My friend Bob is a marriage counsellor, who recently told me a rather remarkable story about a very unusual couple.
"When they came into my office, I could immediately see that she was depressed," he said last night over drinks. "He was kind of punchy and aggressive; she just sat there, hands folded in her lap, staring at the floor. I ask them what their problems were, and he went on a long tirade about how she just wasn't 'committed to the marriage.' I asked her what she thought he meant by that, but she wouldn't answer, just sat there trembling.
"He said that he wanted the marriage to work, that he loved his wife very much, and that he believed that she loved him too, but he felt that she just wasn't committed to the marriage, you know? – and that he was doing all the work, and she just sat there, he said, just like she's doing now."
Bob sighed. "I've seen this sort of thing before, where the man just kind of lords it over his wife, and then gets more and more irritated as she gets more and more passive. It's a real vicious circle – the more passive she gets, the more aggressive he gets, and so the more passive she gets, and so on. It's a really hard to break the cycle.
"I was committed to helping them in this area, though, so I promised them that if they were willing to work at their marriage, they would see significant improvements very quickly. The man immediately agreed to get started, but his wife seemed too depressed to make any kind of real decision, and just wandered out of my office, trailing after him.
"Over the next few weeks, every time I saw them, it was the same story – he talked and talked, and got more and more frustrated when his wife refused to get involved in the process, and just sat there, staring at the carpet.
"I pretty much realized that I wasn't going to get any information out of the woman while her husband was in the room, so yesterday I called her and asked to come in on her own.
"It took forever to convince her – i had to promise her that I would never tell her husband that she had come to see me on her own. I normally don't like doing that, but I sensed a real urgency in her, so I agreed.
"She came in, and couldn't meet my eyes – barely talked above a whisper.
"Why do you think that you are so resistant to getting involved in the marriage?" I asked gently.
She murmured something I couldn't hear. I asked her to repeat herself.
"Because – it is not a marriage," she whispered, tears welling up in her eyes.
I handed her a tissue. "Well no, if you're not emotionally involved, then it's…"
She raised her hand, in a strangely decisive gesture that silenced me immediately.
"No!" she said, her voice suddenly turning to steel. "It is not a marriage! I did not choose this man. I do not love this man, rather in fact I hate him with all my heart!"
"Really?" I paused, trying to figure out what she meant.
Her jaw jutted out, and she wiped her eyes defiantly. "I was taken from my village at gunpoint, I was forced to marry this man. Every act of sex has been an act of rape. I do not have any access to any money, I cannot escape, and even if I did, my parents will be thrown in jail if I leave this man. I am locked in the basement every night, I am only let out to cook and clean, and then I am locked up again. If I contradict my husband, I am beaten, thrown in the basement, and deprived of food, sometimes for days. I live in terror of him." She began to sob. "I hate my life, and wish to die, but if I kill myself, my parents also will be beaten and thrown in jail." Her hand suddenly shot forward, palms upward. "There is no way out of this dog's life for me, and so I throw myself on your mercy, I beg you for help of any kind, I beg you to help me find a way out of this nightmare of enslavement and rape, because I cannot keep living – but I am too afraid to die…"
Her whispered but emphatic words dissolved again into sobs, and she lowered her eyes. I was stunned, completely confused, and sat in silence for a minute or two.
"Well," I said finally, leaning forward, "the important thing is that for this marriage to work, you have to get more involved emotionally, and learn how to really communicate with your husband…"
I interrupted my friend Bob at this point, utterly shocked and appalled.
"You did what?"
Bob rubbed his forehead, averting his eyes. "Well, the issue was that she was disconnected from her marriage, you see, and so remained emotionally unavailable to her husband – so I wanted to teach her some ways that she might be able to open up and be more honest with him. More vulnerable…"
My mouth dropped open. "But – didn't you hear a word of what she said to you?"
Bob smiled in a sickly manner. "Oh yes, I understood that she was not happy in her marriage – my goal as a counsellor is to give her some tools that help empower her in her relationship…"
"But – Bob," I said, trying to slow down my breathing and calm my hammering heart, "did you not hear her when she said that she had been kidnapped at gunpoint, imprisoned and terrorized, and faces dire threats to both herself and her family every day?"
Bob shrugged. "But the important thing is to figure out how she can improve her situation now, not fuss about what happened in the past, which cannot be changed."
