The Real Motivation Behind the Left’s “Niceness”

It might be difficult to believe in the wake of the recent election, but if there is a guiding principle to today’s left-leaning bourgeoisie, it is niceness. The votes of this group depend largely on which party is seen as being nicer to those most in need. Being nice to minorities, women, the disabled, gay people, poor people and illegal immigrants is of paramount importance.

But what if niceness is not just vague but destructive? What if niceness is just an excuse for selfishness? What if being nice to groups seen as marginalized is actually hurting them?

These thoughts arise from an argument made by Peter Augustine Lawler, a professor of government at Berry College, in the new edition of National Affairs. Lawler sees the Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton contest as in large part a tale of the brutish against the nice. Many a Clinton voter would enthusiastically agree. But while the dangers of brutish thinking are obvious, Lawler points out that there is also good reason for niceness to be rejected by Americans in large parts of the country.

Niceness isn’t really a virtue, Lawler says. It’s more of a cop-out, a moral shrug. “A nice person won’t fight for you,” he points out. “A nice person isn’t animated by love or honor or God. Niceness, if you think about it, is the most selfish of virtues, one, as Tocqueville noticed, rooted in a deep indifference to the well-being of others.” Trump’s lack of niceness, so horrifying to Clinton voters, registered to his acolytes as a willingness to fight for what’s good, particularly American jobs and American culture.

Niceness is paradoxically more selfish than undisguised selfishness to Lawler, because an openly selfish person at least signals to others what his intentions are. Niceness, however, means, “I let you do—and even affirm—whatever you do, because I don’t care what you do . . . Niceness, as Allan Bloom noticed, is the quality connected with flatness of soul.” Lawler goes on to remark that in an increasingly nice world, in which faking niceness becomes an important job skill, soldiers and police officers become part of the counterculture. Men, especially white men, especially working-class white men, are the ones who do the not-nice jobs in our country, are comfortable with brutishness, and see the global economy as a fierce struggle between “them” (the Chinese who are stealing our jobs, the Mexicans who are undercutting us on wages) and us.

The nice people, cocooned in wealthy coastal zip codes and doing service work that doesn’t require getting your hands dirty, don’t see any of this, but they’re happy to leave the struggling classes to their fates. For the upper echelons of society, this wasn’t always so; not long ago, in Britain for instance, the well-heeled felt a duty to lead, to provide cultural guidance. These were the aristocrats, and they ran the institutions—the church, the BBC—that were beacons for the aspirational. The bourgeoisie worked as one strongly to discourage socially destructive behavior such as raising children outside wedlock, drug or alcohol abuse, or idleness. Those who couldn’t speak proper English were encouraged to do so.

Today, in Britain as in America, the nice-ocracy simply shrugs as the struggling classes make terrible decisions. Who are we to impose our values on others, ask the nice-ocrats? Isn’t this or that regional patois just as good as standard English? If children in the poorer zip codes are getting a terrible education, the nice-ocrats don’t make a fuss. People are intelligent in their own ways, say the nice-ocrats. If testing doesn’t support this, we should cast doubt on the tests. Anyway, if the not-so-gifted people raise not-so-gifted children, there won’t be additional competition for those few spots on the best campuses. At Dartmouth, Yale and Princeton, there are more students from the top one-percent of the income scale than the bottom 60 percent. The nice-ocracy smiles and says, “Yes, but we voted for slightly higher taxes last time. Surely the poor unfortunates will see a bump in their welfare checks soon. Now excuse me, I have to take Emmett to his viola lesson and then his SAT tutor.”

Not-nice Trump voters sometimes speak dismissively of immigrants and others who refuse to learn English; nice Clinton voters are shocked that anyone could hold such cruel views. It isn’t nice to point out that some people don’t have very good command of grammar. Even teachers no longer make it a priority to teach others how to speak properly, as the English physician and essayist Theodore Dalrymple points out in his 2008 book, Not With a Bang but a Whimper: The Politics and Culture of Decline. To the nice people, “attempts to foist alleged grammatical ‘correctness’ on native speakers of an ‘incorrect’ dialect are nothing but the unacknowledged and oppressive exercise of social control—the means by which the elites deprive whole social classes and people of self-esteem.” Moreover, all forms of expression are equally valid, says the nice-ocrat, citing the work of the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, whose influential 1994 book, The Language Instinct, is a key text in niceness doctrine. So refusing to teach grammar is “both in accord with a correct understanding of the nature of language and is politically generous.” If people who can’t speak properly find themselves subsequently accruing little value in today’s job market, the nice-ocrat simply shrugs again.

