Albany Times Union

“Love of neighbor” in shelter debate


As a person trained in complex systems science, I’m troubled by recent stories about conflict between the goals of helping vulnerable adults and of protecting children, who are inherently vulnerable. The latest dilemma was described in “Shelter withdraws bid for new center,” Feb. 5.

A just society is less efficient for some purposes but is more stable, meaning that it is likely to survive longer than an unjust society. Obviously, neither the French nor the Russian revolution­s would have occurred if the poor had been treated justly in those countries.

Justice preserves us in more subtle ways, too. Much as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates to head off dangerous economic growth, substance abuse and mental illness should moderate economic activity.

Life gets harder as resource consumptio­n grows. People have to work more to survive, which increases their levels of stress. Rates of debilitati­ng conditions therefore increase. The victims no longer work, reducing economic activity and restoring balance in a just society that takes care of their needs while they fulfill their vital economic function of consuming less and not working. Beyond this, many homeless people work or are themselves children.

An unjust society blames the victims. Everyone is demoralize­d. Civilizati­on, which requires trust and communicat­ion, is weakened. People retreat into benighted self-interest. Nations deteriorat­e into Potemkin versions of themselves that can be blown over by any stiff breeze.

Those societies last longest in which love of neighbor is least discrimina­ting. James Lyons Walsh Albany

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