Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Myth of Compassion

At the time of this writing, the United States is in real turmoil. Not since the Vietnam war era has the nation been as divided in its opinions and perspectives. You can call them the Left and the Right, the Red and the Blue or the Liberals and Conservatives. It really doesn't matter. What you have are people lining up against each other with an increasing amount of intolerance.

That is nothing new. The left has always framed the right as money-grubbing and selfish. The right has always pegged the left as entitled with their hands out.  The conservative position is that self-earned wealth is the only true means to advancement. The liberal position is that too may people lack access to the means to earn that wealth themselves.

It gets worse. The left portrays the right as greedy, with no compassion for the less fortunate. Throughout their speeches, liberal leaders pepper their rhetoric with phrases like, "the one percent don't care about the other ninety-nine percent." Another favorite is, "They make millions and pay less taxes than you do or pay no taxes at all."  These phrases are, ostensibly, designed to contrast the compassion on the left with the lack of compassion on the right.

It's the Millennial version of "I feel your pain."

Compassion is an interesting concept.  Somehow, it always gets attached to pity and confused with empathy. I find that intriguing, because when you ask most folks, they'll tell you they have compassion for the poor, the disadvantaged and the less fortunate. But in reality, compassion has nothing to do with social standing or economics. It's a human quality, completely detached from any economic or political cause. One feels compassion for another because something reaches into the soul to elicit concern for the other. Yet in politics, compassion is viewed as the exclusive domain of the poor and disadvantaged, as if it's some sort of moral merit badge that has to be earned.

Personally, I have no stake in either side's game. What I find interesting is the that left's plea for income redistribution too often boils down to one basic sentiment about their adversarial one percent, which goes something like this:

They've got more money than they'd ever need. Fuck 'em.

If you doubt the accuracy of that observation, try Googling videos that feature the word "Occupy" in the title or description. You'll see thousands of clips with protesters and political candidates echoing the very same sentiment, if not the exact words.

Yet these are the same people who present themselves as the faction filled with sensitivity to others.  They base their entire campaigns on their deep, abiding sense of compassion . But when I hear their harsh haranguing, I can't help asking if their compassion is all that universal.  Does their compassion for other human beings, regardless of race, color or creed apply to people who are also tremendously wealthy?

Stay with me on this, because I think I smell a real case of hypocrisy here:

If the left feels justified in proclaiming, "They've got more money than they'd ever need -- Fuck 'em," that's hardly the voice of compassion and seems to undermine its credibility. It suggests that only those it deems worthy are deserving of any of the human qualities that it reserves for its own.  And that leads to a slippery slope: How poor or disadvantaged does one have to be to qualify for compassion? How do we treat people in the 1.5%? Or the top 2%?  Who sets these arbitrary limits, anyway?  

This strategy is a huge tactical error, as well. After all, how could a brusk, exclusionary attitude like that meet with an opposing response any more compassionate than, "Our families had to earn every nickel we have -- Fuck you"

Seems to me that you can't have it both ways.  You want to be liberal? Fine. You want to be Conservative? Also fine. But if you're claiming to be compassionate, let your actions speak for themselves. Be consistent.  Show the same compassion to your adversaries that you do to your allies.  I haven't yet met the person who genuinely expressed his compassion for another human being by telling him to go fuck himself.