Monday, November 2, 2009

Can't we just send them some maps???

Last week in church, my cousin gave a lesson on the Martin-Willey handcart companies. For those who don’t know, the Martin and Willey handcart companies were two groups in a series of handcart pioneers. They started the journey too late in the year and were only in Wyoming when winter came. Starvation, hypothermia, exhaustion -- in old-timey clothes and shoes which are a far cry from waterproof, fur-lined boots and Goretex coats.

When word reached Salt Lake that the companies were lost out on the plains, Brigham Young called for a massive rescue effort. On October 7, the first rescue party left Salt Lake City with 16 wagonloads of food and supplies. More rescue parties followed. Even with a rescue effort, more than 210 of the 980 handcart pioneers died along the way. Many of the survivors had to have limbs, fingers and toes amputated due to the frostbite.

In Mormon culture, the story of the Martin and Willey handcart companies is nothing short of legendary. Kids are told about the bravery of the rescuers their whole lives, particularly the story of the young men who carried the pioneers across the icy Sweetwater River. A slightly lesser-known aspect to the story, but no less important, is that after the emigrants finally made it to Salt Lake, those who had already settled in the valley took them in and cared for them for months.

This was no minor act of charity. This was about hundreds of people who had ALREADY risked their lives crossing the plains once doing it again, under the worst possible conditions. This was about people who were already just barely eking out an existence opening their homes to strangers.

You know what none of those rescuers said?

They got themselves into this mess, and now they have to live with the consequences.

I worked hard to get across the plains, and helping them will be giving them a free ride.

And my personal fave: If we go rescue them, they'll never learn to cross the plains themselves.


  1. ah yes, but Brigham Young did ask for volunteers to rescue the people, and for volunteers to open their homes to them. It wasn't mandatory, and that makes ALL the difference in the world. :)

  2. (Ahem. I feel the need to organize this comment, because I feel some ramblin coming on.)

    Point one: I think we may have different definitions of "voluntary." Brigham Young, Prophet/Governor stood up in General Conference and said it was the duty of the Saints to organize a rescue party. He also said it was the duty of the Saints to let them into their homes. When one of the rescue parties thought it was too late and turned back, he ordered them to keep going.

    Of course people did what he asked of their own free will, but it was hardly "voluntary." And guess what? It was no less noble for being socially/culturally coerced.

    Point two: I don't think it really mattered to the people who had their feet amputated why the rescuers came, only that they did. So no, I do not think it makes "ALL" the difference. I think it makes no difference whatsoever.

    Point three: In general, I don't find the voluntary/compulsion distinction relevant, only an excuse for people who disagree about whether we ought to be helping the less fortunate. (This isn't you, Alex, I know you actually are a good person. :)) Simply put, if your choices are hell or helping, is your choice truly voluntary? I don't think so, I think it becomes mandatory.

    Point four: If people really were currently VOLUNTARILY helping the less fortunate out of the goodness of their hearts, we WOULDN'T NEED the government to be talking about this, because there wouldn't be anyone left who needed the help. Last time I checked, there are still needy people around. What do you know, I guess people aren't volunteering out of the goodness of their hearts.

    Which leaves us with two choices: Let "voluntary goodness" rule the day while the poor starve and the middle class wallow in their own crapulence (I love a nice excuse to say "crapulence"), or consider more coercive alternatives that result in non-starvation and non-damnation. (Was that over the top? I feel like that might have been a bit over the top.)

  3. Well I do disagree with your a volunteer request from Brigham Young was like compulsion. Because they had fewer than half go of what he requested and of the fewer than half, more than half turned around halfway. So it truly was voluntary.

    About the end result. I completely agree that forcing people to take care of the less fortunate will result in more, less fortunate getting cared for. After all, it isn't a choice.

    However, I think that forcing people to take care of others is as a big a problem as people with means doing nothing to help. To me it is a pick your poison argument. It does nothing to address the underlying decay of society (because a society that will not voluntarily help the less fortunate is a dying society), forcing people to care for the less fortunate merely covers up the symptoms of the disease but doesn't address the disease itself.

    I personally think the whole reason government keeps getting bigger and keeps interfering more and more is because people feel that so much of their money is poured into all these social programs that they feel they are already paying more than their fair share (which is probably true). And since so much of their money is sucked away when they see these unfortunate people they say "my money pays for programs for these people, so they don't need more help they are just mooching now" (which is true in a certain % of instances and people argue what that actual % is all the time since it is hard to prove).

    So I guess in summation, we are really arguing different points. You are arguing end results are what matters, I'm arguing choice is what matters. In the end the final plan will probably be a bastardized ineffective hybrid of the two.