Saturday, February 26, 2005

A little perspective

Blogger John C. Bambenek went through some stats in effort to compare the sex scandal that's been embarrassing the Catholic Church for a while now with the number of unreported child sex crimes that slip through the hands of Planned Parenthood every year. He concludes that the numbers in the church scandal "amount [to] roughly... the amount of sexual abuse cases covered up by Planned Parenthood in Ohio for only one year." That gives some much needed perspective (and in no way condoes either organization's misdeeds). I suspect that there is a very important difference in outlook skewing the figures. If you do something you know is wrong, you are not likely to do it as much as someone who denies that the act is wrong at all. This has implications for policy (and policy debate!). If you propose something like "hosting a teenage drinking party is a bad idea," and people tell you "oh, they'll just do it anyway" you can kindly point out that you know that, but think they'll do it less if you don't help them. You need to add that it is important that teenage drinking parties are not seen as worthy of respect. This doesn't mean you'll win the debate, as the cost of enforcement (on many issues more so than the one I'm using) has to be taken into account. But it does mean that laws that can't be enforced 100% may still be worthy of merit. And who wants to live in a society where laws are enforced 100%? Not me, that's for sure. A little mercy goes a long way at times. Partial triumphs matter, especially when dealing with the young. Getting them to do less experimentation with drugs, alcohol and sex means they have much better odds of reaching the age of maturity and doing so unscarred. I'm sure somebody out there is giggling over my comments on the wild life, thinking to themselves, "well, it didn't hurt me any." To which I can only say it's possible to flip a coin and get heads any number of times in row, but I wouldn't bet on it. It's also possible to be a fish and not know you're wet. It seems to be that the argument from imperfect enforcement is not enough on it's own to nullify a claim to restrict something. To succeed, it also needs to prove that the cost of reasonable enforcement is higher than the damage a vacuum can create. Something will rush in to fill that gap and the costs of that might be higher than anyone realizes in the long term. Voters can't count on governments and interest groups to think beyond the election cycle and their personal interest; it is we who have to think long term, because we will live with our actions long term. Jimmy Akin provides an example here, one that's quite relevant to the daycare debate here in Canada. ***** Postscript After posting this entry, I turned to my copy of Thomas Merton's book No Man is an Island. The book is very good, btw, and I'm certain I'll post more of it in the future. One paragraph struck me as a very nice summary of what I was after in writing this entry:
If, in trying to do the will of God, we always seek the highest abstract standard of perfection, we show that there is still much we need to learn about the will of God. For God does not maintain that every man attain what is theoretically highest and best. It is better to be a good streetsweeper than a bad writer, better to be a good bartender than a bad doctor, and the repentant thief who died with Jesus on Calvary was far more perfect than the holy ones who had him nailed to the cross. And yet, abstractly speaking, what is more holy than the priesthood and and less holy than the state of the criminal? The dying thief had, perhaps, disobeyed the will of God in many things: but in the most important event of his life he listened and obeyed. The Pharisees had kept the law to the letter and had spent their lives in the pursuit of a most scrupulous perfection. But they were so intent upon perfection as an abstraction that when God manifested His will and His perfection in a concrete and divine way they had no choice but to reject it.
Odd, isn't it, that our "Catholic" Prime Minister(s) (Chretien, Martin, Trudeau, even Clark) are so scrupulous about building a perfect Rawlsian superstate? There's nothing whatever Catholic about that end, and certainly nothing about the scrupulousness with which that vision is being followed. If they truly think Rawls has pierced the mind of God, maybe they could run on that?

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