Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Jesus thinks Nicholas Kristof is full of crap

The esteemed New York Times newspaper has an esteemed Op-Ed columnist named Nicholas Kristof, with whom I’ve occasionally agreed.  In the wake of the latest healthcare battle, he wrote a satirical article imagining a conversation between Paul Ryan and Jesus Christ, which you can read here.  It is, in a sentence, among the most mind-numbing drivel I have ever had the displeasure to read.  It has since gone viral, however, and several otherwise intelligent friends have shared it on my timeline, so I suppose it now warrants addressing with more than just a sentence.

It is precious little exaggeration to say that Kristof’s 900 words encapsulate literally everything wrong with the modern political left.  Sanctimonious virtue-signaling?  Check.  Refusing to sincerely engage with the other side, in favor of snide insider condescension?  Check.  Stubborn, head-in-the-sand economic illiteracy?  Check.  And of course, a shocking ignorance of just what it is the other side actually believes or why, resulting in the most textbook of straw-man logical fallacies? Yeah, that especially.

I also oppose the American Healthcare Act, and don’t agree with a lot of things Paul Ryan believes.  The trouble is, none of the things Paul Ryan believes were discussed in this article, because everything Ryan was made to say in his hypothetical dialogue with Jesus was a deliberately inaccurate representation of his viewpoints.  Nor would it fairly represent the views of even the least intelligent conservatives I know.

Once more, for the people in the back: nobody in Congress believes that healing sick poor people teaches dependency.  Nobody believes that poor people don’t need healthcare access because they can just pray for a cure.  Nobody opposes Good Samaritans helping the downtrodden, and nobody thinks that’s what socialism is (at least, nobody on the political right).  Nobody thinks talented doctors should only serve the rich, nor that they should only serve to get rich themselves.  And exactly zero people in recorded human history have ever said anything remotely akin to the sentence “the best way to help the needy is to give public money to the rich.”  Every line in Kristof’s article is an absurd caricature of what the left likes to imagine their opponents believe, a comfortingly evil boogeyman that’s so much easier to grapple with than our actual arguments.

Articles like these bring into sharp relief the intensity of the left’s delusions about how much nobler they are than conservatives.  I hope (and, dare I say, pray) there remain a handful of fair-minded, very quiet liberals who read Kristof’s piece and silently thought to themselves that it was a bit of a low-blow.  Surely they’re out there somewhere.  Maybe a few of them even said something about it.  But if they did, they were completely inaudible beneath the millions of people who read that article expectantly, nodded along with every self-satisfied quip, and then raced to put it on Twitter and Facebook to prove what good people they are.  They really do think that’s what we think!

The brilliant gimmick of the progressive left has been to market their conception of charity with appeal our basest vanities.  From healthcare to welfare to the environment to gun control, they have created an entire industry around affirming people’s idealized conception of their own moral superiority.  They sell us excuses to showcase our selflessness; opportunities to humblebrag, which social media places in very high demand.  They employ people like Nicholas Kristof, whose sole job is to periodically remind the learned left that they are – quite literally in this case – holier than thou.  And it’s all performative.  It’s all egoism masquerading as empathy, guilt dressed up as the moral authority to wield violence on other people.

Unfortunately for me, this is a wildly successful tactic for manipulating human nature towards your political ends.  Unfortunately for them, it is no substitute for an actual argument. Libertarian entertainer Penn Jillette made an actual argument when he made clear the distinction between charity and state redistribution:

“It’s amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the government give poor people money is compassion.  Helping poor and suffering people yourself is compassion.  Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral self-righteous bullying laziness.  People need to be fed, medicated, educated, clothed, and sheltered.  If we’re compassionate, we’ll help them – but you get no moral credit for forcing other people to do what you think is right.  There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at gunpoint.”

Voting to compel other people to help the downtrodden involves no selflessness, only animus towards people with different moral priorities than you.

I haven’t given any money to help sick Americans this year, but I have bought over 1000 mosquito nets for communities in Africa at risk for malaria (you can too, here).  I chose that particular charitable expenditure, among others, because I researched the hell out of it, and discovered that philanthropy experts believe malaria nets are among the most cost-effective strategies for saving lives in the developing world that would otherwise be claimed by disease.  The nets I funded could save dozens of lives, whereas the same money poured into a healthcare system as inefficient and overpriced as ours would only pay for a tiny fraction of a single elective surgery.  With that said, I did also pay for several low-cost, high-impact surgeries for desperately poor people in third-world countries, fixing things like cleft palates or cataract-caused-blindness that can drastically improve someone’s life for just a couple hundred dollars (you can too, here).

That’s not to say you’re obligated to follow in my footsteps.  Maybe you care more about funding disaster relief efforts, or the local homeless shelter or soup kitchen, or Animal Rights groups.  There are thousands of charities to choose from, and reasonable people can disagree about the most morally compelling ways to help our fellow man. 

All I’m saying is that if your preferred method is filtering that money through a bloated, corrupt federal bureaucracy, which shaves off some 30% to go bomb people in faraway countries, on the grounds that some of it will eventually trickle down to help people with pre-existing medical conditions, you sure as fuck don’t get the moral high ground to demand other people follow suit at gunpoint.

That’s certainly not how Jesus went about the business of helping the poor, so in the spirit of self-certain preachiness, it’s worth mentioning that God agrees with me.  See 2 Corinthians 9:7, which reads “each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  So there.  See how easy it is to selectively hyperlink Scripture? 

Another snippet that stuck with me from Big J.C.’s Book of Quotable Catchphrases™ was “love thine enemies” (Matthew 5:44).  Demonizing your enemies by deliberately arguing in bad faith so you can get pageviews and sell newspapers is not the Christian way to do that.  Another was “thou shalt not steal,” which from our viewpoint precludes taxation outright.  Another was “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” which to be honest I personally don’t pay much attention to, but would nevertheless preclude you from substituting your contentious modern political opinions for the literal Word of God in a made-up conversation with Jesus.

I could go on, but you get the point.  There are hundreds of ways to interpret the Bible’s implications for governance.  Responsible stewards of the public discourse recognize this, and do their opponents the credit of engaging with those alternative interpretations instead of just bypassing them and pretending the Christian position were self-evident.  Kristof’s article was cheap and self-indulgent.  If you shared it, you should take it down.

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