Today’s elites, as Charles Murray has noted in his book, Coming Apart, a prescient study of the white working class from 2012, refuse to preach what they practice. They are well aware of the pro-social behavior that leads to success, but are too nice to encourage others to follow their lead. Indeed, they recoil in horror from the prospect of being thought “judgmental” toward others.

Dalrymple, who was born in 1949, is old enough to remember a time when the upper classes and the educational establishment encouraged the lower classes to acquire virtue. The lower classes took the challenge seriously. “Many ordinary English workingmen, who led lives of sometimes numbing toil and financial hardship, nevertheless devoted much of their spare time and tiny wages improving their lives by strenuous reading of good literature, of whose transcendent value they had no doubt,” he recalls. Fast forward to Pinker, who insists that the way the uneducated talk is just fine: he says we should ignore “trifling differences between the dialect of the mainstream and the dialect of other groups” so as not to be allied with the “hobgoblins of the schoolmarm.” Niceness means accepting people the way they are. And it means neglecting to motivate them to be what they might be.

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

newsletter-signup
  • Mike Toreno

    Citing Charles Murray to support any argument invalidates the argument.

    • f1b0nacc1

      So, ad hominem arguments notwithstanding, what is your reasoning?

      • Mike Toreno

        What ad hominem argument? Is pointing out that you don’t know what an ad hominem argument is, an ad hominem argument?

        • CptNerd

          “Ad hominem” directs the argument “at the man” not the message.

          • Vizzini

            I’m sure Mike Toreno is very nice.

          • Mike Toreno

            No I’m not. I’m directing the argument at the citation of Charles Murray as proving the dishonesty of the article and the author. Charles Murray is who dishonest people cite to support an argument based on the proposition that particular groups whom the person making the argument disfavors are inherently inferior.

          • realDEEBEE

            Mike you are an effing moron. Multiple time you have had a chance and not said anything other than ad Murray.

          • CptNerd

            Again, you’re judging the man, and the person citing him, as liars.

          • Mike Toreno

            Yes. And what they write as lies. What’s your point?

          • CptNerd

            Just beyond your grasp, apparently…

          • Mike Toreno
        • doubting_rich

          If you want to know what ad hominem is then read your own comment. An excellent example.

          • Mike Toreno

            That’s begging the question. You’re saying “Y” proves “X”. The response to that is, no it doesnt.

        • realDEEBEE

          Mikey you ar a moron. That is not ad hom.

    • hornspe

      Yeah, his reliance on evidence, logic, and the existence of cause and effect is a real issue for people like you.

      • Mike Toreno

        If by “evidence, logic, and the existence of cause and effect,” you mean “lies,” then yes, lies and liars are a real with me – but obviously not with you.

    • ddh

      “Citing Charles Murray. . .” is an ad hominem argument. How about citing what you disagree with and telling us why it’s wrong?

      • John Stephens

        That wouldn’t be very nice. I’m sure you understand.

      • Mike Toreno

        Every sentence in the article is false, except those that take the form “X person said Y” and those are only true to show that X did indeed say Y, not that Y is actually true. What’s particularly funny is that the author starts off:

        “The votes of this group depend largely on which party is seen as being nicer to those most in need. Being nice to minorities, women, the disabled, **gay people**…” and later cites (hahahahahahaha!!!!!) ALLAN BLOOM!!!

        “Niceness, as Allan Bloom noticed, is the quality connected with flatness of soul.”

        HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

        It was certainly horrible of those flat souls to let Allan Bloom live his own life rather than call him a disgusting pervert.

        I do admire Allan Bloom, though; it’s pretty impressive that he managed to make a career out of telling people to get off his lawn.

    • James

      But citing Charles Murray to reject an argument is valid? Just howfa king stupid do you think we are?

      • Mike Toreno

        I didn’t cite Charles Murray, but what citing him proves is that the argument is dishonest. And the whole article is nothing but question-begging, mischaracterization of opposing views, and choosing authorities not for their credibility or the soundness of their reasoning, but simply to find a citation in favor of an invalid argument. The article criticizes the “Left” for failing to recognize the author’s disfavored groups as Untermenschen, so naturally Murray is the only “authority” he can find in support of something like that. The whole argument is foolish and dishonest.

        As the question of how stupid do I think you are? Really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really stupid actually – almost as stupid as you are dishonest.

        • realDEEBEE

          Mikey, adding more words to your original stupid claim does make it more stupid. You had two opportunities and all you did was show your supposed intellectual biceps with the 64,000 dollar word “untermenschen”. Ooo! I am scared of your Arnold Schwarzenegger-ic argumentation.

          • Mike Toreno

            Mike, please. Your risible attempts to assert dominance are unconvincing. Murray is only ever cited for his conclusions (based on nonexistent research) that this or that group is disadvantaged because of their own moral failings. Murray is cited only by authors who don’t care about evidence; they are only scraping the sewer to find someone who will say what they want to say.