"But what happened in the past is essential to figuring out what is happening now – and what must happen in the future!" I cried. "I mean – you keep calling this a marriage, but it's just institutionalized rape and enslavement! Do you not understand? You cannot conflate that which is chosen voluntarily with that which is enforced at the point of a gun!"
He looked away, swirling his cognac, then shrugged again resentfully. "Perhaps, but the important thing now is to try and find a way to make this marriage work now – not obsess about what happened in the distant past, which as I said cannot be changed."
I took a deep breath. "So you genuinely believe that you have the power to turn years of rape, abuse and imprisonment into a positive and happy marriage?"
"Well, certainly every situation can be improved, and quite often in life we do have to try to make the best of a difficult situation…"
"So you believe that you can turn this obscene travesty of brutality and exploitation into a positive and loving marriage?"
"Well, certainly some good can come out of my involvement with this couple, I am sure of that…"
"But – why would you not tell this woman to escape from her imprisonment?"
Bob blinked. "I'm sorry – what?"
"Well you're trying to turn this evil and hellish situation into something wise and benevolent, which I don't think it's possible. It is completely unreasonable to expect a woman who has been brutalized and raped for years to try to be open, vulnerable and loving towards her abuser. Good cannot come from evil."
He smiled wryly. "Well, I can't very well counsel her to leave her husband, now can I?"
He smiled, taking another sip of his $50 cognac. "Ahhh, you philosophers are so unrealistic…"
Bob laughed. "Well, I cannot tell this woman to leave her marriage, because I am a marriage counsellor, and if she leaves her marriage, then I am out of pocket!"
Does this story make you feel a little queasy? Does my friend Bob's inhumanity and desire to exploit an evil situation upset you?
This is the ghastly world of government programs.
I am currently reading a book entitled "The White Man's Burden" about the endless disasters of foreign aid programs. The same pattern is at work everywhere that the state attempts to use stolen money to do good – the welfare state, the war on drugs, public schools and, most sadly, war.
Intellectuals continually say that we should attempt to do good with public money, while perpetually ignoring the basic reality that government money is either explicitly or implicitly ripped from the pockets of helpless and largely disarmed citizens at the point of a gun, or through inflation and deficit financing.
Once money passes through the bloody wall of violence, expecting it to do good on the other side – in the realm of evil – is exactly as irrational, corrupt and exploitative as imagining that a brutalized and imprisoned woman can learn to love her tormentor.
Evil can never create good, any more than cancer can create health or heading south can make you go north. Ignoring the moral origins of interactions is entirely corrupt; it is the refusal to differentiate between rape and lovemaking, between theft and trade, between a hotel room and a prison cell.
If a psychiatrist diagnoses a man locked in a tiny cell as suffering from "agoraphobia," we can easily understand that his diagnosis is tragically flawed, because he is ignoring the basic reality that the man is locked up. We can also understand that any such psychiatrist who "diagnoses" a man in a cage while ignoring the fact that he is in a cage is engaged in something pretty nefarious himself.
In the same way, when intellectuals talk about how government money should be used, they are engaged in exactly the same kind of corruption. Intellectuals will generally talk about the failures of government programs – such failures are so impossible to ignore now that they must at least be addressed on the surface – and then will provide endless suggestions about how government programs can be "improved" to achieve their stated goals.
This is directly analogous to Bob the marriage counsellor giving an imprisoned woman the advice on how she can "improve" her behaviour to achieve a happy marriage. By ignoring the basic evil at the root of the interaction – her enslavement – he is actually acting with complicity and sympathy towards her abuser.
We can also directly see Bob's financial motive to continue pretending that this abusive subjugation is in fact some sort of "marriage" – and we are repulsed when Bob openly states that he will not recognize or act on the evil she suffers because he wishes to profit from its continuance.
How is this any different from an intellectual who works at the World Bank or the IMF who refuses to address the basic fact that the money he hands out to despots and dictators throughout the world is blood money that has been stolen from citizens at the point of a gun?
By refusing to address the evil at the root of the interaction, because he wishes to profit from its continuance, he confirms his existence as a corrupt state toady who will ignore any crime in order to continue to pocket the coins that fall from his masters table.
Is it that the violence at the root of state funds is so hard to understand? Of course not. No man with an IQ over 90 has any trouble identifying what will happen to him if he does not pay his taxes. Statist intellectuals are perfectly aware what will happen if they refuse to pay. There is no possibility that they can remain ignorant of the basic nature of state funding. They do not need, as Bob did above, for someone to come in and confess a crime.
They know the crime already, in their reflections.