Ed Driscoll

'We Live in an Age of Conspicuous Compassion'

“Modern liberalism as a set of emotions,” as explored by Kyle Peterson in the Weekly Standard:

Since the emotional calculus involved in snap decisions is unknowable, we shouldn’t be surprised that, when politicians do the math of pathos, they never seem to come up with a limiting principle. Every problem is as tragic, urgent, and worthy of action as every other. Consider this gem of an argument Voegeli pulls from Matt Miller at the Washington Post: “If you feel it’s urgent to help the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, then deep in your heart you also support Obamacare.” The line is funny because it proves too much: Matt Miller might just as easily have compared hurricane relief to taxpayer-subsidized automobile insurance or federal research on Exploding Head Syndrome. What he really means is: “Here are two causes that only a monster could oppose.”

Once ingrained, this kind of thinking leads to a society that (as Voegeli puts it) cares less about actually helping others than it cares about caring. Public compassion becomes an end in itself, and the machinery of government is simply a means of catharsis. Hence, the people who push the hardest for expanding government programs are the ones least interested in whether the programs actually work. Confront a progressive friend with a few statistics—the study that suggests patients on Medicaid fare even worse than those with no insurance at all, or the paper that shows enrollment in Head Start makes zero long-term difference to students’ academic success—and he will reply, almost without fail, that the problem is funding. If only we had more dump trucks to ferry pallets of crisp 100-dollar bills from the Federal Reserve to various federal offices.

All this emoting leaves little room in our public discourse for much else—say, for example, calm examination of moral hazards or unintended consequences. President Obama once quoted the late movie critic Roger Ebert in a speech, saying, “Kindness covers all of my political beliefs.” A conservative is likely to suggest that this explains the problem precisely.

Read the whole thing; the notion of “Modern liberalism as a set of emotions,” is a polite way of calling the left “reactionary,” which Roger L. Simon, our Maximum Pajamahadeen Emeritus and a former man of the left himself has been saying for a decade now. And the non-stop emoting also dovetails well into an observation Ace made on Wednesday after Ezra Klein dubbed the New Yorker’s Ferguson cover as “Excellent:”

That Ezra Klein is bien pensant given to Thinking Serious Thoughts About Race and Such.

That is what drives me crazy about modern discourse. So little of it is actually designed to advance a proposition. So much of it is designed to advance The Speaker.

Modern speech is insanely “performative.” Modern speech is marked not by its focus on the statement itself but on the act of making the statement, and how that act (allegedly) credits the speaker.

This s*** must be called out until it stops.

We live in a Narcissistic Age. This era’s defining vice is Vanity.

And we cannot allow these narcissistic headcases to get away with disguising constant self-flattery as alleged “political” speech about ideas external to them.

One way to spread the word about the preening, performative nature of modern leftist speech would be a documentary on the topic — would Kickstarter be a viable method of raising the funds? I better check with one of their “community managers” to see what she thinks of the idea:

Ahh well, so much for that idea. Perhaps CNN would like to bankroll the project? Or maybe NBC?

OK, there’s always print. Maybe Time or The Week will do an article on the topic. Or Vox!