Friday, August 11, 2017

The “Feelings” Blob Part 2: Getting Tough

     Dystopic has continued his explorations of “weaponized empathy:”

     Today, let’s break down a very common use of it in private circles, in debates between regular folks on social media.

     The tactic looks something like this:

Conservative: I believe in [insert policy here].
Progressive: Here is a sad story about someone (or even a hypothetical someone) who would be affected by the policy. Do you want this person to suffer?
Conservative: Well, no, of course not…
Progressive: Well then, you shouldn’t believe in [the policy]. It’s immoral.

     This is an exceptionally low bar to clear for the Progressive. No matter what political positions a person might have, at least some people, somewhere, can be found who would be negatively affected by it.

     Exactly! There will always be beneficiaries of some government program, regardless of the details. That’s how Iron Triangles are formed:

  • A program is proposed that transfers money from the public to the State, ostensibly to achieve some end that requires funds.
  • The program quickly acquires three sorts of hangers-on:
    1. Bureaucrats who administer the program;
    2. Vendors who sell products and / or services to the program;
    3. Beneficiaries who receive benefits from the program.
  • Those three form a special-interest constituency that will fight to the death to prevent the program from being rescinded or diminished, regardless of its other effects.
  • Because its interests are concise and coherent, that constituency can outmaneuver politically the more diffuse group that’s being taxed to fund the program.

     The “progressive” may know this, but that’s of no true consequence. What he does know is that someone, somewhere, might find the program to be of some benefit under particular hypothesized conditions. As the “progressive” is all about “compassion,” he’ll do as Dystopic has outlined above. The conservative who opposes the program is them thrown on his mettle. To escape the trap, he must get tough:

Conservative: Does your hypothetical victim have family or friends who would help him?
Progressive: Assume that he doesn’t. [FWP: The “progressive” must say this to keep the trap armed.]
Conservative: Why not? Are you telling me there’s no one who loves him enough to help him for that reason alone?
[FWP: At this point the “progressive” might start to sputter. To make matters maximally constraining, assume he keeps cool.]
Progressive: Well, there are some people who have no friends or loved ones.
Conservative: Then yes, I do want him to suffer. He’s obviously made a lot of very bad choices. People who make bad choices should not be rescued from the consequences. That would create an incentive for other persons to emulate them.

     But very few conservatives would ever dare to say so, mainly because we’ve been “nice-guyed” out of our moral vision.


     For the sake of brevity, let’s call the inability to allow another to suffer for his choices nice-guyism. Include in that category the inability to say you would be willing to allow such suffering. It’s at the core of Dystopic’s conception of weaponized empathy – and if you haven’t yet read his other pieces on that subject, you can’t imagine what you’re missing.

     There are varieties of nice-guyism. Some nice guys respond to sickness, others to poverty, and still others to wounded or abandoned animals. Every charitable or pseudo-charitable organization that exists (or ever has) relies upon the existence of some variety of it. Their pitches are uniform in this regard: show hardship or suffering, without any mention of how it was brought about.

     A condition severed from its causes hangs sourceless in the universe. It appears to exist de novo, such that there are no imaginable contexts in which it wouldn’t exist. But in the realm of human behavior, this is almost never the case.

     The sole categorical exception I can find to the proposition that “a man’s suffering is the consequence of his choices” is that of the inherent handicap: the infant left on the church steps by his mother; the child born horribly deformed; the congenital imbecile or idiot. There are some of each. Our sympathies for them are wholly understandable. But no one who has ever possessed a functioning mind in a reasonably sound body can plausibly claim that his hardships, whatever they may be, have nothing to do with his choices.

     If you’re not willing to let an individual suffer the consequences of his decisions and actions, the whole of Mankind becomes your charity case. The “progressive” can justify taking your money and your freedom, for any reason whatsoever, until you’re left with none of either...and that, Gentle Reader, is exactly what he intends to do.


     In the sort of discourse Dystopic has outlined, the “progressive” is using the conservative’s feelings against him: his automatic sympathy for anyone caught in dire straits, and his desire to be seen as a “nice guy” by his conversational adversary. The sole remedy is to get tough.

     Toughness is a contextually dependent characteristic. Demanding that a healthy adult be responsible for meeting his own needs is a virtue, and an important pro-social attitude. Demanding that one’s minor child do the same is not. Between the two lie the cases the “progressive” seeks to sever from their causal roots: those whose previous choices have brought them to a sorry pass. But if we can’t insist that persons with no excuse avoid unnecessary or extreme risks and make responsible provisions for their own futures, on what civic virtue can we insist?

     Beyond that, of course, lies the realm of legitimate, defensible excuses for being in personal jeopardy, but let’s leave that for some other morning.

1 comment:

Howard Nelson said...

Clear, concise, precise, comprehensive, and correct.