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.