I have tended to like NYTimes conservative Ross Douthat, not just because he isn't Bill Kristol, but because he strikes me as a tragic figure -- a lone intellectual, trying in vain to justify the philosophies and the ideologies of a GOP that frankly hates intellectuals like Ross Douthat.
However, Douthat has an post up in response to a study stating that Generation Y-ers have less empathy than previous generations, just gets my gall up:
On the face of it, these seem like contradictory portraits — how can the same generation be more solipsistic and more interested in human betterment and ambitious social activism? But maybe they actually go hand in hand. There’s a kind of humanitarianism that’s more interested in an abstract “humanity” than in actual people, and a kind of idealism that’s hard to distinguish from moral vanity. Perhaps this is the spirit that’s at work among the empathy-deficient world-changers of Generation Y — visible, for instance, in the way that community service has become a self-interested resume-padding exercise for ambitious young climbers, or in the way that Barack Obama’s rhetoric (“we are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” etc.) managed to appeal to younger voters’ idealism and flatter their egos all at once.
There are, of course, a multiplicity of explanations that could be reached to untangle this "contradictory portrait." For instance, looking at the actual survey, it is simply possible that Generation Y has a different way of responding to questions about empathy? After all, we're in an environment where appeals to our pity and good-meaning-ness are increasingly frantic -- call it the GiveWell hypothesis; we're aware that our emotions are not the best vehicle for doing good.
Anyways, Ross Douthat's contention that we are in love with "the people" but not particular people is completely backwards given the actual nature of the survey. The survey asks about "the less fortunate" and "someone" and "them" but it doesn't actually provide empathetic scenarios and ask for action.
In a way, it would be nice for Douthat to imagine a world where the youth lack empathy. Because that means later on, when they lose their concern for the strawman of "the people," they'll become Conservatives. Because isn't that what economic and social conservatism is -- a lack of empathy for people outside of the norm?
After all, we know what the rest of conservatives think of empathy these days:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Back in Black - Glenn Beck's Nazi Tourette's|
At the end of the day, why would you privilege a questionnaire over an analysis of actions and impact?