Can We Institutionalize Kindness?

 

Remember orphanages? Orphanages used to be good places. Places that created a home for the homeless, structure for the parentless, love for the abandoned and lost. Alexander Hamilton was an orphan. His widow, Eliza, was rightly praised for founding the Orphan Asylum Society, the city’s first private orphanage, a home for hundreds of children.

And then, along the way, the orphanage, like so many institutions that are born with the best of intentions, became corrupted. It turned, over time, from its primary mission, and, slowly became a place for the administration and staff to assure their own futures. When the full weight of the inhumanity of orphanages became clear to all, they were phased out in favor of foster care and other approaches. (Note that Hamilton’s orphanage continues, in a different form, today).

We have seen this trend across virtually every institution that was designed to care for others. Public schools were once truly excellent. Then, as the institutions aged, they sought to do what all bureaucracies do over time: perpetuate themselves and maximize power. Teachers’ Unions are now about the teachers, not the students. And in recent years, we have seen the corruption of the once great institution of public schools extend to include the promotion of transgenderism and grooming. The question of whether students are being treated kindly is laughably distant from reality: today’s children are being brutally used and manipulated to promote and expand specific ideologies.

It is clear that in the normal course of events, all institutions are subject to this kind of decay. In many respects, the history of the orphanage is not that different from any kind of organization that settles in and, over time, loses its way. (Private companies in a reasonably free market are subject to feedback loops that ensure they fail, sooner or later, if they take their eyes off the ball.) Government entities lack basic corrective feedback mechanisms, so we get the FBI, CIA, EPA, NSA, FDA, TSA (and countless others) that are so far away from the principles that spawned them that they are all worse at performing their missions than if they did not exist at all. It is clear that most older institutions, like the orphanages of yore, should be scrapped entirely in favor of something else, something that would be an improvement if for no other reason than it would be young, staffed by people who are attracted to the mission more than the pension.  But even if we scrap the old and bring in the new, the reasonable best-case result would be “rinse and repeat.”

If we are trying to institutionalize kindness, then, we end up with a bit of a paradox: any formal organization will, over time, atrophy — even if it started with the best of intentions. The key is that we need to de-emphasize the institutions themselves, and focus on the people themselves. We need to find a way to motivate generations of people to keep aiming higher.

Because ultimately, people should not be cogs in a machine. We are, each of us, individuals. And people are not “touched” by an institution: we are touched by other people. Everyone remembers a teacher who made a difference, for good or ill. The specific school that paid that educator was no more or less than an enabler for the human connection that leads to dedication and inspiration. It is the individual teacher who ultimately makes the critical connection to the student. The teacher who does this is, for lack of a better phrase, a “true believer.” Such teachers are not mere employees, going through the motions. They find meaning in their jobs, purpose that drives them as they go through their days, to go above and beyond the requirements and rituals of managing a classroom. The institution can help or hinder a great teacher, but the building and the bureaucracy can never replace that teacher.

Any and all institutions fail over time. This includes secular and religious orphanages and schools, as well as large bureaucracies originally designed to do things like eliminate poverty. Everyone ends up looking out for #1, sooner or later.

But all is not lost! Because there is a secret weapon that perpetuates the mission of an institution: a touchstone document that is accepted as irrefutable. In the United States, we have the Constitution. When it is treated almost as holy writ, the Constitution has, by and large, done its job. Constant reference to it as the foundation of all governmental rights and limitations has kept America “free” for a very impressively long time, indeed. But in order for this to work, there has to be an ongoing process of nourishment and replenishment, constant reference to the text revitalizing old and failing institutional bureaucracies. As and when the text is no longer considered definitive, then the nation falters and fails.

The Constitution is not about kindness, so the example is a peripheral point. But it provides a useful reference for the ultimate document on kindness: the Torah. After all, why should any of us be kind to anyone else? Plenty of societies in the world do not share the belief in being nice to other people. I am aware of no kindness enshrined within paganism, or atheism- at least not when times are tough. Indeed, utilitarian “might makes right” societies like Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia measured a person by their value to the Greater Good. Consequently, the old or the frail or the unborn, with little or no measurable value in the near term, can be measured, found wanting, and eliminated.

The founding principles of unfree societies, after all, are inimical to human rights because they do not acknowledge one of the first things we learn about man in the Torah: Each person is endowed with a divine spark. And as such, honoring and respecting everyone we meet is doing no less than honoring G-d Himself.  The belief in the inherent value of every human life, coupled with the central commandment of the Torah: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (which is NOT the Golden Rule), is at the heart of the idea of kindness in a society.

But without a text to tell us so, it is all too easy to put kindness aside when it is in our way. Just as there are very few atheists in a foxhole, there are very few people who manage to be kind when such kindness comes at a real cost. And yet, it is during challenging times that kindness is most precious and most important.

