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Thinking vs. Feeling

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William Voegeli on why liberals don’t care whether the programs they push so relentlessly actually work to reduce suffering:

Even where there are no material benefits to addressing, without ever reducing, other people’s suffering, there are vital psychic benefits for those who regard their own compassion as the central virtue that makes them good, decent, and admirable people—people whose sensitivity readily distinguishes them from mean-spirited conservatives. “Pity is about how deeply I can feel,” wrote the late political theorist Jean Bethke Elshtain. “And in order to feel this way, to experience the rush of my own pious reaction, I need victims the way an addict needs drugs.”

It follows, then, that the answer to the question of how liberals who profess to be anguished about other people’s suffering can be so weirdly complacent regarding wasteful, misdirected, and above all ineffective government programs created to relieve that suffering—is that liberals care about helping much less than they care about caring. Because compassion gives me a self-regarding reason to care about your suffering, it’s more important for me to do something than to accomplish something. Once I’ve voted for, given a speech about, written an editorial endorsing, or held forth at a dinner party on the salutary generosity of some program to “address” your problem, my work is done, and I can feel the rush of my own pious reaction. There’s no need to stick around for the complex, frustrating, mundane work of making sure the program that made me feel better, just by being established and praised, has actually alleviated your suffering . . .

[And] since the real point of liberalism is to alleviate the suffering of those distressed by others’ suffering, the hard work of making our $3 trillion welfare state machine work optimally is much less attractive—less gratifying—than demanding that we expand it, and condemning those who are skeptical about that expansion for their greed and cruelty..

This resonated with me.  One of the themes that runs constantly through our discussions in these pages is the thinking/feeling dichotomy.  UD contributors such as WJM, SB, KF and others constantly ask for rational evaluation of claims.  Their detractors respond with a report on the condition of their viscera — with appeals to empathy.  It seems that for liberals the important thing is feeling good about trying to do good.  Whether they are actually doing good is a secondary consideration — or perhaps no consideration at all.  As they have said countless times, there is really no “good” in an objective sense at all.  So feeling good in the sense of feeling pleasure is the only good there is.

Comments
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I’ve tried for a long time and continue to try to show friends and family and acquaintances and web warriors that: – Paying taxes does not equal charity
Agreed. Taxes should only be used for the necessities, infrastructure, health care, safety net, etc. They shouldn’t be used to subsidize the arts, religion, etc. Charities are things done by the people for the people with no expectation of a reward.
– Pols don’t necessarily know who you are or understand why you voted for them or that you regard your own intentions as metaphysically synchronous with theirs
I’m not sure what you mean by the last part of your statement. But I agree that politicians don’t know why you vote for them. In many cases it is just to turf the opposition out of office. But citizens have a responsibility above and beyond just casting a vote. They have an obligation to continually make efforts to ensure that their elected representatives know what they expect.
– Governments and their bureaucracies inevitably become corrupt to a greater or lesser degree (and lesser leads to greater)
I wouldn’t say ‘corrupt’ although that can happen. Complacent is probably more accurate.
The response among liberals to being presented with these points ranges from embarrassed muttering to silence to a glazed deer in the headlights look to dancing.
Then you should talk to more liberals. JSmith
LoL! rvb8 and logic definitely don't mix... ET
Absolute tosh. If you truly believed that private institutions, churches and charities delivered better public services, and provided better care for and to the local community, and logically by extension, for the country in general, then please extend this absurd Reaganist/Thatcherite ideology to its logical conclusion. Why not have private institutions run the army and navy, thus avoiding government waste, and beurocracy? No!? Don't trust the private sector in the area of national defense? Wise. How about the McDonald's, Southern Baptist NYPD? No!? Don't trust Pastors and McDonald's executives to police the streets of NY? Wise. How about the Goldman/Sachs, Catholic joint national Inland Revenue Service? No!? Don't trust religious organizations, and international banking organizations to create a decent tax system? Wise!? I could go on and on by simply pointing out the incredible waste in the US healthcare system, run largely privately, to systems in Japan, Europe, Australia and NZ, but why bother? Government programms are wasteful, and imperfect, but that's because it's hard to cater to all; they are often also, necessarily bureaucratic. But, if we trusted space exploration to private companies we would be nowhere, and Neil Armstrong would still be strumming his fingers on the tarmac. Why? Simple; no money in it. Just as there's virtually no money in easing the suffering of the homeless, sick, out of work, and orphans. Spare me the efficiencies of the private sector, over the public sector: The US healthcare system screams waste and inefficiency; what is it? 10 insurance executives to each doctor? Wonderful use of the health dollar. rvb8
I've tried for a long time and continue to try to show friends and family and acquaintances and web warriors that: - Paying taxes does not equal charity - Pols don't necessarily know who you are or understand why you voted for them or that you regard your own intentions as metaphysically synchronous with theirs - Governments and their bureaucracies inevitably become corrupt to a greater or lesser degree (and lesser leads to greater) The response among liberals to being presented with these points ranges from embarrassed muttering to silence to a glazed deer in the headlights look to dancing. Andrew asauber

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