Let it Bleed

Compassion isn’t a problem, writes Gerard Henderson

Compassionate_Conservatism.jpg

Click onto the Centre for Independent Studies web site and you’ll find a prominent advertisement for Patrick West’s book Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind. West argues that public displays of empathy and caring prevent people from acting compassionately.

Gerard Henderson isn’t convinced. While West argues that many people in countries like Australia and Britain are more interested at public displays of compassion than in doing anything constructive, Henderson points out:

…the evidence of the world’s most recent disaster indicates that citizens of the West have been personally generous in support of a good cause and have backed their governments spending their money on their behalf.

Right wing think tanks do little else besides making public displays of their moral and political views. If it isn’t the Centre for Independent Studies’ Lucy Sullivan lecturing the poor on personal responsibility, it’s the Institute of Public Affairs’ Don D’Cruz calling for more government regulation of charities.

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yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

I have no objection to right wing think tankers displaying their moral and political views in the privacy of their own homes, but do they have to flaunt them in public?

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

I guess I’ll have to read West at some point. I couldn’t make hide nor hair of the op/ed piece in the Australian purporting to explain the debate to me. Unless he’s on about “don’t let the left hand…”, it seems to be:

(a) just another boring entry in the cultural wars – ie don’t say sorry to Indigenous people because it’s conspicuous compassion (if so, so what?)

(b) an excuse for shrinking the state on one hand and discouraging anything effective in welfare or foreign aid while pretending to encourage philanthropy.

Maybe I’m being overly cynical. At this stage, I’m firmly in Hendo’s camp. Perhaps Andrew Norton will pop over to persuade us at some point…

In the meantime, can anyone explain simply the logic behind Mr West’s argument?

Scott Wickstein
2022 years ago

“Right wing think tanks do little else besides making public displays of their moral and political views.”

Errr, yeah.. thats what think tanks do. What do you think they do at the Evatt Foundation?

It doesn’t mean they are correct- usually the reverse, in fact, but if it looks like a dog, barks like a dog etc…

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

well, scott beat me to it. will someone please explain what don’s statement of the obvious, even tautological (when the sentence is properly parsed) does for his argument?
as for patrick west, well i’m not going to defend him. i think he stumbled on a few good rhetorical skewers about public chest-beating but made the mistake of trying to expand it into a grand thesis

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

If it helps, yellowvinyl, just think of think tanks (all of ’em, right, left and lukewarm) as the opposite of septic tanks.

Their job is to take the gases, smells and fertiliser deposited and fermented up inside and pump it back into the political, media, academic and corporate plumbing of the civil body.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

I’ll be haunted by Don’s picture till the day I die!

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Scott and Jason, I think Don is being ironic.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

It is haunting, Chris – Saint Gerry of the Caring Commentariat?

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

He looks very ascetic and/or monastic…

Sedgwick
2022 years ago

cs, if that image is burned into your mind, there’s no way that anyone could find reasons to talk you down. Jump now.

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
2022 years ago

As I said in my original post on conspicuous compassion (http://badanalysis.com/catallaxy/index.php?p=443#more-443) I don’t think West has the argument quite right. But he certainly wasn’t arguing against things like the current tsunami appeals – in fact action to assist those in need was what he was in favour of, rather than what he regarded as empty statements of ‘compassionate’ feeling.

blank
blank
2022 years ago

I must be a Right Wing Death Beast. As soon as I read about Conspicuous Compassion, I thought of the excoriation of the Pharisees by Jesus.

“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them”

harry
harry
2022 years ago

I think that West is right about the emotional outpourings such as Lady Di’s funeral, but he is drawing a long bow to link that with Sorry marches and the like. The two are worlds apart.
Sorry marches are a protest. Lady Di’s funeral wasn’t a protest.

Hendo quotes West’s line of “ritual is the trademark of dictatorships”. Umm, ritual is the trademark of civilisation.
Sounds like nihilism has run amok in West’s brain.

blank wrote: “I believe that the greater number of such marchers don’t give a toss about “sorry”, they want to shove it up “little Johnny” while parading their moral superiority.”
So, in effect the sorry march is, for many , a defacto protest march. That is true – it was almost as if ‘Sorry’ was a banner around which others gathered.
Knowing how hard it is to get Australian’s out on the streets in protest, I’m not surprised that marches are multi-platform.

The anti-Gulf-War-2 march was, in effect, a protest against anti-US unilateralism and the sidelining of the UN. The runup to the war was a banner that brought all these issues together.

harry
harry
2022 years ago

Sorry.
The last line should read “The anti-Gulf-War-2 march was, in effect, a protest against US unilateralism and the sidelining of the UN…”

not “anti-US unilateralism

nick paul
nick paul
2022 years ago

“I’m not surprised that marches are multi-platform.”

I’d go on to suggest that this is due to there being multiple, though not necessarily exclusive, causes of any given issue being protested.

different folk, different ideas of the cause.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Thanks, Andrew. I’ll read your post when I have a chance.

Polly
Polly
2022 years ago

I thought West was trying to say that some were being “compassionate” simply to be seen as such ie it is not for the benefit of those to whom compassion is being shown but for their own benefit.
eg the “ribbons” that must be worn for whatever the cause of the week is – it isn’t enough to support the charity but you must also wear the ribbon so everyone knows you have.