Overanalyzing Kindness

Overanalyzing Kindness

Since the election many of my liberal friends seem to have overcome their compulsion to lecture me on what a horrible human being Donald J. Trump is, was, and ever will be, and to recite a litany of ways in which he had ruined our country, perhaps beyond repair. My first interpretation of this change in behavior was that my liberal friends were being gracious winners. “How kind of them,” I thought.

Then came the inauguration, following which President Biden displayed such skill in signing executive orders that I feared he might develop carpal tunnel syndrome. Many of those executive orders were as troubling to many Democrats as they were to most Republicans, and that fact made me wonder about my liberal friends’ silence. Perhaps they aren’t being gracious, I thought, but just feeling voters’ remorse.

Then a few days ago the Los Angeles Times published an opinion piece that made clear that some Democrats—God alone knows how many—are feeling neither graciousness or remorse. Moreover, they are anything but silent! The Times author was moved to write about her “Trumpite” neighbors’ behavior. They had actually—gasp!—removed the snow from her driveway! And that act moved her to suspicion and intense speculation.

She acknowledged that she “owed them thanks,” but exactly what kind of thanks she was at a loss to say. She wondered whether they had really cleared the snow “for free.” Then she recalled that Hezbollah, “also gives things away for free . . . but like other mafias . . . [also] demand[s] devotion to their . . . anti-Sunni cause.” She added that Louis Farrakhan behaves similarly.

Next she realized that her neighbors’ kindness might make her feel—gasp again—“overwhelmed with gratitude and convinced of [their] inherent goodness.” That possibility seemed to make her nervous—she remembered a French family who once told her they had been happy during the Nazi occupation simply because the Nazis had been “polite” to them. And that memory intensified her nervousness.

She wondered whether she should be as happy with her “Trumpite” neighbors as that French family were toward the Nazis, but decided that she couldn’t because her neighbors “supported a man who showed near-murderous contempt for the majority of Americans. They kept him in business with their support.” She then added that “free driveway work, as nice as it is, is just not the same currency as justice and truth.”

The author concluded that if those neighbors wanted to make amends, they [would] have to do something more meaningful than shoveling her driveway, something like “recognizing the truth about the Trump administration and, more important, by working for justice for all those whom the administration harmed.”

The Times story has been all over the internet and the reaction of many people was disgust that someone would take offense at what was obviously a simple act of neighborliness. I agree with that sentiment, but my interest does not end there. I believe the story reveals more than the author’s lack of appreciation.

The author, after all,  is not a schoolgirl but a fifty-year old who graduated summa cum laude from the University of Virginia and earned a Master’s degree and a Ph.D from Harvard. One could reasonably expect that a mature honor graduate of two of the best schools in the country, and perhaps the world, would display greater cognitive discipline and a firmer grasp of logic. Let me be more specific:

One might expect her to have avoided non-sequiturs (statements or connections that do not follow from what preceded). Her references to Hezbollah, Farrakhan, and the French family have no earthly connection to her neighbors’ snow removal and are therefore non-sequiturs.

One might expect her to have resisted the fallacy of overstatement in describing Trump as “a man who showed near-murderous contempt for the majority of Americans.”

One might expect her to have recalled the axiom res ipsit loquitur (“the thing speaks for itself”), then decided that the neighbors’ shoveling of her snow was the good deed it appeared to be, and simply thanked them for their kindness.

The larger question is, what could possibly have caused an intelligent, highly educated person to react so bizarrely to an act of kindness by torturing logic and then deciding to publish her errors? I discussed one cause of such lapses in my essay on Trump Derangement Syndrome, and another in “American Culture’s Unholy Trinity.”

A third, in some ways more dangerous, cause is higher education’s focus on propagandizing students rather than guiding them to think critically and exercise intellectual self-control. I am not absolving the author of responsibility for what she wrote. I am instead lamenting that she and many other college graduates, even those with advanced degrees, seem to have been denied meaningful cognitive instruction. And I am deeply troubled that many people who lack that instruction increasingly seem to be holding responsible positions, not just in journalism, but also in higher education, government, and other professions.

Copyright © 2021 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved

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Vincent Ryan Ruggiero