Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Pity Party by William Voegeli

I really loved the book The Pity Party: A Mean-Spirited Diatribe Against Liberal Compassion by William Voegeli. I'd already read his book, Never Enough, which dives into the liberal compassion mindset to see what the goals are for the liberal set, but he believed he had not gone into the "why" for why the liberals believe in compassion and "more" uber alles. This book gets into the heads of the compassionate crowd and persuasively makes the case for conservatives to fight against it. 

He begins by showing how our society, more than any other time values compassion. We see the down and out paraded before us by politicians eager to display their compassionate bona fides while exploiting the downtrodden among us. In fact, we have come to a place where the liberals "hold these truths to be self-evident: that compassion is the essence of moral and political decency; that liberalism is fundamentally noble because it places compassion at the center of its political efforts; and that conservatism is fundamentally odious because its central purpose is is to reject compassion in favor of selfishness, greed, and cruel indifference to the suffering." Yep, that pretty much sums up the world.

Except it doesn't. Voegeli seeks to examine "what the politics of kindness means, and how it works." For liberals, it's not pretty.

He finds, as he states in his previous book, that the politics of kindness has no unifying theory. It's enough just to be kind and empathetic. In fact, empathy has become the most important political trait, earning Sotomayor a place on the Supreme Court and Obama the election against Mitt Romney. The important thing is to empathize and theories about for whom and why to empathize, as well as any potential results, just muck it up. 

In reality, the politics of kindness, without regard to the effect on the original sufferer, is all about ourselves. He quotes Rousseau who states, "When the strength of an expansive soul makes me identify myself with my fellow, and I feel that I am, so to speak, in him, it is in order not to suffer that I do not want him to suffer. I am interested in him for love of myself." Compassion for other's suffering is really just a way to alleviate our own suffering at seeing the sufferer. At its foundation, our compassion can be very selfish. He credits Barbara Oakley, with the concept of Pathological Altruism, defined as "altruism in which attempts to promote the welfare of others instead results in unanticipated harm."

Liberalism today is governed by Pathological Altruism which "makes few distinctions" and creates a "politics based on mass-produced compassion lead[ing] naturally to the indiscriminate dispensing of cash in a sort of all-purpose socialized United Way Campaign."

Having a lack of any theory leads liberal compassion to illogical conclusions. 

Consider that the case of a child in America without health insurance will inspire much greater compassion in this country and therefore more money than a desperately poor child in the third world. Why? Is it that the American child is relatively worse off compared to those around her? Is it simply a patriotic compassion? Perhaps this is why liberals work to import the world's neediest to America. If that poor African child could find his way to America, the floodgates of money could readily flow. That may explain why, as Steve Sailer says, "Here in America, we increasingly treat immigration as if it were a sacred civil right possessed by 7 billion foreigners."

In addition, liberals get tripped up by logic again in that they don't seem to care if their policies perpetuate the suffering they are ostensibly attempting to relieve. They discuss "the best places to be poor" as defined by an expansive welfare state and lack of shame directed at poor behavior. They "betray neither compassion nor regret for enacting policies that enable some citizens to lead lives amounting to great sapping nullities." Yet, the best place to be poor is clearly somewhere that enables one to rise above that condition as quickly as possible. Not according to the politics of kindness. If no lifestyle can be judged as shameful, no lifestyle can be judged as living a life well lived. C.S. Lewis believes that this kind of paternal non-judgmental attitude can actually lead to contempt for the object of the compassion. 

In fact, rather than "blaming the victim" (Which should never be done, because victims are victims. But maybe we should define "victim" a little more narrowly, just sayin'.) liberals decided after the Kennedy assassination, that America was a fundamentally flawed nation and those that suffer do so, not because of their own choices, but as victims of a cruel and selfish America. However, "if the poor are not to be blamed for their poverty, then the dispositions and habits that have done the most throughout human history to lift people from poverty end up discarded and scorned. This amounts to a compassionate formula to keep the objects of our compassion permanently dependent and aggrieved." Could this be the goal?

