For the Expressive Individualist, Other People Are Just a Means to Self-Fulfilment

Surveying 25 years of Carolyn Hax’s tenure as the Washington Post’s advice columnist, Devorah Goldman considers the ethical underpinnings of her supposed wisdom. She takes as an “archetypal example” the case of a woman who finds bringing her children to visit their estranged father’s mother a tiresome chore:

Hax consistently communicates a worldview in which no one owes much of anything to anyone, except in the most transactional way. (The sole exception seems to be the duty of parents toward minor children). . . . There is no suggestion that visiting an ailing grandparent is a self-evident good: a chance to exercise compassion or to gain insight into family history, or simply to show respect and gratitude. If visiting grandma does not provide an obvious and immediate “benefit,” well then, there is no need to see her anymore.

Goldman sees in such responses a manifestation of what Robert Bellah and other sociologists dubbed “expressive individualism,” which in Hax’s hands results in all human relationships being subject to cost-benefit analysis:

Even familial bonds take on a conditional quality, resulting in adults who believe that visiting elderly relatives is worthwhile only if it “feels good” and is not “boring;” or at the very least that such visits should provide some kind of concrete insurance. Kindness and loyalty are fine choices, but they are not necessary. Self-sacrifice becomes less a moral imperative than an option; it loses its heroic sheen. This leaves us with a sensible but desiccated view. Ironically, the expressivists promised a world in which moral conventions could be cast off in favor of something more beautiful, purposeful, passionate, and true.

There are alternatives, to which Bellah nods when he sketches the influence of biblical religion in American life or points to Tocqueville’s public-spirited New England townships. It’s hard to enunciate a moral system in the West without reference to the Bible’s straightforward directive in Deuteronomy: “do that which is right and good.” The idea of doing good or being good, rather than being kind or cooperative or communicative, sounds almost anachronistic. There’s something unseemly about suggesting that people simply strive for goodness; it falls outside the therapeutic vocabulary. And goodness entails a host of innate obligations to others, including one’s elders.

Read more at Public Discourse

More about: Jewish ethics, Morality, Secularism


Universities Are in Thrall to a Constituency That Sees Israel as an Affront to Its Identity

Commenting on the hearings of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday about anti-Semitism on college campuses, and the dismaying testimony of three university presidents, Jonah Goldberg writes:

If some retrograde poltroon called for lynching black people or, heck, if they simply used the wrong adjective to describe black people, the all-seeing panopticon would spot it and deploy whatever resources were required to deal with the problem. If the spark of intolerance flickered even for a moment and offended the transgendered, the Muslim, the neurodivergent, or whomever, the fire-suppression systems would rain down the retardant foams of justice and enlightenment. But calls for liquidating the Jews? Those reside outside the sensory spectrum of the system.

It’s ironic that the term colorblind is “problematic” for these institutions such that the monitoring systems will spot any hint of it, in or out of the classroom (or admissions!). But actual intolerance for Jews is lathered with a kind of stealth paint that renders the same systems Jew-blind.

I can understand the predicament. The receptors on the Islamophobia sensors have been set to 11 for so long, a constituency has built up around it. This constituency—which is multi-ethnic, non-denominational, and well entrenched among students, administrators, and faculty alike—sees Israel and the non-Israeli Jews who tolerate its existence as an affront to their worldview and Muslim “identity.” . . . Blaming the Jews for all manner of evils, including the shortcomings of the people who scapegoat Jews, is protected because, at minimum, it’s a “personal truth,” and for some just the plain truth. But taking offense at such things is evidence of a mulish inability to understand the “context.”

Shocking as all that is, Goldberg goes on to argue, the anti-Semitism is merely a “symptom” of the insidious ideology that has taken over much of the universities as well as an important segment of the hard left. And Jews make the easiest targets.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, University