Speaker after speaker at the social liberal forum said how deeply they cared about the plight of underprivileged people, so much that the mood of the event could be described as a collective subvocal chant of emote with us! Having been a churchgoer (charismatic) in the past, and therefore having done that sort of thing in another context, I am deeply suspicious of it. It doesn't work for me. Yet these are important emotions to have. Empathy for the poor is better than contempt. It is still only a pale caricature of what the left - the Labour movement - was meant to be about, which was working people asserting themselves, not, as it is now, working people being patronised by the middle classes. I would attribute much of the BNP success to the way that where Labour seem to say "We care about you", the BNP say "We care about us."
But back to the Forum. A speaker goes "We care. We care. We care. 50p tax rate!" to a cheer. I can see how that policy absolutely feels right to people, but I am still left wanting the analysis that it would do any good. "It's a symbol" we are told, as if that were a good thing.
But of course it is not just the left that emotes like this. Only when Conservatives do it, it is something way nastier. Europe: boo. Foreigners: boo. Single parents: boo. I remember the Conservative election broadcasts in the 80s pushing the fear button over nuclear disarmament. Fear leads to hate and hate leads to the dark side. Conservative emoting is all dark side of the force stuff.
Charlotte points out that Conservatives believe they are doing the right thing, and I would agree for the most part. But lets not slip into relativism here - just because people disagree over what the right thing is, it doesn't mean there is nothing to be said about it. Charlotte is right that politics would be better if it were more rational, but rationality alone doesn't give us values. Libertarians of the Ayn Rand school like to portray themselves as driven purely by reason, but this is based on sophistry, and Rand had no answer to David Hume's is-ought gap.
I've written before about the 2 or 5 foundations of morality in evolutionary psychology. These 5 instinctive traits do exist in us, and we can apply reason to ask the question: what are the consequences if we reinforce this instinct or suppress that one in the language that we use - the metaphors we choose - the buttons that we push - to explore and advance our political ideas.
So liberalism as I see it involves a recognition that promoting the wrong foundations - the deference to authority for example, or the ingroup (class/race/etc) - has bad consequences, and promoting the right foundations - reciprocity, no harm, etc, has good consequences. This relies on an assessment of the consequences of freedom or tyranny, class war or class peace, etc. Is this or that a consequence that I want? How do I feel about it? It is an emotional question.