There are No Magic Shortcuts to Genuine Human Love and Caring
When I was a boy, I was very impressed by an old 1936 movie based on an H.G. Wells short story called "The Man Who Could Work Miracles." I am about to spoil the movie for you.
George McWhirter Fotheringay is given the power to perform miracles. He stumbles about getting used to these strange new powers, and readying himself to use them to make the world a better place. But he finds that there is one thing he cannot bring about; he cannot make somebody love him.
(There's a modern version of Wells's story, Jim Carrey's "Bruce Almighty.")
The attempt to force people to love, trust, feel compassion, or to feel anything for that matter, is magical, wishful thinking. People can be manipulated, persuaded and inspired. But this takes co-operation on some level.
Anyone who has ever tried to force a child to apologize for something they aren't at all sorry for has experienced this powerlessness firsthand. You may hear the words, but you can never make them mean it.
What Liberals call their Progressive Movement is built upon such wishful thinking. Perhaps you've noticed that Liberals don't want to be called liberals anymore − they insist on being called "progressives" now, like they did back in the days of Woodrow Wilson.
Liberal Progressivism is a dangerous mixture of our powers of abstraction, our need to create meaningful lives and our tendency to, at times, lack empathy.
A chronic lack of conscience is a very serious condition; it means that you are without a capacity for empathy, in the sense that a blind person is without vision or a deaf person is without hearing. It is a state of missing entirely this human capacity to care and have feelings for the condition of another human being.
This is what fundamentally diagnoses one as a psychopath. It is also a relatively rare condition, as a percentage of the population.
But every one of us has at one time or another experienced a lack of empathy. In fact, our awareness of the experiences of others ebbs and flows much as does our awareness of our own feelings. It comes and goes like your awareness of the clock ticking in the room, or what there is to be seen outside the window when you're focused elsewhere inside.
When you are thinking about somebody, or interacting with somebody, without holding the awareness that this is another human being with feelings and a world of their own, you are not having much empathy in that moment. Bring this awareness to mind, and under normal circumstances the empathy flows in.
There is nothing wrong with this ebb and flow of empathy; it's simply a matter of attention and focus. But by this example you can see how easy it could be for a person to lose sight of this under the right conditions.
Seeing the obvious hurt and hardship that can be brought about by a more severe and continuous lack of empathy is fairly straightforward. It's easy to see when a kid is bullied, or a mate is violent or cruel, or a criminal does physical harm or destroys or takes property. We can look at the horrors of history and judge a Stalin, a Hitler, a Khomeini or a Mao for their monstrous cruelty and ruthlessness.
But what's less obvious to many people is that this is not just a characteristic of some cold-hearted other person. It is a human trait and it is expressed in many different ways, running the range from fairly harmless and natural to truly terrible.
There is, however, another manifestation of a lack of empathy, which is: It is possible, and fairly common, for us to lose our sense of empathy for actual, living human beings, in the service of trying to make humanity better.
This is the great danger and harm from the Progressive movement. Our capacity for abstraction, coupled with our capacity to lose empathy for other human beings has lead to the greatest threat to our liberty and the greatest potential compromise in our individual practice of empathy toward real people.
Empathy is fundamentally an experience of one person toward another. It is a response of concrete, living, breathing caring for another human being. It is an emotion that is a function of relationship, not abstraction.
The Progressive Movement, on the other hand, is primarily an attempt to act on empathy in the abstract, in order to create a sense of meaning and purpose for the administrator of progressive programs and their supporters.
The Liberals' Progressive mission is to make people "better," to make society "better" and to use the full power of government to enact laws and social structures that will force people to behave in ways that mimic empathy.
But forcing people to do public service, or to cough up 50, 60, 70% of their income to give to government so that government can theoretically help others, or to speak only acceptable words − or regulating businesses to behave in idealized ways − has nothing to do with empathy. It is an attempt to apply a quality of personal relationship to an abstract ideal through bureaucratic directive − which means as it always does regarding government, at the point of a gun.
In a sense, it's cheating. It's the attempt to use the full force of government to leverage the effectiveness of one person or a few people to theoretically improve the lives of others, and to reward those who use this leverage with a sense of meaning, purpose, and greatness − for doing so very much for others.
But it doesn't work that way. We aren't made that way. We do not care or feel on command.
