Cold Compassion

January 26, 2007

Cold CompassionIt was intensely cold outside last night, about -25 celsius (-13F). This image, in my mind, represents that cold well. It is an abstract winter shot taken about a year ago. I don’t think it was particularly cold that day, that is, I did not have to experience intense cold in order to create an image that conveys intense cold (at least subjectively to me).

In a LensWork podcast named Photography as Personally Expressive Art, Brooks Jensen said:

Art is particularly and keenly involved in the expression of human emotion.

Brooks goes on to say the following:

…but if photography is art, its not about what is in front of you, its about what is inside of you.

I think this statement feels right and we want it to be true but I think it represents a misconception. The misconception is that art springs forth from the emotions felt by the artist. The distinction I make is that the work of art conveys an emotion but it does not have to represent what the artist felt at the time the art was created.

I think this misconception goes beyond the age old “What is Art?” debate and applies to everyday topics. Solutions to problems are often judged by how well the proposed solution expresses the anger or compassion people feel towards the problem.

This, I believe, is why so many people have problems with the suggestions of economists on many social issues. If you are against public housing or raising the minimum wage then you lack compassion towards the poor or the needy. The economist is focused on outcomes while the general population is focused on the emotional value of the proposed solution.

I think there is something to be said for Cold Compassion.

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3 Responses to “Cold Compassion”

  1. Nush Says:

    I thought of a motion blur when I first saw that photo – until you put it in context. Now it looks like skating circles on ice to me.

    People’s emotions are highly influenced by the suggestions of others (like economists). But the emotional value of the proposed solution has a direct impact on the social issue itself. Yes, raising the minimum wage would alleviate poverty but so would aborting all babies born to families with low incomes. The economist may suggest both as a good solution, but my emotions colour my judgement of the latter proposal.

    Nothing wrong with that is there?

  2. RAD Says:

    GOAL: alleviate poverty

    OPTION 1: increase minimum wage by $1
    OPTION 2: decrease minimum wage by $1

    The emotional (or perhaps intuitive) assumption is that OPTION 1 benefits the poor (employee) while OPTION 2 benefits the rich (employer). I think it is true in a simplified case with a single employee working for an employer with fixed revenues, fixed costs, and no competition. In a more complex example this assumption may not hold true.

    All I am saying is that the outcome, alleviating poverty, is the most important thing. This is true even if the solution that best meets this goal does not fit our expectations.

    I think the next Freakonomics installment, Freakonomics for Fascists, studies the correlation between state mandated abortions for the poor and crime rates.

  3. Robin Parmar Says:

    There is only one economically viable way to alleviate poverty, starting with our own countries. Give everyone a living wage. Everyone gets the same amount of money, regardless. Dismantle all other social services, as they are not needed. Since even the richest people get this stipend everyone has an interest in protecting it.

    I once read an article outlining the economics of this — it actually costs *less* money to implement in N. America than the current government-heavy bureaucratic system.

    Of course it will never happen.


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