One of the reasons that The New York Times may be losing readers--and, boy, is it losing readers!--is that some of its columnists have taken to "eldering" those for whom they write. "Eldering," as in the Quaker practice of making people feel bad about not feeling like the Quakers on this moral issue or that. The prime practitioner of eldering at the Times is Nicholas D. Kristof. His column is an exercise in shame or, rather, in shaming those to whom it is addressed.
Kristof goes around (the world) looking for human misery, evoking this misery in print and then trying to put his readers on a guilt trip because most of the time there is nothing they can do about this misery. Except maybe send a $100 to some charity or other.
In Sunday's Times, Kristof was into cosmic eldering again. But he has changed his focus. He confesses that he once thought the most shameful wrong of the system was our deficient health care: "I used to consider health care our greatest national shame." No longer. "Our Greatest National Shame...It's Education."
There is something creepy in these absolutes...and how Kristof shifts around from one to the other. The trophy attitude to our shame is more paralyzing than energizing.
A few years back, maybe as early as 2003, I read a Times article by Kristof about a horrid disease afflicting mostly young African women. It's called "obstetric fistula." There was a fund-raising dinner in New York for a hospital in Addis Ababa that devoted itself to curing this humiliating and painful condition, a drop in the bucket, to be sure. We went with a group of friends, and I recall that collectively the folk attending made a generous contribution. Kristof was supposed to show up and speak. For some reason he didn't. The neglect of this disease is also a great shame. And the indifference to others, as well.
But, if you think the failure of health care in the world is the greatest shame, Kristof is around to tell you it's not. Although maybe it's education in America but health care elsewhere. This shows how silly the whole calculation is. And how pointless.