It is easy to be nice when it costs you nothing, just as it is easy to vote for higher taxes for the other guy. The real test is the stress test. When it can come down to “me or you,” most people look out for #1, no matter what.

The only kind of institution that we know can persist, therefore, is the institution that withstood the test of time thus far: the foundational documents of Western Civilization. Whether through the Torah and/or the New Testament, the people who connect best to other people are consistently those who also try to connect most fully with their Creator. This is the magic ingredient without which every institution becomes self-serving and ultimately evil. Because without such a touchstone text, practitioners invariably end up putting themselves ahead of their mission, and there is no corrective mechanism to cure the corruption.

I find it interesting that the “ideal society” is not laid out in the Torah beyond the core principles given. The Torah requires and expects no institutions beyond a court system that exists to ensure that society pursue justice. No specific form of government is mandated; the priesthood is largely disseminated within the population (as teachers); and even the Temple, the tabernacle established in one place, has a very small staff and no natural pathway to expansion.  Indeed, we learn from history that every institution that Jews (and others) have, across history, layered on top of the Torah requirements for society can be counterproductive just as easily as they can be forces for good (ask any Protestant for their view).

The Constitution or the Torah or the New Testament are all documents that have been shown to be able to keep a people from straying too far from foundational principles that help us find our way despite the corruption and atrophy that afflicts every institution, sooner or later.  These documents have withstood the test of time, capable of speaking to people across centuries (and even many millennia).

But they all, in their own way, must be accepted on faith before they can work their magic.

[an @iwe, @susanquinn , @kidcoder, @blessedblacksmith and @eliyahumasinter work]

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There are 11 comments.

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  1. Al French Moderator
    Al French
    @AlFrench

    Spot on. Your team produces many fine posts. This is the best so far.

    • #1
  2. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    “institutionalize” kindness?  Sounds like coercion to me, which is why I am not fond of seeing people wearing t-shirts that say “be kind”.  Without even reading the post, I opined that Religion causes kindness, and religion (s) are institutions, but voluntary institutions.  Following your religion and the Constitution should lead to more widespread kindness.  Great post!  Thank you!

    • #2
  3. Columbo Member
    Columbo
    @Columbo

    What is “kindness”? And who gets to define it? And yes, the woke cancel culture is in process of “institutionalizing” this.

    Good day. My name is Jennifer. My pronouns are (purr/meow). I am the official komisar of kindness. I will be the sole individual with the authority to define what it means. Thank you. Hold your applause. And remember, the “object” of kindness is as important as the act itself. Be good out there. Especially to cats! Meow.

    • #3
  4. Justin Other Lawyer Coolidge
    Justin Other Lawyer
    @DouglasMyers

    Interesting post.  Largely agree.  I was intrigued by this passage from the OP:

    And then, along the way, the orphanage, like so many institutions that are born with the best of intentions, became corrupted. It turned, over time, from its primary mission, and, slowly became a place for the administration and staff to assure their own futures. 

    I honestly don’t know whether this decline actually happened on a wide scale.  I do wonder if orphanages went away because lots of people read Dickens and a few horrible orphanages prompted the “need” to eliminate them.  Like I said, I don’t know whether that’s true, but it would not shock me.

    In any event, excellent post. 

    • #4
  5. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    iWe: The Constitution or the Torah or the New Testament are all documents that have been shown to be able to keep a people from straying too far from foundational principles that help us find our way despite the corruption and atrophy that afflicts every institution, sooner or later.

    Doesn’t the adherence to the foundational principles not only help us to find our way despite the corruption and atrophy of institutions, but also nullify a particular cause of corruption and atrophy that necessarily exists, if we disregard its commandments regarding the distribution of social responsibilities between the people and the Government?  So the institutions aren’t corrupted and atrophied as much to begin with, and we don’t have to find our way despite the corruption and atrophy of those institutions?

    The “particular cause” is: the investment required to create an institution and maintain it for a period is a cost that must be borne by the investor.  That actor will always direct it toward achieving his goals, and never to any other ultimate goal.  Never to the achievement of someone else’s goals at the expense of advancing his own final goals.

    The investor is either the ruling elite or the public. The Constitution assigns the creation and continued investment cost for each institution either to one of those two actors or the other.  In so doing, it causes the development over time of each institution to be directed toward the goals of one or the other.  The ruling elite, or the public. 

    • #5
  6. Quickz Member
    Quickz
    @Quickz

    Great post! Got me thinking.

    Can some limits on liability at a Federal Level be passed to keep the Feds (and Lawyers) out of the States business and then they can design systems to promote/regulate this? I’m no lawyer, but I bet there are currently several Federal statutes and such that make doing this difficult.

