Suffering

by on Apr.06, 2011, under Politics

Over at Balloon Juice they’re justifiably fascinated with the spectacle of Andrew Sullivan and others fawning over Paul Ryan’s plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program. Writes Tom Levenson:

“Serious” clearly has a meaning to Villagers and the political elite utterly distinct from anything the rest of us understand by the word.

…[T]he word has become code, several posts here have already pointed out.  Its use signals that the weaker party to any bargain is about to get screwed. The claim that enduring others’ pain is “serious”  is as archtypical an example of rhetorical deceit as one could hope to find.

Sometimes, as a mostly atheistic Jew, I forget that a lot of Christians, especially Catholics but also a whole lot of more religious Protestants, have a fundamentally different outlook than I do on many matters. I was reminded of this when listening to Marc Maron interviewing Conan O’Brien on his podcast. Says Conan at one point:

…I probably have a Catholic need to suffer. That helps me. So the trials and tribulations that I went through in 93-94 probably was my way of paying whatever dues I felt I needed to pay to keep that show, and then once I had suffered enough there was part of me that was like “All right,” and then I could move on to another level.

Suffering is redemptive, right? Suffering is something you gain from?

This is horseshit, of course. Suffering in and of itself gets you nothing. What you suffer through may be valuable in other ways—as a learning experience, or because you’re an adult who can delay gratification as you work toward goals—but in and of itself it is worthless.

Yet many, many people in this country have had it drilled into them from childhood that suffering itself is worthwhile. So government policies that alleviate suffering are worse than just a drain on my pocketbook, they’re robbing sufferers of their chance at redemption.

I don’t for a minute claim that this is a prejudice held consciously, but I think it’s a small contributing factor toward disdain for policies that help the poor, or even the not-so-poor. Especially when the suffering is borne by others.


3 Comments for this entry

  • Josh K-sky

    Slightly related, from a recent discussion at Unfogged:

    The resentment isn’t that somebody might get an undeserved reward; it’s that somebody might not get a deserved punishment. Therefore, oppose birth control because might not get stuck with a unwanted baby for having premarital sex. Oppose condom or clean needle distribution because somebody might not get the deadly disease they obviously deserve. Oppose social programs because somebody might not end up homeless. Et cetera.

    The following discussion is good.

  • Joshua Malbin

    Yeah, that’s approximately the same thing. From the same screwed-up morality, anyway.

  • Chris Thomas

    I thought folks opposed policies helping the poor in the U.S. primarily because of a lack of solidarity/empathy for black and brown people. Hasn’t there been, like, social science or something correlating racial heterogeneity with less support for redistributive justice?

    But I agree, Jesus-thinking is probably also to blame, to a smaller extent.

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