The absolute hysteria that the elites have shown over the past week about the Central American immigrant "kids in cages" is not the response they would show if those kids were from the first world. The profound disconnect between their response toward the children of their own nation and those of less developed nations is a sign of a broken moral compass, and none of the usual explanations for the outta-whack state of affairs seem to be correct.
A healthy moral sense devotes more attention to domains where the person or some group they belong to can make a difference. That's how we recognize the shameful deflection when the liberal elites ask why Trump is meeting with a human rights abuser like Kim Jong-un, when they do not ask why Trump met with an even worse offender like Mohammad bin Salman. Kim is not our ally, and won't change his behavior just because we pressure him to. Bin Salman is our #1 ally, and would respond to our pressure, lest he lose the material and intangible goodies we provide him with. Worrying about Trump legitimizing Kim is morally pointless, worrying about Trump legitimizing bin Salman is morally worthwhile.
Maybe you could worry about both of Trump's meetings with those leaders, but you could not worry more about the Kim meeting than about the bin Salman meeting.
Now, if the elites are so concerned over children who are in a pitiful state, why not start right here at home? It's not as though everyone's kids in this country are doing A-OK. The elites might respond that they worry more about the immigrant children because they're poor, whereas their own kids are rich, and even those of the middle-class are wealthier than the immigrant kids. But then they ignore the large swaths of American children who are not wealthier than the immigrant kids. There are plenty of places right here where rural whites and urban blacks are not exactly living in what you would call first-world comfort.
Oh sure, there's the once-a-year feature story on the lead-polluted water of Flint, Michigan, or the heat system getting shut off during winter in Baltimore public schools. Then it's right back to obsessing over immigrants for the rest of the year, which is a far more recurring topic of theirs, and one they report on with much greater emotional investment. The chronic plight of urban blacks has been totally sidelined in favor of attention to immigrants.
When they do mention Flint or Baltimore, it's more of an empty ritual -- something they know they're supposed to do, and they go through the motions, but their heart is not in it, and it's not part of a larger and longer-term vision of theirs for a better society. Their moral vision for improving the lot of the non-white people of the world is to open our borders to 10 billion foreigners, and hope that there's still enough wealth to go around for all of them. They can't have an impact at that level, so why bother? Whereas focusing on blacks in America is something they can have a huge impact on -- and yet, just half-hearted ritualistic expressions of concern.
Of course, the elites care even less about white American children who are in a pitiful state, but it is not about race. They scarcely care more about African-American children than about Euro-American children, since almost all of their effort goes to immigrant and foreign children. And some major cases are not even very non-white -- look at how apoplectic the elites go after seeing dead children in Syria, during each chemical hoax du jour. Syrians are pretty white, especially compared to African-Americans -- and yet, we don't see the elites foaming at the mouth to start another war on behalf of dead black children in America, like they do about children in Syria.
So what's going on with the outta-whack moral sense of today's elites, whether liberal or conservative?
A cynical response is that the elites are just crying crocodile tears in order to advance their globalist agenda -- whether the goal is to import hordes of cheap labor to boost corporate profits, to culturally replace what they feel is an embarrassing American culture, or whatever else.
We can reject that, as with most lazy cynical answers, since it only captures a tiny slice of the elites. A big chunk truly feel morally invested in the fate of poor Guatemalan children, while feeling almost nothing similar for poor African-American children, or poor white-American children.
And the phenomenon is broader than just trying to incorporate the Guatemalans into the American nation -- the elites feel more deeply for Guatemalan children even when they're understood to be living in Guatemala itself for the rest of their lives. And again, that's true for elites on both the left and the right, albeit with different rationalizations for their similar behavior of ignoring poor Americans in favor of poor foreigners -- alleviating global poverty for the left, saving all of God's children for the right.
Another cynical response is "virtue signaling," meaning the elites don't bother sympathizing with American children because that's easy or cheap to do, whereas sympathizing with third-world children is somehow harder or more costly to do, so that their moral posing is really a kind of status contest amongst themselves. Who can out-do the others in obsessing over the children of unfamiliar and alien cultures?
But if that were true, we would see the "most obscure band / film / author" phenomenon -- the elites would resort to ever more exotic cultures to sympathize with the plight of pitiful children, just as they do in fact for the cuisine of other cultures. It's amateur to signal your knowledge and appreciation of Mexican food -- but make it Salvadorean food, and you've upped the ante.
In this framework, only a beginning poser would try to score points by sympathizing with Central American immigrants -- too geographically close to us, too familiar from their immense numbers in our country, and therefore too over-exposed in our public mind as stereotypical immigrants. But make it those Rohingya people who the media have been trying to turn into a storyline, and you'd rack up a higher score. ("Oh... you've never heard of the Rohingya...?")
And yet the elites continue to pay little attention to the Rohingya, the Tibetans, and other truly more exotic cultures than the Guatemalans or the Syrians. The "costly signaling" model does not work here.
These and other lazy cynical answers all presume that this elite behavior is part of a well-functioning machine -- that their moral obsession over third-world immigrants is somehow serving a more fundamental goal of theirs, whatever we may think about that goal. This is the fallacy of thinking that all traits are optimal for the individuals possessing them, presumably because they would otherwise be weeded out by some form of competition. On such a brief time scale as we are observing our elites, how do we know that these traits are not in fact mal-adaptive to their own goals?