    This would at least let States try to set up situations that could let 1000 flowers bloom. Or at least 50.

    I just bet that Fed level intrusion is what puts many Orphanages in the positions they are in today.

    Are there good examples of current-day orphanages doing well? I admit this is something I have not thought about.

    Thanks for the post!

     

    • #6
  7. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    So, what we see as corruption of the institution, or the success of the institution, is in fact the effect of a single cause: the pursuit of the goals of the voluntary investor.

    All investment is voluntary in the sense that it serves the purpose of the actor.

    The trick is to identify correctly who is the real actor, and who is merely being driven by the actor to achieve the actor’s will.

    In a State-created or State-maintained institution, the actors who invest superficially appear to be the taxpayers, or the staff of the institution if it is run by forced labor. (By taxpayers, I mean the payers of whatever kind of tax is used by the State, including debasement of the currency and perpetual deficit spending.)

    But paying taxes isn’t human action by the taxpayers.  It is human action by the rulers, with the taxpayers merely being their chattel, like mules used to pull the rulers’ plows.

    • #7
  8. Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker Moderator
    Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker
    @AmySchley

    Justin Other Lawyer (View Comment):

    Interesting post. Largely agree. I was intrigued by this passage from the OP:

    And then, along the way, the orphanage, like so many institutions that are born with the best of intentions, became corrupted. It turned, over time, from its primary mission, and, slowly became a place for the administration and staff to assure their own futures.

    I honestly don’t know whether this decline actually happened on a wide scale. I do wonder if orphanages went away because lots of people read Dickens and a few horrible orphanages prompted the “need” to eliminate them. Like I said, I don’t know whether that’s true, but it would not shock me.

    In any event, excellent post.

    Orphanages were phased out as part of the same societal changes that closed mental institutions. The idea was to put the formerly institutionalized into more natural home environments to ease the transition from getting the needed care to being part of society.

    The move to foster care was also sold as being cheaper than having orphanages. Not sure if that’s actually true. Foster parents don’t get paid the equivalent of full-time caregivers, but you need a lot more of them for the same number of kids. 

    It’s also worth noting that the move to close down orphanages was at about the same time of abortion legalization, reducing the demand for orphanages. Of course, the current situation is completely topsy-turvy from what it used to be, where there are thirty couples pursuing every adoptable infant in this country. And 80% of the kids in foster care will never have their parental rights terminated, so even if we went back to orphanages instead of foster homes, they’d basically be boarding houses for kids while their parents work the system. At least with foster homes, there’s a chance of the kids getting good parenting instead of being treated like a factory widget. 

    • #8
  9. Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker Moderator
    Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker
    @AmySchley

    Quickz (View Comment):

    I just bet that Fed level intrusion is what puts many Orphanages in the positions they are in today.

    Are there good examples of current-day orphanages doing well? I admit this is something I have not thought about.

    There hasn’t been an orphanage in this country for almost fifty years. The closest you get are group homes for teens. 

    • #9
  10. Misthiocracy has never Member
    Misthiocracy has never
    @Misthiocracy

    The primary mission of any organization, regardless of what it says in the organization’s formal mission statement, is the continued existence of the organization.

    To quote the great E.J. Hill: “The March of Dimes was created in 1938 to end polio and when that was accomplished twenty years later did they proclaim “mission accomplished,” throw a party and disband? No, they just had to find a disease less curable.”

    • #10
  11. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Misthiocracy has never (View Comment):

    The primary mission of any organization, regardless of what it says in the organization’s formal mission statement, is the continued existence of the organization.

    To quote the great E.J. Hill: “The March of Dimes was created in 1938 to end polio and when that was accomplished twenty years later did they proclaim “mission accomplished,” throw a party and disband? No, they just had to find a disease less curable.”

    Depends.

    1. If the organization is voluntary, then when it completes its mission in its original form, its members, still having the same general goals, may very well want to make efficient use of their social capital rather than liquidating it.  That capital can often  be repurposed at far less cost than it took to form it, to tackle a closely related mission.  As in the case of March of Dimes, maybe.
    2. If the organization is owned by the involuntary-and-malicious sector–the ruling elite, comprising the unlimited State and its collaborators–then yes, its primary mission is self-directed.  Maximizing its future power, prestige, and pelf, regardless of social cost.

    It’s part of why we installed a Constitution that allocated responsibilities between the involuntary and the voluntary institutions.  The latter comprises an identifiable class, the States, plus another class. That class is the private institutions, which cannot be and don’t need to be identified: they appear, change, and disappear spontaneously according to the principle that humans act to satisfy their goals.

    • #11
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