When will the “caring” activists of the left ever learn? Never have so few individuals with so many good intentions created so much misery for so many people whom they wanted to help.

As the social-engineering debacles of the last half century in the United States have demonstrated, carelessness in (allegedly) “caring” for the “disadvantaged in our society only leads to a glaringly uncaring result.

After all, it was pioneering liberal-left social engineers in the 1940’s and 50’s who came up with the not-so-creative idea of fighting poverty in American slums by ripping down existing for-profit rental housing and replacing the existing rental stock with the cold, massive, impersonal concrete HUMAN STOCKYARDS  which we now know as PUBLIC HOUSING PROJECTS the equivalent of urban hell for several generations of the poor in North America since then.

Not only was poverty not checked by this urban “reform,”but its unintended consequences— the absence of cheap rooming houses and other lodgings for society’s marginalized citizens — ultimately created the phenomenon of urban homelessness.

And of course, we all know the many wonderful benefits that came with living in comfy, government-subsidized “projects” —rampant drug addiction, vandalism, family breakup, gang wars, killings & social decay.

Oh, and did we mention another “BENEFIT” of such “PROGRESSIVE” housing initiatives —  an even more ingrained “cycle of poverty”?

Yet, the obvious bitter fruits of the liberal-left do-gooders’ all-knowing beneficence, in providing “better housing” for America’s underclass, did NOTHING to STOP  additional similar FUTURE “benefits”: never-ending INEFFECTIVE SOCIAL-ENGINEERING EFFORTS by this lot.

For example, in the 1960’s, confronted with the demoralizing “evidence”most of it imaginary that poor self-esteem and a cycle of “failure” was supposedly hindering the educational achievement of poor black students, liberal-left educational reformers set about “dumbing down” the schools in disadvantaged black urban slums — with an effort to boost the self-esteem of minority students, by ELIMINATING pretty well all standards of educational achievement (for example, exams & school-district test scores).

Unfortunately, the only noticeable result of this attempt to treat the educational system as a social laboratory was that standard test scores plummeted in these enlightened educational enclaves, literacy became the equivalent of an endangered species, student conduct deteriorated dangerously and precipitously, and a unique new “let’s stay stupid” ethic (otherwise known as not “going white”) evolved among most poor black students – who, in turn, harassed any fellow students who showed any desire to get an education to improve their lot and break the chains of poverty.

Oh, and did we mention that public schools in poor black urban slums quickly became a mirror image of government-subsidized housing projectsrun-down urban fortresses afflicted by the scourge of vandalism, gangs, hard drugs, random violence & social anarchy?

However, not surprisingly, that hasn’t stopped the liberal-left cognoscenti from coming up with ever-more innovative ways to waste taxpayer dollars on ever-more destructive “cures” for various (real & imagined) social injustices … during the ensuing years.


The $64,000 question is why?

Enter a most educational book, “The Careless Society: Community & Its Counterfeits”by TROSTKY-TRAINED community activist John McKnight (Basic Books, 1995), an “oldie but goodie” tome whose insightful pages I recently revisited.

Even more specifically, I would single out Chapter One (“Professionalism”) and McKnight’s ground-breaking essay in that chapter, entitled “Professionalized Help & Disabling Service”

Granted, watching a “Who’s That Girl” rerun is probably a more entertaining diversion.

However, if you’re one of those people who feels guilty, after being accused by liberals of not being a caring enough person in your politics, then you’ll probably find this book most enlightening.

It’s a golden-oldie that still packs a punch, even though it received minimum attention when it was first published.

So what new insight does Mr. McKnight bring to an understanding of the educated “caring”classes and the ever-expanding “helping” INDUSTRY  which they helm.

Well, if I might serve as your interpreter, let me first posit that I think McKnight was suggesting that we all should recognize that no matter how intrinsically idealistic and caring today’s social “dogooders” might be, THEY ARE STILL HUMAN.


In other words, today’s social reformers and activists may be well intentioned, but they’re fooling themselves about the nature of their mission.