Think of a person who has affected you deeply in your life, in terms of understanding you, caring about you, and genuinely helping you to live a better life. I can almost guarantee that this was someone who you knew personally, with whom you had a relationship and whose effect on you was unique and special.
There's a magic to such relationships. It is the magic of genuine, concrete love and caring between two unique individuals. This is not something that can be replicated on demand, by force. It is something that arises as an organic process of relationship.
During the presidential campaign Obama was interviewed by Rick Warren. One of the things he said stuck with me, when asked what he thought was the greatest moral failure of America:
"I think America's greatest moral failure in my lifetime has been that we ... still don't abide by that ... basic precept in Matthew that: 'whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me.' And that notion of − that basic principle applies to poverty. It applies to racism and sexism. It applies to, you know, not ... thinking about providing ladders of opportunity for people to get into the middle class."
What a beautiful sentiment in that passage from Matthew; focusing on the importance of caring, compassion and tangible help, and the personal connection with Christ that it allows.
But Obama didn't mean what he said in the sense that he'd like to see people naturally do this more in their personal lives to grow their own spiritual connection. He meant it − and this is completely congruent with the liberal progressive mission − in the sense that government should use its full power to administer this human quality, to force it to happen materially and collectively. And he judges the relative absence of force to achieve such a vision as a moral failure of America.
This says volumes about this man, and the political and moral philosophy that he and his progressive movement lives by.
This is not love; it is not caring. The force used is in fact the kind of thing that drains the genuine love and caring from acts of charity and kindness that otherwise flow freely from the human heart. It takes a moral act and removes from it the uncertainty of human agency. It is as removed and disconnected from true caring as a rape is from true love.
Our kids do not learn love and caring from requiring them to do 16 hours of community service per year to graduate High School. They learn love and caring from their relationships. I am much more impressed and moved by my kid's spontaneous acts of generosity or compassion toward a friend or acquaintance than I am in their fulfillment of forced hours at the local food bank.
The government cannot force people to love, to care, to feel compassion for others. It can only force people to comply with certain behavior in the face of threats. This is as far from empathy and compassion as it gets.
The Progressives, both Democrat and Republican, are like George McWhirter Fotheringay: They think they can work miracles by forcing us to love, to act the way they think we should and to feel great personal satisfaction for having been relieved of our agency.
But they are not miracle workers with magic powers and we are not objects to be played with in pursuit of their noble vision. Compassion and empathy are not commodities to be leveraged and multiplied through force; they are a genuine and very personal expression of love, expressed from one unique individual to another.
Joel F. Wade, Ph.D. is the author of Mastering Happiness.
Posted by DwightMann on 03/25/12 09:41 AM
I forgot to add
Posted by DwightMann on 03/25/12 09:39 AM
I just think that real change comes from explicit consent from all the parties involved. A Republic guards every individuals right to choose. When the individuals agree upon a change it should then be implemented.
I agree that Ron Paul is a great candidate for POTUS. . .
A little biased I agree!
Posted by bewer on 03/24/12 07:28 PM
If the world continues with some freedoms, resulting in an eventual provision of all things materiel without a need for exchange (money) will humans THEN realize what is most important?
Posted by shakingfist on 03/24/12 06:55 PM
You have only done half the math Ted. Think about a state that is so powerful that it can impose all of it's prescriptions on others. And don't forget that the most ruthless and immoral are the ones who rise to the top in any bureaucratic system. In other words... shit floats.
Do you believe that democracy offers us the necessary safeguards to protect us against the occasional tyrant? Hmmm... wasn't Hitler elected? And if you can convince people that it is ok to ignore certain things like theft and murder, if done by the hands of the state in its quest to create a more perfect union, then the sky is the limit.
Posted by Jeanna on 03/24/12 02:41 PM
Excellent observations, Mr. Wade. Thank you!
Posted by Mr. Rogers on 03/24/12 02:35 PM
This piece I found to be taken not only as something of a political movement, but something that of a personal one as well. The commodities of compassion and empathy among people is lacking in this world we live in.
I agree this behavior isn't something that can be forced upon someone, but can be influenced by good intentions. People can see the difference I would think ?
Posted by NAPpy on 03/24/12 02:21 PM
This is a timely article, in my view. If you've come to accept that the Non-Aggression Principle is valid, as I have, you've probably thought--so what next?