        • Nemo

          Mikey, do you consider yourself a nice person, or are you just the fat, ugly slob you seem to be?

          • Mike Toreno

            Mike please. Or Michael. Your calling me “Mikey” is a risible attempt to assert dominance. If you see a fat ugly slob, perhaps you’re looking in a mirror?

          • Nemo

            Your calling me “Mikey” is a risible attempt to assert dominance.

            Er, no it isn’t; I have no more need to assert dominance over you than I do an ant. At least you didn’t claim to be a nice person, though why you would take exception to a description so freely employed by yourself is perplexing. Nah, ‘course it isn’t: you’re just a hypocritical fat, ugly slob.

          • Mike Toreno

            Then please call me by the name I use for myself. And tell me, has blaming the people of Flint for the poisoning of their water, or disparaging the people who are trying to do something about it improve your life in any way? Have the mirrors in your house been disabled somehow?

        • ipencil

          I didn’t cite Charles Murray

          You cited the mention of him as invalidating an argument.

          what citing him proves is that the argument is dishonest

          Why?

          The article criticizes the “Left” for failing to recognize the author’s disfavored groups as Untermenschen

          False. The article criticizes the left’s unwillingness to make any judgements whatsoever (unless it’s to call people who do make judgements dishonest or racists), which is the simply the manifestation of the left’s rejection of any sort of standards, thus not just an inability, but an unwillingness, to determine what is good or bad. Further, to hide this complete lack of standards, the left’s go to defense is to say that anyone who does have standards is dishonest or a racist, as you amply demonstrate with your stupid “Untermensch” comment.

          • Mike Toreno

            This “False. The article criticizes the left’s unwillingness to make any judgements whatsoever (unless it’s to call people who do make judgements dishonest or racists), which is the simply the manifestation of the left’s rejection of any sort of standards, thus not just an inability, but an unwillingness, to determine what is good or bad.”

            from you, is all a lie. We make judgments. For example, we scorn so-called “Americans” who advocate turning American foreign policy over to a hostile foreign power. We scorn the freeloading losers who squat on federal land without paying for it.

            Citing Murray proves that the author is dishonest, because Murray never says anything that isn’t directed to disparaging some group or other as unworthy and blaming this “unworthiness” on some sort of lack of values. For example, according to Murray’s reasoning, the people of Flint Michigan are suffering not because conservatives in government handed over the public water system to private interests, they are suffering because of their own dissolute lifestyles. The corrupt officials and the cronies to whom they handed over the water system are paradigms of virtue whose only fault is that they weren’t stern enough with the Untermenschen whose water they poisoned.

          • ipencil

            Ah. I get it now. Anything that contradicts your leftist fantasy, and it is a fantasy, is a lie. Thanks for letting me know. I thought you might provide specific examples nd back up your claims with logic. Instead I got “everything he’s ever said” type sweeping generalities. I now know better.

            Please, continue with the joke.

          • Mike Toreno

            Explain, then, why the poisoning of the Flint water system was the fault of the residents of Flint, arising from some moral failing of theirs. Why isn’t the fault that of the corrupt Michigan state officials who placed the government of Flint in the hands of an appointed manager unaccountable to the people of Flint?

    • Az_A

      Such an easy and convenient heuristic. If so-and-so “bad person” says it, I don’t have to think about it. And if I face a new unpleasant argument, I just add a new “bad person” to the list. Then I still don’t have to face it.

  • Darkcloud

    It’s nice to be nice to the, nice.

    • 2+2=4andalwayswill

      Frank? Izzat you?

      • Darkcloud

        Was wondering if someone would get it.
        Bravo.

        • 2+2=4andalwayswill

          I’m just old, that’s all. 🙂

          • Darkcloud

            Me too.
            Oh well…

  • Terenc Blakely

    The left’s ‘niceness’ is at best just virtue-signaling and at worst destructive. Destructive in the sense of ‘Noblesse Oblige’, in other words a soft contempt for ‘lessers’. And then there are those, mainly whites, who despise themselves and by extension their ‘race’…. a bunch of masochistic sickos.

  • Perplexed

    I don’t find the left nice. I find them phonies.

  • Joe

    You can’t be hateful angry and ugly to some, and be respectful or ‘nice’ to others and call yourself nice person. A nice person spreads his or her respect and kindness around evenly.

    • Wiffle The American

      A nice person at some level stops worrying about whether everyone thinks they are nice.

  • Working with Liberals for years has me believing the their “niceness” is based on a perception of inability of some sort, in any of the protected classes. Similar to how people will act toward a mentally challenged child, nice is really an elitist expression of superiority.

    • LizardLizard

      Poor dears don’t have IDs.