According to McKnight, the language of the helping professions may be one of caring (just like Bill Clinton, they feel the needy’s pain). But behind what McKnight calls simply one more expanding service INDUSTRY– lies a unique BUSINESS (distinguished by its emphasis on “doing good”) always looking for new markets, and staffed by an ever-growing cadre of caring professionals in need of income.

According to this scenario, today’s caring elite of policy wonks & service professionals NEED “need”.

They derive their LIVELIHOODS — not to mention THEIR SMUG SENSE OF SUPERIOR GOODNESS –from servicing the “NEEDS” of those whom THEY DEFINE  as “THE NEEDY”.

So from McKnight’s point of view, professional caring in modern society has become just another business, but one whose true mission is masked by its aura of caring & love for those whom it helps.

Or to put it in his own words:

“It is clear, therefore, that the word ‘care’ is a potent political symbol. What is not so clear is that its use masks the political interests of servicers. This fact is further obscured by the symbolic link between care and love. The result is that the political-economic issues of service are hidden behind the mask of love…

“Behind the mask is simply the servicer, his systems, techniques, and technologies — a business in need of markets, an economy seeking new growth potential, professionals in need of an income…”

According to McKnight, the masks of love and care obscure this reality so that the public can’t recognize the professionalized interests that manufacture ‘NEEDS”  in order to rationalize a service economy.

Furthermore, John McKnight, writes: ‘Medicare’, ‘Educare’, ‘Judicare’, ‘Socialcare’, and ‘Psychocare’ are portrayed as beneficent service systems intended to meet the needs of the disadvantaged, rather than programs targeted to meet the needs of professional “servicers” (and their political & media allies), as well as the economies they support.

Most important, from McKight’s point of view, this is not a shell game where “helpers” consciously set about to exploit the needy for their own selfish ends.

Instead, servicers are well-intentioned individuals, who so strongly identify with the caring “face” of doing good, that they cannot let themselves recognize its negative consequences.

The “mask” of goodness is so important to their sense of self, they can’t let themselves see its TRUE face: the exploitation of society’s disadvantaged classes, by a CREDENTIALED  elite, to enhance both THE ECONOMIC WELL BEING and SENSE OF MORAL SUPERIORITY of that same “HELPING” ELITE.

In McKnight’s words, “removing the mask of love shows us the face of servicers who need income, and an economic system that needs growth.” And within this framework, “the client is less a person in need than a person who is needed.”

“Or in pure economic terms [continues McKnight], the client is less the consumer than “the RAW MATERIAL  for the servicing (business) system.

In other words, today’s progressive dogooders NEED the “needy”, and they must continually identify new “need” (social problems) to grow their business: government-funded social initiatives to “help” those in need, and (most important) to create LUCRATIVE EMPLOYMENT for the alleged enlightened classes who help them.

Therefore, even though it might not be the original intention of leftist social dogooders, it doesn’t take long for those whom they set out to help (society’s disadvantaged classes) to ultimately become COMMODITIES in the progressive BUSINESS of caring— and for the professional helpers, by implication, to become the new INDUSTRIALISTS of caring.

And those helpers, I might add, include a whole new educated class of professional social workers, psychologists, child-care workers, government bureaucrats, administrators, legislators, social-policy wonks, community activists, and even self-appointed minority spokespersons like Al Sharpton & Jesse Jackson.

Not surprisingly, one particular POWER DYNAMIC most usually emerges from such progressive “helping” efforts: the HELPER is viewed as THE EXPERT who holds all control & power; and THE ONE WHO IS HELPED is chronically consigned to the role of THE NEEDY, DEPENDENT VICTIM.

For example, within this power paradigm, social-policy wonks and social workers possess the professional training and expert knowledge to know what’s required to rescue the needy; and the needy “need” that professional intervention since they are seen as being incapable of helping themselves.

Of course, when self-interested career “activists” like Al Sharpton & Jesse Jackson are involved, another dynamic inevitably kicks in:  The rich (come on down, Al & Jesse) get richer (from government and corporate “donations”), and the poor get nothing (from Jesse & Al, and any allied organizations like the NAACP).

Ironically, as John McKnight also suggests, many of today’s much-advocated social-problem-solving efforts are actually iatrogenicthe equivalent of doctor-created disease.

