In summary, World Eater linked the bombs to the invasion of Iraq, and Trunk picked up on this, after World Eater had been criticised for his comments and the timing of them, by asserting that now was ‘exactly the right time’ to make them. **Trunk’**s opinion was that World Eater had been attacked by what he called the ‘“I want to out-empathy you” brigade’.
This brief exchange between these two dopers who chose to stand back from the immediacy of the bombings in London to discuss broader issues rang true for me - not just the content, but more importantly the fact that they were willing to swim against the current of public opinion – that most fickle of courts. It also put me in mind of a little-known book that tackles the tendency referred to by Trunk as ‘out-empathy’. The book is called Faking It: The Sentimentalism of Modern Society, edited by Digby Anderson and Peter Mullen, and published in London by the Social Affairs Unit in 1998.
One of the chapters, on the sentimentalising of medicine, by Bruce Charlton, touches on reactions to events such as the recent bombings, what the author calls ‘the pseudo-responses inspired by the media culture’.
Mark Steyn focuses on the immense power of television and newspapers in his chapter called ‘All Venusians now: sentimentality in the media’. His comments on the tendency to intolerance of political correctness, or what he calls ‘sentimental fascism’, are particularly acute. Steyn argues that the distinguishing feature of media sentimentality is ‘its intolerance of any dissenting views, and the ferocity with which it squashes them’.
Ian Robinson in his contribution traces the faking of emotion back to the sentimentality of modern literature, quoting D.H. Lawrence’s definition of sentimentalism as ‘the working off on yourself of feelings you haven’t really got’. Reflecting on T.S. Eliot’s idea of the ‘disassociation of sensibility’, Robinson refers to ‘the extraordinary split whereby to release emotion so many intelligent people had to shut off their intelligence’.
George Orwell’s words in his preface to Animal Farm entitled ‘The freedom of the press’ seem as relevant today as they did at the time: