A STRANGE ECSTASY OF CARING
1st December, 2020
Caring and nurturing are generally a means to an end. For example, a mother’s (and, of course, a father’s) caring for her children is designed to produce the health, confidence and vigour in them which best suit them to enjoy life’s adventures to the full. The caring of a doctor or a nurse is designed to restore that same health and vigour to those who have lost it with exactly the same end in sight (caring for the chronically sick and dying is a simple sign of human respect for them). Caring is not an end in itself though. The true end of life is the pursuit of and rejoicing in things like health, sport, artistic creation, sexual relation, love, friendship, family, commercial enterprise, adventure and excitement. In other words the things that make it pleasurable, worthwhile and meaningful.
And yet, in our time, we find that caring, and, what’s more, competitive caring, has curiously become an end in itself and one which now informs politics. It has been thus established because the left liberal press and the Labour Party have made an interesting discovery. They have realised that, by wielding the semblance of always caring more and daring others to care less, they can blackmail the government into being always only a hairsbreadth away from a fresh U-turn. There is power in competitive caring.
This mechanism being in place we have recently seen strange things happening. When Boris Johnson produced a localised three tier Covid lockdown Wales went one better with a national lockdown and Scotland produced a five tier method. In both cases, one suspects, the aim was to reflect badly on the heartless, English, Tory Boris by making him look bad in the compassion Olympics. Step forward then Marcus Rashford. Not content with the Conservative government bankrupting the country and putting billions of extra pounds into Universal Credit and furlough schemes the pundits and the Labour Party dare Boris not to ‘nationalise children‘ too at his request. Incidentally, one can’t help thinking that the sad story of Rashford’s impoverished childhood and the fact that he is black meant that he could be used more effectively by his manipulators. Who would dare challenge that panoply of victimhood? I’m not sure that Rashford would be aware of how he has been used himself.
Such compassion Top Trumps can thus be cynically used at will to dare-a-Tory to refuse any quasi-socialist claims it makes on pain of being branded a callous brute of Dickensian portions or, even worse, a member of ‘The Nasty Party’. See for example the way it is always held up that such and such a Tory MP voted against a pay rise for nurses or Rashford’s request that some parents are relinquished from the duty of feeding their children in the school holidays. The result is a skewered, helpless government dancing to the tune of a Premiership footballer who earns over £10 million per annum.
All of this blackmailing power and the bullying and manipulation that go with it are possible because caring is a wellspring of emotion and, in our time, sentimentalism is king. Of course, as Theodore Dalrymple pointed out in his book - Spoilt Rotten - The Toxic Cult of Sentimentality - is no more than the other side of the coin of brutality. This probably also goes a long way to explaining why the NHS has long been the ‘national religion’ as Nigel Lawson had it or why some believe the whole country is in danger of becoming part of one massive extended hospital. No one dares to challenge this trajectory.
Thus, mumsy, matronly caring and ‘compassion’ now drive the political bus. This means that a reversal has been effected in politics. In Hamlet the Prince says :
“.................Blessed are those
Whose blood and judgement are so well commingled,
That they are not a pipe for fortune’s finger
To sound what stop she please. Give me that man
That is not passion‘s slave, and I will wear him
In my heart’s core,......”
This reminds us that we used to prize statesmen who, in making large-scale decisions affecting millions, had emotion in check to reason, who could act clear-headedly for the benefit of most and, once such a rational decision had been made, stick to it. They weren’t heartless but their heads were firmly ensconced as rulers of their hearts. Now the left liberal press and the Labour Party have only to play the right register of notes on the organ of emotion and the government is helpless. There is no policy that can’t be reversed by producing the weeping relative of one single dead Covid patient or the single mother of a primary school child. Instant emotion wheeled out at the drop of a hat by, say, the BBC, now rules everything. The 6 o’clock News often seems nothing more than a parade of sob stories where anyone in authority connected to them is to blame.
Many, especially libertarians, think lockdown policies are evidence of a sinister creeping Stalinism. In essence, though, I think this is wrong. These policies have the superficial attributes of Stalinism but they are not informed by the organised, class-overturning, history-culminating spirit of a grand project. What is really happening is that we are witnessing a further example of how a passive-aggressive left has stumbled across a means of simultaneously discharging its pent up aggression against its opponents by punishing them and manipulating them at every turn. It’s a vengeful exercise in spite by weak people who form a peculiar alliance with the suffering against the strong and vigorous. Nietzsche would have called it ressentiment. The whole country is being controlled just as someone with Munchausen’s syndrome by Proxy controls medical practitioners and members of their family by threatening them with appearing callous.