  • doubting_rich

    If the lower orders learn to speak good English them how would these nice people know whom to despise? How would they know who had voted to leave the EU, or for Donald Trump?

  • Bandit

    That’s a lot of words that can be summed up into one – sanctimony – look at all the measuring sticks like generosity, unfriending people, threats of violence, the rhetoric against Trump supporters and Christians – there is absolutely nothing nice about that

  • KiddBlast

    Another variation on the theme of non-judgmentalism, the new bourgeoise and upper-class hypocrisy.

  • Whitney

    Online Etymology Dictionary. late 13c., “foolish, stupid, senseless,” from Old French nice (12c.) “careless, clumsy; weak; poor, needy; simple, stupid, silly, foolish,” from Latin nescius “ignorant, unaware,” literally “not-knowing,” from ne- “not” (see un- (1)) + stem of scire “to know” (see science)

  • MIlwaukee

    The film Doctor Zhivago gave us the fine line “Got rot all nice men.”
    Maybe he was on to something,

  • Joe Michels

    “the white working class from 2012, refuse to preach what they practice. They are well aware of the pro-social behavior that leads to success, but are too nice to encourage others to follow their lead.” Well, no. Not all white working class are “to nice”. Some of us just don’t want to put up with the PC BS when we try to preach what we practice. Too much energy fending off the PC crazies. We’ll just take care of our own. Thank you.

    • Mike Toreno

      Ummmm, learn to read. Murray is talking about the “elites” – such as people who own large hog farms and increase profitability by dumping waste into nearby rivers – and urging them to preach their successful values to the white working class whom Murray sees as living dissolute lifestyles.

  • Alexander Rawls

    There is no niceness on the left. They are 100% political warfare. The weapon with which they have had the most success, imposing standards of “diversity and inclusion” first on academia, and spreading out from there, is a direct ideology of giving minority feeling priority over majority liberty, an exact inversion of the principles of liberty on which this nation was founded, where NO ONE’S feelings (even the feelings of the vast majority) are to take priority over ANYONE’S liberty.

    That leftist totalitarianism of the minority (in the same class in that way as traditional dictatorship) only appears “nice” if only the effect on the privileged minority is considered. That, of course, is exactly what people engaged 100% in political warfare do. They completely dismiss harms to those (even the great majority) who they consider to be the enemy. Really really NOT nice, as anyone who watches these people for five minutes fully knows.

  • Bilwick

    There’s nothing nice about statism. Ask its many, many victims. The ones who lived, that is.

  • Bob Reisner

    Being ‘nice’ and accepting behavior that is unlikely to succeed is probably a very successful defensive mechanism by those who might be economically affected by large numbers of ‘lower class’ attempting to enter their economic strata (and providing competition for available ‘good’ jobs). Eliminate the competition before they get to the starting gate by making sure they are unqualified to enter the race. Time has shown this is a good strategy. We should expect it to continue.

    • SuzanneN

      Exactly; among other things, ensure that the children who are disadvantaged never learn to speak / read English well enough to challenge their children for their places at elite colleges.

      Because it’s so “nice” and “affirming of others’ cultures” not to impose an artificial standard of grammatically-correct English (on which everyone in the higher professions is judged).

  • Cato_the_Elder

    Way back when I was a Cub Scout Pack Leader I would tell prospective parents of scouts that they should know scouts take very seriously their mottos, oaths and laws. They should be aware that every week we would speak words such as “duty”, “honor”, “God”, and “Country” and that they would learn the meanings of these powerful words. I then asked that any parent uncomfortable with their son learning these should leave now. Occasionally, one parent would get up and leave with their son; all others stayed. I made it a point to follow up with those who left to see if I could better address their concerns one on one. All always declined but one who agreed to speak with me. She nicely and patiently explained to me that she did not want her son to be taught to be either a white nationalist or a fascist. I told her that was fine with me since scouting does neither and is a internationally recognized service organization. That made no impact on her, and I felt bad for her son. But at least she was nice.

  • McG

    In my college days I had a professor named Dillon. One of the few things he said that stuck with me was that being “nice” was a misplaced ideal — it was too easy to be nice without actually helping anyone. If you really wanted to be known for good things, forget being “nice” and strive to be kind.

    At that point I finally understood why crusty, sarcastic people always struck me as more likable: they might not be the most pleasant people to talk to, but I found most of them would give the shirt off their backs if you needed help.

    • Mike Toreno

      Yeah, that’s not true.

      • McG

        I spoke from experience and you’re calling me a liar.

        • Mike Toreno

          Yep. Well, plus somebody who remembers things the way he wants, rather than as they actually happened.

          • McG

            And we met, when?

  • Pingback: Never Yet Melted » The “Niceness” of the Elite()