Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct
Part Two. Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct
IV. Rule-Following Analysis of Behavior
10 The Ethics of Helplessness and Helpfulness
Biblical Rules Fostering Disability and Illness
Jewish and Christian religious teachings abound in rules that reward sickness and stupidity, poverty and timidity—in short, disabilities of all sorts. Moreover, these rules or their corollaries threaten penalties for self-reliance and competence, and for pride in health and well-being. This is a bold assertion, although not a particularly novel one.
I shall try to support it by citing adequate evidence. I do not argue, of course, that prescriptions fostering disability constitute the whole or the essence of the Bible, which is a complex and heterogeneous work from which countless rules of conduct may be inferred. Indeed, the religious history of the West illustrates how, by taking one or another part of this work, it is possible to support or oppose a wide variety of human behaviors—from slavery to witch burning, and from celibacy to polygamy.
Personally, I support respect for the autonomy and integrity of one’s self and others, but shall not make any attempt to justify these values here. I believe, however, that in a work of this kind it is necessary to make one’s moral preferences explicit, to enable the reader to better judge and compensate for the author’s biases.
...The fear of acknowledging satisfaction is a characteristic feature of slave psychology. The “well-worked” slave is forced to labor until he is exhausted. To complete his task does not mean that his duties are finished and that he may rest. On the contrary, it only invites further demands. Conversely, although his task may be unfinished, he might be able to influence his master to stop driving him—and to let him rest—if he exhibits the appropriate signs of imminent collapse, whether genuine or contrived. However, displaying signs of exhaustion—irrespective of whether they are genuine or contrived—is, especially if it is habitual, likely to induce a feeling of fatigue or exhaustion in the actor. I believe that this explains many of the so-called chronic fatigue states of which harassed people complain: such persons are unconsciously “on strike” against individuals (actual or internal) to whom they relate subserviently and against whom they wage an unceasing and unsuccessful covert rebellion.
The Ethics of Paternalism and Therapeutism
...Revealingly, physicians, following in the footsteps of their predecessors, the priests, often refer to their occupation as a “calling”—implying, perhaps, that not only are the sick calling them, but so is God. The helpers thus hasten to the side of the helpless—the ill, the injured, and the disabled—and minister to him to restore him to health. In this imagery, the sick person is entitled to help simply because he is sick; if we don’t help him, especially if we could, we incur moral blame for our neglect. To the extent that these principles are considered to be applicable to patients, they encourage malingering and the exploitation of physicians. And to the extent that they are considered to be binding on physicians, they encourage resentment of and retaliation against patients.