement. And, there in lies the rub.

      Of course, “that serpent of old”, we Christians are led to believe, is always facilitating those prideful desires and, often as not, helping to create situations where we find ourselves reduced to choosing the “lesser evil”, whatever that might be. Often as not, either choice is equally bad.

      That’s not to say, of course, that doing the right thing won’t lead to some negative consequences. Sadly, in a world where evil is an active force, “no good deed goes unpunished”.


  3. Since when is a reasonable life taking what you want because you’re desperate? Where does charity stop? Can I take your wife if I’m desperately lonely? I’ll say I’m real sorry afterwards and maybe you’ll let me arrange another date with her.

    If I was the landlord, I’d prosecute the people to the full extent of the law. I’d start with a call to child services saying these people are trespassing, lying, no good scum and the children need to be rescued.

    Okay, I have to go watch Monday Night Football now.

    • X:

      Well, popular opinion seems to be generally in favor of the landlord, not that I take much comfort in that. (I’m sure that, as president, I’d completely ignore all the polls.)

      Aside from our HDW, who has a tendency for (usually somewhat cryptic) sarcasm – as you, yourself, have discovered, I believe – I’ve yet to hear much in the way of opposition to calling this a case of trespass. Well, I suppose you could say the Sheriff’s office has been a bit squishy on the subject, and maybe for good reason. Not that I’d call call a lack of firm resolve opposition.

      I really don’t know what the landlord’s obligation is here in regards to prosecution. I’ve hoped (and asked) that other reasonable people, perhaps, consider trying to engage the boyfriend’s mother into giving wise councel to her son, but that’s no guarantee that he’d take such advice.

      As I may have said before, I have no idea whether this is an aberration or merely the latest in a string of similar scams. Quite a few of the attorney’s and/or other landlord’s I’ve spoken with have regailed me with their own experiences in similar episodes, suggesting that variations of the theme are, in fact, quite common. (You can expect a post in the future addressing the growing “squatting” phenomenon.) Any prospetive landlord (you hearing this HDW?) ought to take heed.

      Unfortunately, the economic and social conditions that are now blooming leads me to fear this is but the “tip of the iceberg” or, perhaps, the first wave of what’s to come. For what it’s worth, it may be helpful for all of us to pray for extra powers of discernment to know when we’re dealing with real need and when we’re dealing with something else altogether. I suspect it’s only going to get more difficult to tell the two apart.

      I’m tempted, also, to encourage a rewatching (or re-reading) of The Grapes of Wrath, but of course, only the hardest of hearts would be able to avoid getting sucked into the socialist maw, much as happened to Henry Fonda himself. And, please, don’t get me started on HIS children.


  4. “The poor who have neither property, friends, nor strength to labor , are boarded in the houses of good farmers, to whom a stipulated sum is annually paid. To those who are able to help themselves a little, or have friends from whom they derive some succor, inadequate however to their full maintenance, supplementary aids are given which enable them to live comfortably in their own houses, or in the houses of their friends.”
    -T. J. 1872

    • HDW:

      Glad to see you’re keeping yourself busy. This is good fodder for the discussion.

      So, OK, “a stipulated sum is annually paid” – by who and raised in what manner?

      Again, “supplementary aids” (of what kind?) “are given” – by who and raised how?

      I’ve read the same citations, but am not entirely clear how TJ imagined that such sytems would actually work, except to say that he appears to reiterate the need to establish such aids “at short hand to objects under our eye”, which makes quite a lot of sense to me. Notably, that helps to understand the actual need and, thus, serves as a form of insurance against fraud and waste both.

      And, by the way, you left this part out of the quote: “Vagabonds without visible property or vocation, are placed in work houses, where they are well clothed, fed, lodged, and made to labor.”


    • M:

      I’ve been wondering the same thing. I know that, in most cases, that’s true. In this case, I’m sure it is.

      At the same time, the commission of a criminal act, with family in tow, is an open invitation to the state to intercede. Not sure whether or not this rises to that level of need, but, then again, were I to discover that these folks have done this before (or would do so again or – for that matter, aren’t done here yet) I might have reason to change my opinion. Not that my opinion would or should matter.

      Human relations….whew. What a bloody mess we can be.


  5. Mysterious X:

    I hope the game was good.

    Do you think that because their parents broke the law and did this very bad thing that taking the children away from them is automatically the best thing for the children? I am willing to bet the children would still prefer their foolish parents to the state.

    • M. Ragazzo,
      First, what the children want is not germane. As Bill Cosby points out, children will ask for cake for breakfast. Parenting is not a popularity contest.
      Next, the foster care system is pathetic at best. These kids, it saddens me to say, are probably already lost to society. They have little chance to grow into responsible adults and probably no chance if they stay with their scumbag parents. Foster parents may not be great parents, but their is a chance they are not law breakers.
      Finally, foolish is giving your kids cake for breakfast. These people are liars and criminals (breaking and entering, fraud, trespassing and probably some other stuff).

      Mysterious X

      • You and Bill Cosby are right, Mysterious X. Children don’t know what is good for them. It’s a good point. I have children and they love cake for breakfast and lunch and dinner too, and some ice cream on top, thank you. But you know, most adults don’t know what is good for them either. And that is why we have so many laws to protect us. The state knows best.

        The state also automatically assumes that it knows what is best for the child. Perhaps, if you are a parent, you have experienced the condescension and the pressuring with your kids in the school system (I am not talking about individual teachers. I am talking about the system.) I always have just a little fear that if the State and I have a strong enough difference of opinion about the upbringing of my children, the State might decide to take them.

        RE: the case we’ve been talking about.

        These children may be better off with foster parents. But they may not. I think confiscating kids should be a last resort, always. Before doing so I think we would need to know a lot more about this family.
        Thanks for keeping the discussion going.

        M. Ragazzo

      • Just my opinion, of course, but the state thinks awfully highly of itself most of the time. Maybe TR should have said, “if you must carry a big stick, best learn to walk softly”.

        Like you, I’d set the bar pretty darned high for any kind of intervention.

        As to your situation, I’ve been reading up on homeschooling and, I have to say, the same state doesn’t make it very easy to do. I want to hear more from HDW on the subject.


    • M. Ragazzo,

      I’m not sure I agree with the statement “most adults don’t know what is good for them.” Regardless, if stupid people make stupid decisions, they should face the consequences. I don’t need the government dictating every nuance of my life. I’m perfectly capable of denying my kids a happy meal.

      School systems. Hate them. The teachers are bad as a group because of the power of the unions. Even China has merit pay!

      • Let me put it this way. Children don’t know what is good for them and many adults are children.

        I am very much with you. I do not want the state to direct every nuance of my life.

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