Monday, September 7, 2009

The Rescuers and the Anointed

The accident looked bad, cars smashed and some passengers obviously injured. Passing motorists stopped and one tried to give CPR to a victim. That was difficult, his “patient” kept trying to get up and walk away. The rescuer had been trained in CPR but he failed to pay attention to the need to check for breathing and a pulse before starting the procedure.

It is often said that the first rule of rescue is “do no harm.” I think that should be the second. The first rule of rescue should be, “make sure rescue is appropriate.” CPR, for example, is for those whose hearts have stopped. Anyone who remains conscious has to have a beating heart. Even those who are not conscious may not need CPR (though they can benefit from other attention.) I think this has a great deal of bearing on the issue of “The Anointed” discussed in my last few blogs, people who want to rescue others whether those others need it or not.

Unneeded rescue may be just a nuisance, but in some cases it can cause harm. CPR can crack ribs which is a minor problem compared to cardiac arrest. However if the patient has a beating heart, there is no reason to risk that complication. There is a real danger if the rescuer is too intent on using his rescue techniques and ignores the question of appropriateness.

Other types of rescue can have similar problems. For example, the Kennedy-Johnson war on poverty (which I discussed in my previous blog) was aimed at a problem, which was diminishing already. However the politicians had some ideas they thought would be wonderful so they instituted those programs anyway. The ultimate result was an increase in poverty and wasted taxpayer money. That was the equivalent of a person who had learned CPR looking for a way to use his skill instead of looking at what was really appropriate.

As an “unpaid professional rescuer”* I have some personal insight into this problem. We all want to use our abilities. If those abilities are aimed at helping others we will want to help others. That can be great, some people need the help. My team once found a woman who had spent two nights lying among the rocks where she fell. She was going in and out of consciousness, with several major injuries. She probably would not have survived the night after we found her since it got very cold then. It was a great feeling watching the helicopter head for the hospital with her aboard.

On the other hand, we often find people who are simply overdue. Maybe they decided to stay out an extra day (not a good idea) or maybe they were lost but remain in good health. We do not call a helicopter for those folks; in fact we don't even put them in a litter. We let them walk out, perhaps with some of our people to guide them. In fact with the advent of cell phones we've been able to direct a couple of them to safety while rescuers stayed home.

Now rescue is exciting. Let's be honest, most volunteers join the team for that excitement and they don't want to stay home when excitement calls. However it is not appropriate to send teams into the field until there is reason to believe that someone needs them. The responsible authority (usually a sheriff's deputy) is charged with determining that need before he calls the teams out.

Firefighters, some cops, and other emergency responders likewise like to respond to the need. Their services are invaluable but they can go too far. We've all heard the story of the bored cop who stops people for trivial reasons, or the physician who wants so badly to use a new treatment that he applies it to a patient who doesn't need it. In extreme cases, firefighters have been known to set fires to create their own excitement. Unless the urge to rescue is controlled it can cause its own problems.

I think this is one of the problems with the “rescuers” described in Sowell's book, “The Vision of the Anointed.” The people who see themselves as rescuers of humanity need problems to solve – and they need to solve them in their own preferred way. When they see poverty they just know that their solution is needed, in spite of the fact that poverty is decreasing already. When they think they see racism, they just know that they must step in and solve the problem, even if what they see is not really racism. An example of the latter is the recent case of the Harvard professor who accused a cop of racism when the cop was really there to help prevent burglary of the professor's home. Many of the “anointed,” including President Obama, jumped on that one. Before they even had the facts, they assumed racism was involved.

As a rescuer, I know the temptation to overreact to problems or even to imagine problems when they might not exist. The only solution is to learn to control our urge to act until we evaluate the situation. Is there a real problem? If so, will our solution really help or will it just foster dependence? Are we really helping or just meddling in someone's life?

Unfortunately our political process is biased toward action, whether that action is appropriate or not. Any politician who refuses to use taxpayer money to solve a perceived problem will be called a “do-nothing” and likely voted out of office. Only when the voters recognize this problem will that change. We must realize that sometimes nothing is exactly what we should do. (See for example

That is the problem with the people Sowell describes in the two books I've just reviewed. Their arrogance leads them to believe that they can and should solve all the world's problems. However many of those problems are minor or only imaginary. Even the real problems are not usually amenable to the “solutions” created by such people.

We must deny such people the power to meddle in our lives and use our tax money to meddle in the lives of others.

*Some rescue organizations use the term “unpaid professional” to emphasize the need to have skills equivalent to those of paid rescuers, even though we are volunteers.

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