You can try to influence the "system" from within, but I think Molyneux is right when he argues, why not try your experiment on a smaller target first? If it's possible to infiltrate a by nature aggressive institution and turn it into a beacon of brotherly love, why not try it on the mafia first? If it works on the mafia, then try government. The thought experiment is enough for me. I do not think infiltrating an aggressive institution will be an effective strategy.
So, here are some proposed strategies that I find promising:
Click to view link, the DB, and lots of other sites are available, once you know to ask the question; this is absolutely essential, but oh can it be frustrating waiting for people to start asking questions!
-Agorism--ignoring the state; if you have a good business idea, do it in the grey or black market; avoid or minimize taxes; withdraw consent in words and deeds to the maximum extent you can; if you're no businessman, what other strategy can you try?
-Peaceful Parenting--The state is not an aggressive institution. The state is in fact a gang of aggressive individuals hiding behind a label which provides an unearned sense of legitimacy. Where do aggressive people come from? To some extent, they are made. They are made first and foremost in the home, where the ability to question is beaten out of them with the oldies, but goodies, like "Shut up and do what I say", "My home, my rules", "Do it because I said so", "If you don't like it you can leave (to the 8 year old)", "Don't cry or I will give you something to cry about (after beating the hell out of a defenseless kid)". Who here can look back in fondness at these examples of parental affection? Yet the indoctrination doesn't stop in the family. We also have the pleasure of 12 years of "schooling" in buildings that, when I look back on them, look a lot like prisons. Proponents of peaceful parenting are not saying that people are blank slates, or mindless robots. They are saying that kids are disadvantaged by nature to HAVE to listen to the adults in their lives. Kids can choose, and some do, to walk away from the abuse and propaganda they were subjected to. Peaceful parenting proponents would argue that recovery of critical thinking skills in adulthood is not easy, so why do the abuse and propaganda in the first place?
The best description of the affect of abuse and propaganda on kids that I've found is in a series of videos called "The Bomb in The Brain" by Stefan Molyneux:
Click to view link
We are in a war of ideas. The war has two sides--liberty lovers and statists. Statists are winning, despite the best efforts of sites like the bell. In war, tactics matter, but numbers, if great enough, are even more important. Achieving a population who would be sickened at the thought of imposing their views on others at the point of a gun is a worthwhile strategy, and Peaceful Parenting is that strategy.
With the correct strategies, tactical importance can be leveraged. I think that two liberty authors have separately developed ideas that can implement and supplement the strategies of Education, Agorism and Peaceful Parenting. The first author is, again, Stefan Molyneux, who wrote a book called "Real Time Relationships" (RTR).
Click to view link
The concept behind this book is that the idea of liberty has been around in its strongest, philosophic form, since Gustave Molinari in the 1840's, yet growth of the idea is slow. One reason behind the slow growth is that just having the idea is not enough, you have to be able to COMMUNICATE it. Have you ever tried to speak to a statist, using an argument that you know is logically valid, and have it deteriorate into useless ad hominems and rhetoric? RTR teaches that our culture can be called a dominance culture, and therefore our language has evolved to be a dominance language. You can try your best to communicate the idea of live and let live, but the way we speak to each other inevitably results in provoking the defense mechanisms of other people. Honesty in communicating our feelings is the first step in getting past those defenses, recommended by Molyneux. I think this idea of learning how to express our feelings is a start, but the most helpful part of the book is the elaboration of how our culture influences how we think and act.
Another author, Marshall Rosenburg, has developed separately a concept called Non-Violent Communication (NVC), which I think perfects the importance of communicating feelings elaborated by Molyneux:
Click to view link
Rosenburg, unfortunately, isn't enlightened enough to denounce IP, so you'll have to buy his book and workbook! I just bought them myself, so take by summary with a grain of salt. In general, if you want to be effective when communicating with other people, some modes of communication are ineffective (triggering emotional reactions and defense mechanisms), while others are more effective. Rosenberg recommends something like the following as an effective mode of communication:
2. A description of what you are feeling
3. A description of what you are needing
4. A clear description (and request) of what you'd like from the other person
I know. My jock, men don't cry self, winced even writing down this system. The reason I CAN write this down is brutal honesty--most of my communication attempts at controversial subjects deteriorate into mutual name-calling. In short, what I'm doing doesn't work. Empirically, I've never met anyone who can do it better, or I would have copied them. So, I gave this concept a try, and think you'd receive value in trying it yourself.
