Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Empathy and Sympathy Do Not Make You Superior

My daily routine is pretty straightforward. I start my day with the Wall Street Journal. Then I move onto Slate. Then the Daily Beast (just for Megan McArdle, the rest is crap). Then The Atlantic. And I occasionally skim Time for anything worth reading. The op-ed pages of the WSJ could best be described as "business-only Republican". McArdle is a libertarian-ish type. The rest is "though-leader" progressive/Democratic.

And if there is one thing I've learned by reading the articles and essays that the latter group churns out, it's that they love to claim the moral high ground by emphasizing their empathy, sympathy, and capability to put themselves in another person's shoes. Because these people are able to envision themselves as powerless, poor, disenfranchised, and/or

We (the upper middle class) should support welfare programs for the poor because they're poor and being poor sucks. We (the American government) should distance ourselves from Israeli policy and help the Palestinians because they're powerless and Israel has all of the power in their bilateral relationship. We (the state) should support environmental policy because the effects of our nonrenewable energy production will have dire consequences for an unborn (and therefore completely helpless) future generation.

We have to do all of these things because we have power and other people don't have power. And it isn't fair if the people with power do things that further their own interests at the perceived expense of those who aren't powerless. That's why Democrat/progressives love railing against the policy of powerful institutions like American foreign policy, Corporate America, the old boy network that used to dominate southern state governments, etc.

Quoting Spider Man: "with great power comes great responsibility" (to use that power in a way that does not solely benefit the person with great power). This is the Democratic, PC-friendly way. This obsession to champion the voiceless, the powerless, and the penurious, does not make the Democratic Party better than the Republican Party. And it doesn't make Democrats and progressives better than Republicans, rednecks, and oddball libertarians.

Being sympathetic and empathetic does not make you morally superior if your beliefs and actions do not produce tangible results that benefit those you supposedly want to help. Poverty, especially black poverty, is a major issue of concern for the mainstream Democratic Party. But after decades of the Great Society, the Civil Rights Act, Affirmative Action, and every other program meant to help the poor, the refrain among the left is that the rich are getting rich and the poor are getting poorer.

Given the fact that the liberal media trope that inequality is getting worse, despite an overall progressive tax code (please spare me your incantations of the exceptions of people like Buffett, Romney, hedge fund managers, etc) and Federal transfer payments and welfare programs comprising a near majority of the Federal budget, it seems that we have not had much success, under any administration or Congress, to help the poor and needy.

It is not enough just to care. That care must translate into action that effectively advances your cause. And if somebody who doesn't care inadvertently does something to benefit your cause, does it really matter if their intent wasn't with noble intentions? As House would put it, would you rather a doctor comfort you while you died or have a doctor mock you while curing you?

Frankly, I don't even think these liberal/progressive types are all that caring. They instead signal the fact that they "care" to others to burnish their ideological street cred. Most of these cultural and economic issues will resolve themselves without the heavy handed actions of the Federal government. And many Federal programs meant to achieve noble goals often have ineffectual or even counterproductive results.

We need to tame the "there ought to be a law" impulse whenever an injustice flashes into the news cycle. Because most of those laws, written in haste in order to satisfy a public used to immediate gratification, are usually pretty bad. The Assault Weapons Ban was completely useless and just irked gun owners. Sarbanes-Oxley imposed millions of dollars worth of regulatory hurdles and failed to prevent the next big financial scandal.

It doesn't make you superior just to show you care. You shouldn't back a bad law just because "we should do something and this is something". What makes you superior is having a good goal and achieving it.


  1. So essentially Progressives/Dems believe that we should pursue policy which makes the most amount of people as well off as possible while the GOP just doesn't give a shit about maximizing welfare?

    You know I used to think the two sides just differed on the best ways to achieve this outcome, but I guess the right really has gone mad.

    Well it explains the Ryan budget I guess...

  2. yes, empathy does lead to better policy:

  3. "Progressives/Dems believe that we should pursue policy which makes the most amount of people as well off as possible"

    No they don't. They believe in ideas that sound good and seem "fair", but in the end do not produce the intended results. In fact, they tend to make things worse.