There are times when seemingly unrelated news stories end up having surprising relevance with each other, and which prompts me to reflect with considerable concern on the repercussions of these convergences on my own life and on the well-being of our world. Earlier this week, for example, a town in New Jersey passed a law that sought to fine people for using their town’s roads as a bypass. The law, as one might imagine, caused an intense furor, although its purpose was not to fine motorists so much as force companies like Google Maps and various other traffic routing systems to avoid routing drivers through their town in order to save a few minutes of time on an otherwise horrific commute. Let us note, because it will be important for us to return to this point, that the town and its leaders were not interested in helping make life easier for the poor suffering drivers of the area but rather wanted to protect their town, wall it off, so to speak, from the brokenness and dysfunctionality of the traffic system as a whole . If this law is allowed to stand and/or if its effects are indeed to allow towns the leeway to reject through traffic seeking to avoid even worse freeways, clearly there will be plenty of other small towns who will likely take a similar course for similar goals.
In a seemingly unrelated story, this week our nation’s president caused an intense furor when he labeled many African nations as well as Haiti with an indecorous term that, as a family blogger, I feel prevented from using. While he claims he did not precisely use that word, repeatedly, it is easy enough to understand that there are many nations with an excess of refugees whose economic and political systems appear hopelessly broken. His labeling of Haiti as well as Sub-Saharan Africa would appear to indicate that he is speaking about nations which would be part of the fourth world economically. These nations are poorly connected to the rest of the world in terms of international trade and often have unrepresentative governments whose corrupt behavior brings continued misery on the part of their people. Any time one reads a sob story about famines threatening the lives of millions of people or some sort of dreadful outbreak of ordinarily preventable diseases or child soldiers engaging in interminable civil wars, these are the sorts of countries one thinks of.
It is not as if these countries lack natural beauty or that their people are not subject to intense suffering or that their people do not deserve a better fate than the misery of existence in nations that seem to be continually falling further and further behind more developed parts of the world. These nations are, not surprisingly, the recipients of a great deal of foreign aid and seem to never improve. They are the beggars seeking the charity of an increasingly cynical world that wants to see results before giving aid. It should be noted as well that the same societies which are showing increasing unwillingness to underwrite massive aid packages to nations which appear to be broken without remedy or improvement are growing similarly less charitable to the poor and dysfunctional within their own societies, a hardening of the heart to those who are in need and who appear to be unwilling or unable to improve their own conditions.
What makes both of these stories, and many other related ones involving increased hostility towards social nets on the part of embattled elites, so distinctive is the fact that they involve the same approach to intractable problems. Instead of seeking to solve difficult problems for the well-being of everyone, a conscious choice is being made on the part of those who feel they can wall themselves off from the problems of the world around them to try to cut themselves off from those larger problems and to refuse to allow their own resources or their own places to serve as a refuge for those dealing with larger dysfunction. Whether we are trying to wall ourselves off from hordes of irritated drivers or from refugees fleeing their impoverished and forsaken homelands, we are signalling to others that we do not feel we have the resources or the interest to deal with the problems of the larger world around us. We are telling those who are worse off than we are that they cannot depend on us, but only on themselves, and if they cannot manage on their own, their fate is of no concern to us.
In general, this is not a mindset I particularly like. The savagery of survival of the fittest is not a pleasant thing to one who has a great deal to wonder concerning my own fitness. The problems of this world and of the people in it are massively complex and difficult to solve, difficult even to cope with, and the fact that those who are doing a bit better than everyone else feel that now is a good time to cut themselves off from the problems of the wider world that appear not to be even in the process of being solved is a sign that, if followed by others, will make this world an increasingly unfriendly place to be. Rather than being seen as people who suffer and who could use a hand up and some encouragement and education and work, such people are being viewed as an impediment, as if the world would be better off without those whose existence is more of a struggle. If such a mood continues or intensifies, we can expect life growing a lot more savage for those who come from broken families, or who struggle from physical or mental health issues, or who are old or poor or sick or vulnerable or disabled or young. Obviously, this is not the sort of world that we want to live in. How can we better serve as models and workers for a better world and less as selfish and uncaring people who, seeking only to save ourselves, want to keep our lifeboats as safe as possible from the drowning hordes we see all around us in the tempestuous seas of our evil age?
 See, for example: