Trump says Amer­ica can’t ac­cept new­com­ers, but the Golden Rule says oth­er­wise

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Insight - BY AN­DREW FIALA Spe­cial to The Bee An­drew Fiala is a pro­fes­sor of phi­los­o­phy and di­rec­tor of The Ethics Cen­ter at Fresno State: @Phi­los­o­phyFiala

My grand­par­ents had a large fam­ily. Of­ten a dozen peo­ple crowded their din­ner ta­ble. But there was al­ways room for one more.

If some­one showed up un­in­vited, my grand­fa­ther would say “FHB,” which meant “fam­ily hold back.” My grand­par­ents were not rich. But they had enough to share. Their ta­ble was never full.

My grand­par­ents would be ap­palled to learn that last week the pres­i­dent de­clared that “our coun­try is full.” Amer­i­can lead­er­ship has not said any­thing like this be­fore. But it res­onates with an ar­gu­ment made in the 1970s by the en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tist Gar­rett Hardin in an es­say en­ti­tled “Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Help­ing the Poor.”

Hardin fo­cused on the strug­gle for sur­vival in a world of fi­nite re­sources. He pic­tured each na­tion as a lifeboat with a lim­ited car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity. He said we ought to pre­vent oth­ers from climb­ing aboard be­cause too many peo­ple would swamp our boat.

Echo­ing an ar­gu­ment made in the 18th Cen­tury by Thomas Malthus, Hardin sug­gested that res­cu­ing the poor en­cour­ages them to breed and ex­ac­er­bates their plight. Aid pre­vents the needy from solv­ing their own prob­lems. Hardin’s cold ad­vice is to leave the des­ti­tute masses to their plight, ei­ther to sink or to swim.

The ethic of the Golden Rule points in an­other di­rec­tion. My grand­par­ents would not cal­lously dis­re­gard strangers in need. Nor would they agree with Pres­i­dent Trump’s re­cent claim that an open bor­der is “trea­son.” The fam­ily is not be­trayed by invit­ing more peo­ple to din­ner, even if this means that we each have to hold back.

The motto of hos­pi­tal­ity is “the more the mer­rier.” Growth is good. There is al­ways room for one more. And if you are full while oth­ers are hun­gry, you are self­ish and un­kind.

One deep source for this idea is found in the story of Je­sus feed­ing 5,000 peo­ple with five loaves and two fishes. Some see this as a mir­a­cle. But it demon­strates the magic of hos­pi­tal­ity. Those we welcome to our ta­bles are not pas­sive, gap­ing mouths. Rather, our guests bring their own gifts and con­trib­ute to the whole. If you throw a party, you end up with more food and drink than you be­gan with.

The good news is that since 1974, our pop­u­la­tion has grown by 50%, along with gen­eral pros­per­ity. When Hardin wrote his ar­ti­cle, the pop­u­la­tion of the U.S. was about 210 mil­lion. To­day it is about 330 mil­lion. And we are gen­er­ally do­ing bet­ter thanks to tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion and en­tre­pre­neur­ial en­ergy. Our lifeboat has not col­lapsed.

A sim­i­lar point can be made glob­ally. Since Malthus, global pop­u­la­tion has grown from fewer than 1 bil­lion to over 7 bil­lion. Global wealth has in­creased and peo­ple gen­er­ally live longer and health­ier lives.

A cynic might sug­gest that the catastroph­e has sim­ply been de­ferred. Some ecol­o­gists warn that as pop­u­la­tion grows and global warm­ing wors­ens, we are des­tined for calamity.

In an over­pop­u­lated and over­heated world, the Malthu­sians will want walls to keep out the swarm­ing hordes.

But this as­sumes we will keep breed­ing and burn­ing at cur­rent rates. The lifeboat ethic sup­poses that hu­man be­ings are too stupid and self­ish to learn and adapt. It as­sumes that no other tech­no­log­i­cal or cul­tural in­no­va­tions will solve our prob­lems.

But hu­man be­ings pos­sess rea­son and virtue. Ed­u­ca­tion and op­por­tu­nity — es­pe­cially for women — create pos­i­tive change. Lib­erty and sci­ence spur cre­ativ­ity, in­no­va­tion, and moral progress. Global sol­i­dar­ity and co­op­er­a­tion are the key to solv­ing global prob­lems.

The Malthu­sians don’t un­der­stand this. They view the world from the van­tage point of self­in­ter­est. They see life as a zero-sum strug­gle for sur­vival. They think that each new per­son on the lifeboat is an ego­ist who will take ad­van­tage with­out adding to the commonweal­th. And they are clearly not will­ing to abide by my grand­fa­ther’s idea that the fam­ily should hold back to make room for the other.

The ethic of hos­pi­tal­ity sees things dif­fer­ently. When some­one is hun­gry you feed them. When a stranger ar­rives you make room and hold back.

But hos­pi­tal­ity is not pri­mar­ily about hold­ing back. It is about throw­ing a party that be­gins with five loaves and two fishes and ends up feed­ing a mul­ti­tude.


Pres­i­dent Trump speaks with re­porters about bor­der se­cu­rity at a fundrais­ing event April 10 in San An­to­nio.

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