Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Whining? Whatever...

Peter Schweizer on Liberal Whine on National Review Online

Howdy, boys and girls. Did you know there's a new word that has replaced whatever as an argument-stopper and conversational trump-card--at least for those of you who're of the conservative persuasion? Yes, indeed. The new W-word is whining.

You may wonder how a verb which has fairly stringent criteria for application can take the place of "whatever," a mere flatus vocis suitable for all occasions. But don't worry: the strict-constructionist dictionary definition is passé. Nowadays "whining" covers any dissatisfaction with one's circumstances or critique of the status quo. So, as evidence of liberal whining, National Review pundit Peter Schweitzer notes:

A wide body of research shows that modern liberals are much more likely to complain about things in their lives. Conservatives are more content with their lives. When asked “How satisfied are you with life these days? Sixty-six percent of conservatives said “very satisfied” compared with only 46 percent of liberals. Conservatives are more likely to say they love their jobs (53 percent vs. 41 percent) and even enjoy their hobbies more (63 percent vs. 51 percent). When asked by the Social Capital Survey whether they were satisfied with their income, liberals were more than three times as likely to say “not at all satisfied” — even when they earned the same as conservatives.

I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that conservatives are more satisfied with their lives than liberals. After all, being conservative means wanting to conserve the status quo, so it stands to reason conservatives would be more satisfied with the way things are than others. In fact, you don't need to produce data to show that conservatives are more satisfied with the way things are than non-conservatives: that's true by definition.

I'm not sure why conservatives think that liberals' dissatisfaction reflects adversely on them. After all, dissatisfaction comes from setting high standards. What can be wrong with that? I'm dissatisfied with my weight, with my students' performance in logic and with the rudeness and incompetence of various "customer service representatives" with whom I deal. Would I be a better person if I were satisfied being a fat slob, if I didn't care whether my students could do logic problems or whether people did their jobs properly?

Conservatives however invariably make an intuitive leap from people's expressions of dissatisfaction to the charge that they are representing themselves as "victims," a habit they hold defines liberalism:

Barack Obama understands the language of victimhood and uses it effectively. And victimhood has become a central tenant of modern liberalism. As Kenneth Minogue argues in his classic book The Liberal Mind, modern liberalism is completely wrapped up in “suffering situations.”

Funny I never noticed that. Obama, preaching the audacity of hope, always seemed to me a very optimistic, up-beat guy. In fact the only people I ever hear talking about victimization are conservatives who whine about liberals' supposed proclivity for claiming to be victimized.

I guess what puzzles me, given the new latitudinarian concept of whining, is whether it is possible to express any dissatisfaction with the status quo without counting as a whiner. If not, then the conservatives' complaint that liberals, those of us who are not altogether satisfied with the way things are and work for improvement, is simply the claim that liberals are not conservatives. And being a liberal myself I don't think that's something they have any right to whine about.

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