Posted by tjdetmers on 03/24/12 02:03 PM
Great article. I believe it was Margaret Thatcher who said socialism was great... .until you run out of other people's money. Jesus maxim to us is that we are to love our brother as we love ourselves. He acknowldges our self love and does not condemn it... ..but rather challenges us to love our neighbor with the same intensity. That is something we can only do on a personal level... .much like some else cannot eat for you... ..or lose weight for you... .or even excercise for you. The government can implement a tax regime and program that strongly encourages excercise... .but until you actually start physically excercising... ... nothing happens. I am afraid that the reality that we are spoonfed by the media and the goverment is just a mirage. Government welfare and foreign aid etc. are all founded upon foundations that cannot stand the light of day. As hopeless as this sounds... ..there is no one standing between us and showing love and care on a personal level. You do not need anyone's permission to be friendly... or to "pay it forward"
Thank you for the article.
Posted by seer on 03/24/12 12:44 PM
But they are not miracle workers with magic powers and we are not objects to be played with in pursuit of their noble vision. Compassion and empathy are not commodities to be leveraged and multiplied through force; they are a genuine and very personal expression of love, expressed from one unique individual to another. Bill Glasser might just disagree.
Posted by Ted Newsom on 03/24/12 11:53 AM
Alas, such a nice reference to an undeservedly obscure sci-fi fantasy movie is corrupted into an anti-progressive screed.
As much as the odd logic may be true, the flip side of it is equally ominous. You may not be able to legislate brotherly love, but you most assuredly can systemitize brotherly hate. It is extremely useful for rallying the unthinking populace, and that is where the Nazi use of it comes in-- as well as the coded or obvious uses of "blaming the Other" we see in every arch-conservative/reactionary movement, including the current GOP.
Dehumanizing those "other people" into steroetypes gives us the emotional right to disregard their humanity. They're not like us: they're beaners and wetbacks... they're Nigras, crack hos, shiftless layabouts... they're towelheads who worship sand and want to impose their will on us... they're Poor People who want to steal your money... and yes, they're Libruhls who want to transform us all into obiedent Khruschev-era zombie drones.
Ask yourself what is better: striving to "form a more perfect Union"-- via legislation, education and dispersal of fact-- to create a society which realizes the unique value of the individual (with the downside being-- good heavens-- you are trying to legislate irrational hate away)
... or using the same social tools to clot a ruling elite with an aggressively fear-filled populace backing it?
Neither are 100% acceptable, but I'd opt for the former.
Posted by R on 03/24/12 11:38 AM
One of your best pieces!
When you state that Socialist Liberal Progressives are attempting to make people "better" or society "better" you make use of quotation marks; I assume this means you acknowledge that "progressives" hide behind these words to mask their real intention which is Power and Control via corruption of the most hideous kind. Your piece is equally applicable to the Weimar Republic, rise of the Third Reich and other similar "movements" that were engaged in "improvement".
This can all be summed up in one eloquent formula:
Liberalism (Socialist Progressives) = Political Correctness (Control via false guilt) = Thought Police = TYRANNY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Posted by rossbcan on 03/24/12 10:57 AM
"to achieve perfection"
as an engineer, I KNOW, and, as proven by history, perfection can only be achieved by incremental gain. Absolutely nothing is achieved without incremental effort, whether it be tyrants meddling to achieve a "better" (for them) world, or, those who would be free, blowbacking, insuring that "crime does not pay".
Posted by jwade on 03/24/12 10:22 AM
Yes, but degree matters. We do not need to live in a perfectly free society in order to live in a society that is more free. I would much prefer to live in a society that is more free than aa society that is less free. The inability to achieve perfection is no reason to give up.
Posted by Libertarian Jerry on 03/24/12 08:59 AM
Progressive philosophy(Socialism)is based on the premise that the Progressive world view is superior to all other world views and therefor must be forced upon people to improve their world. Sort of like certain Christian Missionaries believed and practiced in the Third World colonial era of the Nineteenth Century. What anyone else believes as a world view doesn't count. Therefore,if I don't want to file or pay the Progressive's view of a "fair share" income tax or if I don't want to obey the Progressive's view of a "politically correct" affirmative action law then something distasteful and wicked will happen to my person. This is why Progressive(Socialist)philosophy belongs in the gutter. Mainly because that philosophy is based on the assumptions and presumptions of megalomaniacs who believe in violence to achieve their ends. And the ends theses Progressives wish to achieve? Power.
