Part 2—Extremely revealing behaviors: In our view, Nicholas Kristof’s recent column was extremely revealing.
(The column appeared on Sunday, January 25. To read it, just click this.)
Let’s be clear. The column wasn’t extremely revealing about Kevin Green, Kristof’s friend from high school who recently died at age 54. The column wasn’t dispositive about the various problems Green faced in his adult life.
In his subsequent, January 29 column, Kristof described Green as “a warm and helpful man who floundered in a tough job market, hurt his back and died at the age of 54.”
That said, neither column offered any suggestions about ways we might improve the job market in rural places like Kamhill, Oregon, Kristof’s home town, which is—just for the record—just 35 miles from Portland.
The column didn’t nail down the nature of Green’s back injury, or the extent to which the injury kept him from the job market. At one point, Clayton Green is even said to have said that his brother’s monthly disability payments “hurt him because he might have looked harder for a job if he hadn’t been getting those checks.”
This suggests that there may have been jobs which Kevin Green actually could have pursued. But none of this really gets explained in Kristof’s peculiar column.
In the end, Kristof’s column wasn’t hugely revealing about the reasons for his late friend’s difficult adult life. The column doesn’t really explain how his friend ended up dying prematurely, with legal problems, in an apparent state of poverty or near-poverty.
Nor did the column really explain the financial condition at issue. With whom did Kevin Green live? How had he been able to retain the family farm, where he fished and maintained a “huge vegetable garden?”
None of these points are really explained, because the true state of his late friend’s life simply wasn’t the actual focus of Kristof’s remarkable column.
Kristof’s actual focus was different. We find his focus extremely revealing.
Kristof’s actual focus was the meanness of the American people, or at least of a great many of these unpleasant people. Kristof seems remarkably sure of himself as he describes the moral failure of what seems to be millions of people.
Once again, this is the remarkable way Kristof started his column, under a Yamhill byline:
KRISTOF (2/3/15): The funeral for my high school buddy Kevin Green is Saturday, near this town where we both grew up.We think that passage is remarkable—and quite revealing. For starters, this is why:
The doctors say he died at age 54 of multiple organ failure, but in a deeper sense he died of inequality and a lack of good jobs.
Lots of Americans would have seen Kevin—obese with a huge gray beard, surviving on disability and food stamps—as a moocher. They would have been harshly judgmental: Why don’t you look after your health? Why did you father two kids outside of marriage?
That acerbic condescension reflects one of this country’s fundamental problems: an empathy gap. It reflects the delusion on the part of many affluent Americans that those like Kevin are lazy or living cushy lives.
Kristof’s friend wasn’t a public person. No one said a bad word about him at the time of his death.
Despite this fact, the actual focus of Kristof’s column is the moral failing of “lots of Americans” who he imagines denouncing hid friend. All through his column, Kristof describes this moral failure with a great degree of moral certainty, not to say with glee.
According to Kristof, the many people to whom he refers “would have been harshly judgmental” about his friend. They would have voiced an “acerbic condescension,” reflecting their “empathy gap.”
As he ends his column, Kristof continues to scold these people. “You were a good man,” he says to his friend, “hardworking and always on the lookout for someone to help—yet you were overturned by riptides of inequality. Those who would judge you don’t have a clue. They could use a dose of your own empathy.”
We think the attitude driving this column is extremely revealing, though not about Kevin Green. We think the column is very revealing about Kristof himself, and about a deeply unintelligent tone which is currently swallowing the culture of pseudo-liberalism.
Kristof is scathing in his assessment of “lots of Americans.” He’s happy to put unpleasant words in their mouths.
These people would dismiss his hardworking, empathetic friend as “a moocher,” Kristof grandly says. No one had actually used that word, but Kristof seemed perfectly happy putting the word in those bad peoples’ mouths. He seems to be perfectly happy denouncing their values and character.
Here’s why we think that’s extremely revealing:
Was Nicholas Kristof’s friend a good person? As far as we know, he was.
That said, Kristof describes his friend behaving in ways which are highly undesirable. You don't have to be “harshly judgmental” to notice this obvious fact.
Most heinously, he describes his friend failing to pay child support, to the point where he has his driver’s license revoked. Tragically, Kristof reports that the children his empathetic friend failed to support have “had trouble in school and with the law,” that they have been “jailed for drug and other offenses.”
Plainly, this is a terrible story, however one might explain it. But so what? In his rush to condemn “lots of Americans” (but not his friend), Kristof brushes past this obvious fact in a truly remarkable way.
Earth to Kristof, one of our top moral scolds:
Yes! For better or worse, many people will be inclined to judge or condemn the conduct he rather blithely describes. Many people will be inclined to see that conduct as heinous—and it’s perfectly obvious why.
You don’t need “acerbic condescension” or an “empathy gap” to be troubled by that deeply tragic story. You don’t have to be “harshly judgmental” to see that something was terribly wrong in the story Kristof has told.
Perhaps you simply need some empathy for children whose parents fail them! Even as he condemns The Others, Kristof seems to lack the moral trait.
Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t recommend judging people you don’t know. Attempts to judge the late Kevin Green are, in our view, an obvious fool’s errand.
That said, it’s amazing to see the way Kristof rushes past those unfortunate children in his headlong rush to condemn “lots of Americans” for their (imagined) condemnations of Green. As he goes through these peculiar moves, we think Kristof’s conduct is very revealing indeed.
Can we talk? We the modern pseudo-liberals simply love condemning The Others. We love to tell “lots of Americans” about their moral squalor.
We especially love the tell The Others that they’re racist, as Kristof would soon find out.
This conduct is very dumb and it's rather ugly. It tends to produce extremely bad politics. Despite these facts, we Maoists routinely end up behaving this way. The results we get tend to be very poor.
Alas! Not long after that column appeared, this same impulse, sharpened a bit, was turned back against Kristof himself. In this case, the moral condemnations had a racial cast.
In our view, this impulse was turned against Kristof in a deeply revealing way.
We Maoists of the pseudo-left always seem to come out of the woodwork at times like these. As our revolutions advance, we’re known for our deeply self-assured moral condemnations of Everybody Else Except Us—and for our considerable skill at helping the nation’s plutocrats retain their societal power.
We Maoists are increasingly active these days. Tomorrow, we’ll let Joan Walsh illustrate our point.
Tomorrow: Joan Walsh at the crucifixion