Here to help

My son Manny is 20 months-old with a speaking vocabulary of fewer than ten words, though he understands a great deal more. Yesterday he stole a ball from a neighbor’s house. When asked whether he stole it he said “No. I help.”

I helped. The sense seems to be that helping involves partially taking control of something that belongs to another, like a first-grade teacher taking a student’s hand and guiding it in the right pen stroke or a fireman grabbing someone’s body and pulling it out of a fire, which is exactly how Manny understood taking the toy. After all, great evils arose from the ball staying at the neighbor’s house, among them being Manny’s inability to have it.

This put me in mind of a scene from the Little House books when Kansas settlers justify westward expansion by pointing out that none of the Native peoples work the land. The white advance, you see, is the better thing for the land itself since it cultivates it and makes it more suitable for human habitation. We helped!




  1. June 5, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    It seems to be a common theme in politics — if one made a list of all the expansions of power, or seizures of other people’s power, that were more or less justified as helping, how long it would be! The entire Venezuelan crisis consists of a socialist government expanding its power ‘to help’ the people. And I’ve often thought in recent times of just how much of the modern European nation-state is based on theft of religious power and property — first from the Jews, then from the Catholic Church, then from established Protestant churches — but, of course, it was all helping, removing resources and power from corrupt foreigners or unelected representatives, for a better use. Nobody usurps; they just help.

  2. Kristor said,

    June 5, 2017 at 5:46 pm

    “We are from the government, and we are here to help.”

  3. Paul said,

    June 6, 2017 at 6:11 am

    Not having read the “Little House” books in decades, I can’t speak as to what justification they offered for Europeans supplanting the indigenous populations of the Americans. Rather than helping the land itself, though, I suspect the implicit argument for most would have been something like, “Our form of society is superior to the aboriginal form, and therefore it is good that their society be replaced by ours in this given area.”

    Of course, in instances in which indigenous populations did adopt European forms of settled agriculture, and became “civilized tribes,” it was still frequently the case that the Europeans nevertheless generally either assimilated or supplanted them by force. This is more along the lines of, “The form of culture practiced by our ethnicity is superior to the aboriginal form, and therefore it is good…”

    A dangerous argument, to be sure. And superior in what sense that justifies forcible supplantation? We would probably say that the two societies / ethnicities could develop peacefully alongside each other. Could they, though? And even if everyone was peaceable and determined to work through the inevitable frictions, would either society really have actualized the same good that it would have achieved without the intermingling on equal terms of the other? Again, we would probably say yes, or say that the intermingled good is superior in some way to the homogenous one. These are more assertions than arguments, and quite recent ones at that. And in many ways, these answers are merely ways of asserting the superiority of the practices and beliefs of a certain Yankee society and its own particular customs.

  4. June 6, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    Hence the common expression, “I helped myself to it.”

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