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bleeding hearts and artists

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I was asked, today, what a “bleeding heart liberal” was, in the context of a discussion on Manners. The first reference I thought of was that line from The Wall, one of Pink Floyd’s best-known works. At the Trial of Pink’s mind his schoolteacher excoriates him before the court, blaming “liberals” for allowing Pink to become who he became.

I always said he’d come to no good,
In the end, Your Honour.
If they’d let me have my way,
I could have flayed him into shape.
But my hands were tied.
The bleeding hearts and artists,
Let him get away with murder.
Let me hammer him today.

But it’s important to note how, after the Trial, outside the Wall, the same “bleeding hearts and artists” are there to support Pink, despite the damage he has done.

All alone, or in twos,
The ones who really know you,
Walk up and down outside the wall.
Some hand in hand,
Some gather together in bands,
The bleeding hearts and artists,
Make their stand.
And when they’ve given you their all,
Some stagger and fall.
After all it’s not easy,
Banging your heart against some mad bugger’s wall.

My personal definition of a true “bleeding heart liberal” is someone who tries to rationalize away any and all human behaviours. Whatever someone does, the culprit is not at fault, he or she is a victim. A man assaults a girl? His parents did not hug him enough. Woman shoplifts? Sexually frustrated. Boy puts a match to a school building? Parents not giving him enough phosphorus in his diet. (OK, bad example.)

My response to that might be: OK, I appreciate the need to understand the origins of behaviour, where feasible, but you have to recognise that that is not the same as fixing it. If your car engine stops, it might need to be opened up and fixed, or just cleaned a bit (plugs, filters), or just given more petrol. i.e. the reasons for a failure are important in deciding what to do, but knowing them is no substitute for action. Exactly what action to take is a whole ‘nother argument best left to experienced professionals in this field.

I also tend to focus on Ethics, which I’ve written about here before. The social model I prefer is that of any professional society or organisation, such as doctors or engineers, or even clergy: you agree to a set of rules that have been developed over time by your peers. These are not “handed down” or “imposed” by some authority beyond your reach – you could be an authority some day – but are nevertheless the conditions of membership in that society.

So, I view manners as the long-agreed-upon rules for membership in polite society. The “collective wisdom” gathered over millennia of social intercourse. If you want to belong to polite society, you will modify your behaviour accordingly, or be left out of a society that does not need you. So what if you can’t do exactly what you want… that is true of life in general, so suck it down and live with it!

I recently watched the movie Scarface (1983), and this point is perfectly illustrated 2/3 of the way through the movie. As Tony Montana becomes “a law unto himself” (or so he thinks), he gives up on the polite society he fought so hard to join, and retreats into his Miami mansion with a stockpile of cocaine. His last social appearance, in a posh restaurant, is marked by his gross breaches of manners: shouting at his girlfriend, the staff, and other diners as he staggers out. “It’s OK folks… the bad man is leaving!” 😮

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Written by brian t

May 17, 2006 at 10:38 am

Posted in culture, music, philosophy

One Response

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  1. Weird, I’ve always just associated the term with the commonly-known “emo” people, as they say. The ones with much more emotion and expression. Not necessarily hyper-rational people, or those easy to explain away anything, but that’s a splendid elaboration too. 😀

    Evan B.

    February 23, 2010 at 10:53 pm


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