And “iatrogensis” is a term coined by social critic & gadfly, Ivan Illach, to remind us that doctors like to gather the sick in infection-ridden hospitals, where ill patients often contact infectious diseases which make them even more sick than they were when they first entered hospital. Consequently, for many hospitalized patients, the doctor-prescribed cure is worse than the disease.

In the same way, most liberal-left SOCIAL ‘CURES’, via government-mandated SOCIAL ENGINEERING, are also IATROGENIC — social “remedies” bedeviled by a bevy of HARMFUL unintended SOCIAL CONSEQUENCES,  which are created by GOVERNMENT agencies, RECKLESSLY INTERVENING  in the PRIVATE SPHERE.

The problem is that public intellectuals of the left suffer from the HUBRIS  of thinking they know more than they do.

And over and over again, we are confronted with more grim sociological evidence that MERE HUMANS — even the most schooled and brilliant – CAN NOT sufficiently “manipulate” (via government intervention) THE COMPLEX, INTERTWINED SOCIAL & CULTURAL PROCESSES — that underlie HUMAN SOCIAL SYSTEMS — to achieve THE SOCIAL OUTCOMES  they desire.

There are simply too many interweaved social & cultural variables — governing the functioning of modern industrial societies — to anticipate & keep track of, when governments wish to create desired social changes.

And if they insist on trying, they ultimately end up destroying society instead.

For example, the fabled War on Poverty in America may have been based on the accumulated sociological wisdom of the academic intelligentsia of the 1960’s, but it quickly turned into an EMBARRASSING  DEFEAT — as a host of UNINTENDED social consequences (created by the experts’ ill-chosen social-engineering remedies) ambushed all the good intentions, and left the metaphorical equivalent of A SOCIAL KILLING FIELD  among the HAPLESS VICTIMS OF LEFT-WING LARGESS.

Aside from the countless billions of dollars wasted on needlessly enriching the educated helping classes in their battle against the “social ills” afflicting the disadvantaged, the celebrated campaign to eradicate poverty and its ills only reinforced the cycle of poverty in black disadvantaged neighborhoods, creating a frightening social contagion of ever-escalating welfare dependency, family breakdown & neighborhood violence — in the end, ushering in a shining new era of urban social anarchy & hopelessness.  Doctor-created social disease at its worst!

In the language of John McKnight, too often modern professional social service — or contemporary government attempts to positively change society — are actually forms of DISABLING HELP for those targeted. Rather than EMPOWERING those whom such social initiatives  intend to help, such “progressive” efforts leave these populations ISOLATED, PASSIVE & DEPENDENT. 

Rather than getting better, the socially ill only get sicker.

In other words, it shouldn’t be surprising then that, since the mid 1960’s, all the following progressive efforts to change society have failed so miserably:  for example,  (1) efforts to dumb down the education system to enhance the self esteem of disadvantaged students; or (2)  to “understand” the social roots of crime  in order for the justice system to recognize the corrosive effect of such inequities on the “powerless”; or (3)  to financially aid the needy because the economic system is allegedly so rigged against them (income inequality).

These IATROGENIC social cures have produced nothing more than increased illiteracy, crime, poverty and general social misery.

Unfortunately, attempting to “cure” such problems with more of the same “helping medicine” TODAY will only result in more unintended iatrogenic social consequences TOMORROW, and IN PERPUTITY.


And what do I think of all of the depressing (above-mentioned) FAILED social & political efforts to change society for the better?

God help future generations who inherit the IATROGENIC social & political consequences of all the misguided efforts of  helping professionals & liberal-left politicians today!

Nuff said.

[Murray Soupcoff is editor and co-author of “Good Buy Canada” and author of “Canada 1984”.

He was a founding member (and senior partner) of Ian Sone & Associates Ltd — Canada’s first independent social-research company specializing in the evaluations of federal, provincial & municipal government projects in Canada.

He is also the publisher of the FREE “Soupcoff Report” investment newsletter, whose distribution is partly subsidized by paid subscriptions from former research clients.

You can e-mail Murray Soupcoff at: [email protected] ]




Comments are closed.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner