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The Modern Malaise of 'Conspicuous Compassion'

Wednesday 15 December 2004

The Modern Malaise of 'Conspicuous Compassion'

Patrick West's book Conspicuous Compassion was first published in Britain earlier this year and took the country by storm. In the introduction of the Australian edition, released on Wednesday 15 December by The Centre for Independent Studies, Paul Comrie-Thomson explains how West's analysis applies equally to Australia.

According to Patrick West, the problem with so many outpourings of feeling today is precisely that they are little more than public displays. Behind the public statements, petitions, badges and ribbons, nothing else is going on.

West provides persuasive evidence that what we are witnessing is not genuine compassion for others but mere indulgence of the self - what he calls 'conspicuous compassion'. Paul Comrie-Thomson shows for Australia:

* National Sorry Day gives people a chance to display badges, t-shirts and posters without having to bother about the complexity of how to tackle problems in the indigenous community such as substance abuse and welfare dependency;

* Inner-city concerns about saving trees are enthusiastically pursued without regard to rural logging jobs;

* Activitists launch emotional attacks on politicians for failing to reduce poverty, but they also oppose policies that would get the poor back into self-reliance.

West urges us to replace touchy-feely gestures and mawkish sentimentality with reason, cool reserve and genuine compassionate action. West says that 'if you do genuinely care about the poor and homeless, try talking to them, or work for a charity yourself'.

Comrie-Thomson says that 'for the vocal majority, quietly getting on with the job is no longer good enough. In today's climate, it is beholden on everybody (and particularly those in public life) to show by outward and visible demonstrations of feeling that they care.'

'This book is not so much a condemnation of those who readily wear their feelings upon their lapels as an exploration of an acute appreciation of a dilemma shared by all of us'.

ENDS

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