You know the one about the eccentric millionaire who asked a rabbi to deliver a eulogy at the funeral of his French poodle, Fifi. The rabbi patiently explained that it would be inappropriate to elevate an animal to the status of a human and such mourning is reserved for the loss of a human soul.
“Too bad,” said the layman. “Because I was prepared to offer you $10,000.”
“Oh, the dog was Jewish? Why didn’t you say so?”
In an odd segue, my mind goes to that gag when I ponder the syndrome of Christmas toys stolen from charities. This year in Miami an organization caring for children with cancer had a large collection of gifts cleaned out. Nor is this an isolated event. Rather it is a fairly widespread phenomenon. When I lived in Cincinnati in the 1990s, I was amazed at the number of stories like this on the news each year. It was to the point where toy shipments by non-profits had to be conducted clandestinely lest they be hijacked.
Naturally it makes you wonder. Anyone capable of pilfering large quantities of goods should be able to identify targets that carry less emotional freight. Unless it is the rival foundation saving money by letting the other guy do the shopping, you have to figure these criminals are something more than merely insensitive. If they just did not care, they would still most likely choose something else to grab. It is clear they must enjoy hitting this particular category of victim.
The psychobabble answer would be that these crimes are the handiwork of people who grew up unloved. Abandoned or neglected by their parents, they sat shivering on Christmas mornings and hoped for one meager gift—that Dad would stagger home too drunk to deliver a beating. Society failed them and wrenched away their childhood; why should today’s child, however cancer-ridden, live in greater privilege?
But after 40 years of selling ourselves this bilge, we have moved forward in this country, largely freeing ourselves from these illusions. We came of age and left this silliness behind, as in my little ditty:
He’s no glad man.
He’s no sad man
He’s no mad man
You’ve been had, man.
He’s just a bad man.
The true answer lies in that joke with the rabbi. The point of such jests is to undercut the notion that sincere goodness exists in the world. It promotes a cynical view saying every person has their price. If you have not yet sold out, it is because you have not yet gotten a high enough offer. Where a person might appear to have virtue, what you are seeing is actually a hoax. Either deliberate hypocrisy or a sort of ingenuous self-deception. That mild jape really espouses the worldview of Marquis De Sade, that all innocence is either trickery or ignorance.
There is a large class of bad guys out there who are challenged by philanthropy. It is a threat to their carefully cultivated callousness. People reaching into their own pockets with nothing to gain, just to enhance the lives of others. That is the opposite of thievery, where I demean his humanity and sense of property to line my pocket. If this outrage called charity is permitted to continue … why, it could corrupt a whole society! Make them all into a bunch of suckers.
And so they come to sabotage the generosity. To prevent such a transaction from being completed. To block goodness and kindness and caring for another person and feeling a holiday spirit and worrying about the welfare of others and reaching out beyond the safe nest of the self to bring some love into the troubled lair of the other. All these things cannot truly exist; if they do exist, my life is a horror; I must see that the illusion of their existence is dispelled. This is the thinking of the evil man, living only for himself.
There are lessons to be learned from this in the international realm as well. Our country took some of our finest young men and women and sent them to the other side of the world to give the gift of freedom to the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq. Now there are some bad guys who will stop at nothing to steal those presents. Why should we be surprised?