Consider their slowly and hazily dawning awareness that by pushing so forcefully for open borders, they have triggered a backlash that will end up not only closing the borders, but deporting a large chunk of illegals who thought they were already in the clear. Too much immigration leads to zero immigration.
And before too long, they'll start to understand how 10 billion people living in America would wreck our welfare state worse than any Tea Party scheme. Liberals go to pains to preserve the welfare state in political contexts that do not touch on immigration.
As I said at the outset, this elite behavior is clearly a sign of their being broken, outta-whack, misaligned. It is not 3-D chess for globalists. But what precisely is the nature of this broken moral compass?
Quite simply, I think our elites don't view American children as authentic human beings, as a result of our children being micro-programmed, as though they were cutting-edge robots, in our hyper-competitive and status-striving climate. Program them to eat the right kind of organic breakfast foods, program them to play the right sports in pre-school, program them to ace the pre-pre-pre-school admissions exam, program them to play the right instruments when they get home from pre-pre-pre-school, and on and on and on.
Striver parents are terrified that their kids won't grow up to be strivers like them, so they leave nothing to chance or free will. Just program the hell out of the kids, and that's their best shot at making it in adulthood. The children's eventual social status depends entirely on the parents properly nano-tuning their programming during childhood.
If that's your conception of the parent-child relationship, then of course you won't conceive of the child as a real human being. They're not even sentient, like a pet. Sidenote: people train their children as though they were pets, and resort to owning pets to fill the void left by raising robo-kids. Their pets are treated as though they were the real children -- left alone from programming, and behaving all natural.
When these elites think of third-world cultures, they sense that there are no elites there like there are here -- sure, there are elites, but attaining that status does not come from a war of all against all, a Darwinian survival of the fittest, AKA meritocracy. They sense the elites inherit large tracts of productive land, or political office, or whatever it is. In our elites' mind, the third-world parents don't turn childrearing into micro-programming, since there is no hyper-competitive admissions process for pre-schools, colleges, internships, and professional firms.
The children from such a culture will appear to be more authentic as human beings, making them suitable targets for sympathy -- unlike the robo-kids of our society, who don't even register as sentient.
Our elites view all children from the third world this way -- naturally the children of poor foreigners, who don't go to college, but even those from relatively better-off families, who don't have to go through the dehumanizing process of striver programming. That shows that our elite's sympathy is not just about being materially poor -- you can be relatively well-off, as long as your parents didn't turn you into a robot in order to attain that comfortable status.
And our elites project their own kids' robo-traits onto those of American children writ large. After all, such a large share of kids in America go to college, and an even larger share are put through regimens to prepare them for college, even if they decide not to. The elites may assume that our education system treats every child as college material, so they must all get cranked through the striver grinder, just like the elite kids.
Whether that's true or not, doesn't matter. It's the elite's perception that matters. And they talk in such broadbrush terms about "our society" and "our children" that they wouldn't see exceptions even if they were there among urban blacks or rural whites, who may not robotize their children like the strivers in the elite zip codes do. Out of sight, out of mind for the elites.
American children as synthetic, third-world children as natural -- that's what's behind this whole warped morality phenomenon. And it's a sign of something wrong, namely the degree to which today's parents treat childrearing as though it were engineering a machine to optimally compete in Battle Bots, as all of society tunes in to watch their performance -- the machine's performance, and by extension the engineer's.
This likely applies more broadly than just children, too. Even adults in America are perceived by our elites to not really be human, given the dehumanizing system they are all a part of in our hyper-competitive climate. But adults from poor third-world cultures? Our elites doubt that their way of life is as dehumanizing as ours, so they must be more wholly human than American adults, and hence more suitable as targets for sympathy.
It's not really a Noble Savage worldview, since the poor immigrants are not hunter-gatherers. They come from cultures with a government, sedentary residence, agricultural economies perhaps with some of our off-shored manufacturing plants, permanent elites, religious hierarchies, and other elements of complex societies.
It's more about our hyper-competitive, credentialist, groping for a post-industrial utopia whose outcome feels increasingly uncertain. The third-world cultures certainly don't have that going on.
What is the solution? It is to channel our awareness of the broken moral compass into changing the underlying problem. First, by drawing the elite's attention to their outta-whack priorities -- they should be more concerned with struggling Americans than struggling Guatemalans, since we control America but do not control Guatemala. Then, by pointing out the root cause of the elite's misaligned priorities -- seeing their fellow Americans as not really human, due to being cogs in a dehumanizing machine, which they assume does not apply in Guatemala.
Finally, to make that the central task -- to dial down the psychotic levels of competitiveness in our society. If it keeps going any further, it will blow up the society in a civil war. And even if that were to be avoided, it is still producing more dehumanized people on the other side of the striver grinder, and that in turn makes it easier for our elites to treat them callously rather than charitably.
We have to unseat the reigning ethos of anti-social ambition, and replace it with pro-social restraint. And we must replace the warped focus on fixing the whole world with fixing America -- where we can actually succeed.