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Adam Smith helps us see how governmentalizing social affairs makes our sentiments “almost always so sordid and so selfish.”
Article by Daniel B. Klein from AIER.
Though not made explicitly, a distinction emerges in Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments between passive moral sentiments, aptly called emotions, and active moral sentiments, aptly called passions. Such a distinction follows Lord Kames (1762, 37): “An internal motion or agitation of the mind, when it passeth away without desire, is denominated an emotion: when desire follows, the motion or agitation is denominated a passion.”
A taxonomy of other-directed moral sentiments
Mary regards Jim’s conduct and develops sentiments about its propriety or beauty. Sentiments about another’s conduct or character are moral sentiments.
An active sentiment, or passion, is one that motivates. Mary feels a passion if she regards Jim’s conduct and the resultant moral sentiments motivates her toward some action. The action might be other-directed, but that “other” might be someone other than Jim: For example, it might be Jim’s benefactor or Jim’s tormenter. The other-directed passions most central to Smith’s analysis are gratitude and resentment. Gratitude is a positive passion, motivating recompense. Resentment is a negative passion, motivating punishment or retaliation.
A passive sentiment, or emotion, is more about one’s disposition and emotional reaction upon receiving information or thoughts about the person liked or disliked, and doesn’t necessarily motivate action. The other-directed passive sentiments, emotions, most central in the book are, on the positive side, liking and love, and, on the negative side, disliking and hatred.
Two thought experiments
Adam Smith posed two pinky-earthquake thought experiments – the bracketed words in boldface are my insertions:
[Thought experiment 1: passive:] Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connexion with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too, perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The most frivolous disaster which could befal himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own.
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[Thought experiment 2: active:] To prevent, therefore, this paltry misfortune to himself, would a man of humanity be willing to sacrifice the lives of a hundred millions of his brethren, provided he had never seen them? Human nature startles with horror at the thought, and the world, in its greatest depravity and corruption, never produced such a villain as could be capable of entertaining it.
[Questions about the two thought experiments:] But what makes this difference? When our passive feelings are almost always so sordid and so selfish, how comes it that our active principles should often be so generous and so noble? When we are always so much more deeply affected by whatever concerns ourselves, than by whatever concerns other men; what is it which prompts the generous, upon all occasions, and the mean upon many, to sacrifice their own interests to the greater interests of others? (TMS, 136-7)
The two thought experiments draw the contrast between passive and active. Our passive sentiments are “almost always so sordid and so selfish,” whereas our active sentiments are more often “so generous and so noble.” Thus, in the passive thought experiment, the pinky looms larger, whereas in the active the earthquake looms larger.
The passivity of rooting for your team, voting, and being governed
I see party politics as more about passive sentiments, emotion, rather than active sentiment or passion. That is, partisanship is more about liking and disliking.
As Paul Simon put it in “Mrs. Robinson”:
Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon
Going to the candidates’ debate
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at this you lose
What liberalism understands
The governmentalization of social affairs throws us into the passive position, where our sentiments are “almost always so sordid and so selfish.” That is what liberalism understands.
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Shout it from the rooftops: Governmentalization sucks.
Reprinted with small changes from AdamSmithWorks
- Kames, Lord (Henry Home). 1762 . Elements of Criticism, 2 vols. Ed. P. Jones. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.
- Smith, Adam. 1790 . The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Edited by D.D. Raphael and A.L. Macfie Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.
Reprinted with small changes from AdamSmithWorks
New Conservative Network Seeks Crowdfunding Help
They say we have to go big or go home. We’re trying to go big and bring the patriotic truth the the nation, but we need help.
Readers may or may not realize that over the past year, we’ve been bringing more conservative news and opinion outlets under our wing. Don’t take our expansion as a sign of riches; all of the “acquisitions” have been through sweat and promises of greater things to come for all involved. As a result, we’ve been able to bring together several independent media sites under a unified vision of preventing America from succumbing to the progressive, “woke,” Neo-Marxist ideologies that are spreading like wildfire across America.
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Most “Conservative” News Outlets Are on the Big Tech Teat
Not long ago, conservative media was not beholden to anyone. Today, most sites are stuck on the Big Tech gravy train.
I’ll keep this short. The rise of Pandemic Panic Theater, massive voter fraud, and other “taboo” topics have neutered a majority of conservative news sites. You’ll notice they are very careful about what topics they tackle. Sure, they’ll attack Critical Race Theory, Antifa, and the Biden-Harris regime, but you won’t see them going after George Soros, Bill Gates, the World Economic Forum, or the Deep State, among others.
The reason is simple. They are beholden to Big Tech, and Big Tech doesn’t allow certain topics to be discussed or they’ll cut you off. Far too many conservative news outlets rely on Google, Facebook, and Twitter for the bulk of their traffic. They depend on big checks from Google ads to keep the sites running. I don’t necessarily hold it against them. We all do what we need to do to survive. I just wish more would do like we have, which is to cut out Big Tech altogether.
We don’t get Google checks. We don’t have Facebook or Twitter buttons on our stories. We don’t have a YouTube Channel (banned), an Instagram profile (never made one), or a TikTok (no thanks, CCP). We’re not perfect, but we’re doing everything we can to not owe anything to anyone… other than our readers. We owe YOU the truth. We owe YOU the facts that others won’t reveal about topics that others won’t tackle. And we owe America, this great land that allows us to take hold of these opportunities.
Like I said, I don’t hold other conservative sites under too much scrutiny over their choices. It’s easy for people to point fingers when we’re not the ones paying their bills or supporting their families. I just wish there were more who would make the bold move. Today, only a handful of other major conservative news outlets have broken free from the Big Tech teat. Of course, we need help.
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When preparing for societal collapse, don’t forget the water!