The compassionate liberal has arrived at a position where truth works against them. Tread carefully here. There are no examples in which an aggrieved group overcame the obstacles dealt them because a do-gooder felt sorry for them yet offered them no way to overcome based on their own abilities and resources. Pity alone will not allow anyone or any group to succeed. The empathee must believe it is within his power to better himself, or he is doomed to a life amounting to a "great sapping nullity."

Anyone who advocates the "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" mentality is vilified. Not so much because he is wrong, but because to vilify him reinforces one's own place in the social structure. To practice the politics of kindness, as opposed to the politics of hate puts one squarely in the camp of the good. And since Jonathan Haidt says that what others think of us is of paramount importance, no one wants to be the meanie. To assure my place in the pantheon of the good, I will sacrifice the potential for a well-lived life among the poor. The one who says, "My ability to live well does not depend on the empathy of the president or anyone else, but on my own abilities and determination." is free. But the compassionate type will demonize the upstart for slipping out from under his attempts to make himself feel like a good person. 

Voegeli bluntly states that liberal compassion leads to BS. (But he spells it out, repeatedly!) Basically, compassionate liberals have come to believe many things that would cause an otherwise rational person to yell, "BS! You can't really believe that!" We know it's BS because it doesn't comport with reality. For example, if they really cared about the poor, they would care about the efficacy of the programs. “Parading one’s compassion and denouncing the empathy-deficient [should] give way to the useful but less gratifying drudgery of making stuff work right.” Yet clearly it doesn’t. Liberals are the last to wonder if something works before piling on more programs to help the downtrodden. This would interfere with the main goal of Generosity BS which is to feel like a good person. So to say they care, is in a word, BS. They have replaced reality with sincerity. 

He goes on to show how liberalism leads to BS in many areas. Gun Control BS: Of course more gun laws only keep guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens and have no effect on the gun ownership of criminals, but as Obama would say, a policy that saves even one child is worth it. Except it isn’t. The government doesn’t actually work hyperactively to save just one child. But it sure makes one feel good to say that. Green BS: The policies have been shown to do no good whatsoever to reduce carbon emission, since worldwide buy-in is necessary. In addition, they cause far more harm than any alleged good, but everyone knows good people love the planet. And the most compassionate oppose nuclear energy and fracking, two technologies that exist today and would actually help. Diversity BS: “Diversity” actually means more leftists in practice. It is a “stalking horse for reverse discrimination” and “there’s a strong argument that the net effect of implementing diversity is to harm, not help, members of a minority groups.” But shouting, “Diversity!” means you really, really care. 

If Liberalism is defined by “really, really caring,” then Conservatives display a shocking indifference to suffering. Conservatives had tried to rebut this caricature, just not very effectively. People like Penn Jillette have stated, “Helping poor and suffering people is compassion. Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral self-righteous bullying laziness.” H.L. Mencken believed that the desire to help is a charade for the desire to rule. Seeing government bureaucrats at work tends to strengthen this argument. Writers like Rudyard Kipling have pointed out that society is fragile and precariously defended. Liberals are “gullible and feeble, believing in the easy perfectibility of man and ready to abandon the work of centuries for sentimental qualms.” Voegli makes the argument that the compassion crowd is not about banishing selfishness, but rather changing its focus from self-interest well understood to “emotional, psychological, and status gratifications.” Conservatives have advocated better ways to help the downtrodden like Charles Murray’s negative income tax, which have been thoroughly dismissed. Yet these argument are based on reason and do not have an impact with a crowd desperate for emotional affirmation. I believe the better argument is that if you constantly demand others support those for whom you feel sorry, you are not a nice person. You are a narcissistic bully. Hit ‘em where it hurts. 

Voegeli sums it all us succinctly with, “For liberals to insist that a compassionate society is obligated to devote a larger share of its economic output to social welfare spending -- no matter how much the economy grows, no matter that prosperity alleviates suffering, no matter that prosperity allows social spending to shrink in relative terms while increasing in absolute ones, no matter how unreliable social spending has reduced suffering in the past -- is to put the republic on a treadmill under the pretext of entreating the citizens to undertake a pilgrimage to social justice. And that’s [bs], too.”