Posted by rossbcan on 03/24/12 07:15 AM
JW: "The Liberals' Progressive mission is to make people "better," to make society "better" and to use the full power of government to enact laws and social structures that will force people to behave in ways that mimic empathy."
A pretext, of course. Every statist front line, "boots on the ground" psychiatrist, social worker, judge who attempts to "help", since they are too self interested (as all human beings must be, to survive) must do it by stealing the resources of others, either by taxes or, if litigation, stealing from those decreed "more advantaged".
The "progressive" argument, from the perspective of the productive resolves to: the property that you have exchanged your time and energy (life) for is evidence of your greed and, should you be antisocial, refusing to "share", well, we will just take what we want. In other words, you are evil, to be smited if you refuse servitude. If you refuse to be a slave, we will smite you, for alleged "greater good".
That is the perspective of the productive. Being so constitutes a survival risk from thieving arbitrary power, directly proportional to productivity and siezable property. You are punished for contributing to civilization and general prosperity. The sticks are against the productive, an evolutionary force discouraging productivity.
What about the perspective of the "helped"? They are rewarded according to the appearance of "need" they can project and whine for. We cannot read their minds, so, it is impossible to prove whether one is just an irresponsible slacker, by choice or, truly disadvantaged, especially if "help" is unconditional, as opposed to a performance based "hand up". If they are successful at whining, they are rewarded for unproductivity. The carrots favor the unproductive, at least so long as social / economic resources exist.
What abour the perspectives of the "helpers"? (advocates). What's in it for them? The front line workers are well aware that rewarding the behavior you are attempting to change for the "better" just encourages more of the same. And yet, their very career investments and "jobs" demands "pretending to help", when, clearly, they cannot. So, they just take their "tax eater" salaries and accomplish negative value by putting bandaids on hemorrages that they and their "help" have and continue to create.
People ADAPT away from the sticks and towards the carrots in their environments. Self-interested arbitrary power (funded by income tax theft) wields the sticks and parcels out the carrots. What's in it for them, if not MORE POWER, their primary addiction? They have been adapting also:
Click to view link
Where did such stupid, antisocial, civilization (the rules by which we peacefully cooperate for MUTUAL self-interest) destroying "ideas" come from, if not from insane sociopaths?
The Nazis opined that the Jews and others deemed "social undesirables" were a collective survival threat to the "right thinking" majority of "pure" Germans. The final solution was to decree some people "subhuman", such that they could be effectively "dealt with". Nazi judges were hung by the neck until dead for this basic violation of the "all human beings are to be judged equally, in terms of measurable rights and responsibilities by law", according to the "rule of law".
Morally aware mankind was and is still appalled at the Nazis. What about morally unaware, sociapathic mankind? What did the Nazis mean to them? THEY saw the incredible amount of political / economic power that could be achieved by demonizing groups and terrorizing dissenters. They saw that they could never be as "successful" as the Nazis in getting public "buy in" to preying on groups. Eventually, disguist would become so great that corrupt law would eventually be forced to use the Nuremburg Laws, for their survival. And yet, psychopaths still lust after the power and social control the Nazis achieved. Oh, what to do, how to achieve their manifest destiny as rulers (master predators)? Since groups can no longer be demonized for long and inhuman Martians are wily, leaving no evidence of their invasion, Plan B called for.
Eureka! Why not claim to be helping? This still requires us to steal resources and achieves the social conflict (rule by divide and conquor) required to make us appear "neccessary". All we have to do is to bribe /extort the legal "profession", politicians and judiciary to assist in rationalizing that it is "neccessary" for inequality under law. In other words: "all human beings are NOT to be judged equally, in terms of measurable rights and responsibilities by law", according to the "rule of law".
Until we personally and collectively insist that the "rule of law" be respected by our "public servants", we remain firmly on the path to destruction of civilization:
Click to view link
Posted by Joe on 03/24/12 06:14 AM
I like the idea that no one must force any other to do anything, not government, not one individual, not a majority. However in reality is it really possible to live in a society where this is possible? I doubt it. We will always get people who collectively will want to impose their way onto other non comformists, it is the way it is.