Skip to main content

Any kind of study on the functionality of individuals, society, and governments has to deal with the area of compassion. As we have learned over the past 70+ years of the New Deal, compassion is essential for governments, society, and individuals to function. Without it, people will have no stake even if Dennis Kucinich were running for office. Without it, people would be killing and being killed, and society would not function as people would be quarreling over little things. Without it, people cannot be happy in this life. Nietzsche himself said that people have to operate based on consequences, and the consequences in this case are clear enough.

True compassion is not a matter of doing it because some big daddy figure told us to be nice. True compassion involves doing the right thing because we know for a fact that compassion works. In other words, it is a matter of enlightened self-interest to show compassion as opposed to showing compassion because some big daddy figure told us to. And compassion does not always mean being nice -- Jesus called the Pharisees vipers, for instance. He told one of his right-hand men to get behind him. Compassion might mean telling a person what they need to hear instead of what they want to hear. For instance, is it compassionate to enable an alcoholic when they need to hear that they have a drinking problem and that they need help?

The problem happens when Christian Fundamentalists use "compassion" as a tool to enslave people. In other words, we can't attack George Bush too much because that would involve a lack of compassion. Or, we can't be too mean on Ollie North because we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. Or, when we speak out against injustice in the world, we are told that we are not being compassionate and that we are being unloving.

We all have the same questions, but we all take different paths to find the answers -- or ought to. To try and force humanity into some form of lockstep conformity is incoherent and illogical because to do so would deny our humanity and deny us our opportunity to move beyond the chains of spiritual slavery and affirm our humanity. This is the trap that the Republicans have fallen into. The Ubermensch breaks these chains of slavery and charts his or her own path, regardless of the darts thrown his or her way. Therefore, sound public policy must be based on one thing -- give people the resources they need to live life to the fullest.

Let's just use a couple of examples of how this could be put into action -- garbage. For instance, people are being hampered from living to their potential because of their enslavement to oil. Therefore, it is excellent public policy for the government to subsidize garbage to gas technology because it can potentially drive gas prices down to $1.01 per gallon. Conversely, we can say that Bush's Iraq policy is terrible policy because it does not give the Iraqi people the resources they need to live their lives to the fullest. And not only that, it diverts hundreds of billions of dollars that could be used to jumpstart garbage to gas technology as well as other worthwhile projects that could help us to live our lives to the fullest.

Let's use another example of Nietzsche in action, as he questions absolute morality. Is it moral, for instance, to sell drugs because the minimum wage job will not pay for the rent and the bills? If we are going to say that it is not moral to sell drugs, then we can't just invest millions of taxpayer dollars in a "just say no" campaign. And our prisons are already overcrowded. Most people who support the legalization of drugs would nonetheless acknowledge that they would not want their kids to use drugs. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to create the conditions so that people don't have to make that choice -- such as by raising the minimum wage even more, accelerating the creation of green jobs, and setting a variable minimum wage based on the local cost of living.

The problem, as Nietzsche states, is that God is dead and we have killed him. The problem with Christian Fundamentalism is that it takes God and makes him into man's image so that it is man's morality, not God's. The Platonists saw God as unknowable and us as seeing only through a dim sphere. I suggest that we must reclaim that ethic, because if we see God as far beyond anything we could ever comprehend, and the world as a grand design, then who are we to claim to speak for God? Only a small handful of people in all faiths have gotten to the level where they can presume to tell us what God's will is, and even then, most of us don't always understand. The Jesus of the New Testament and the Jesus of the Early Church are as different as night and day; what he taught and what the church implemented are two different things.

And as limpidglass notes, Nietzsche would go even further -- he would say that there is also an unbridgeable gap between the great and the mortals. For instance, could an average Greek soldier comprehend during the heat of the moment what Achilles was doing when he went to the tent and refused to fight when Agamemnon stole his favorite wife? His insight was that the masses would fight back against the Ubermensch and use their morality as a tool. As a people-powered movement ourselves, we have to take this to heart -- we have to be able to recognize greatness when we see it in someone. That does not mean that we should decide that a person is above criticism -- no great man fails to make mistakes. It is that we should be able to define greatness and look for it in our leaders to see how they measure up.

The danger, of course, is that we constrain greatness so much that our leaders will not be able to perform the creative acts necessary for the good of our country. That is the main problem, in fact, of this country -- our leaders are not being themselves for fear that they will be seen as soft on defense or not presidential enough or whatever. What we must do is let them be themselves, while maintaining the kind of constant vigilance that is always necessary in political activism.

At the same time, we must not fall prey to the chains of formalism. Let's say that Obama is the Second Coming of the Messiah -- that does not mean that we should create a stale orthodoxy out of his teachings. That is the trap that Mondale and McGovern and Dukakis did -- they tried to lean on the stale orthodoxy of the party without making it new or relevant again. That is not what Obama would want out of us -- he would want vigorous and healthy discussions of the issues.

Originally posted to Stop the Police State! on Wed Jul 23, 2008 at 08:35 PM PDT.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  not cool, man (0+ / 0-)

    you're quoting verbatim from my comment in your previous diary.

    Please edit your diary, or acknowledge you're quoting from me.

  •  George Bush thinks he is a great man (0+ / 0-)

    misjudged by the small minded critics. Dick Cheney knows he's a great man.

    Nietzsche does not appear to appreciate the meaning of the 3 temptations of Jesus.

    "It's the planet, stupid."

    by FishOutofWater on Wed Jul 23, 2008 at 08:45:32 PM PDT

  •  Another excellent diary EH. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eternal Hope, Ice Blue, ferallike

    Wouldn't it be nice if they could show some compassion for people who have a different faith than they do?

    The problem happens when Christian Fundamentalists use "compassion" as a tool to enslave people. In other words, we can't attack George Bush too much because that would involve a lack of compassion. Or, we can't be too mean on Ollie North because we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. Or, when we speak out against injustice in the world, we are told that we are not being compassionate and that we are being unloving.

    Not the church. Not the state. Women will decide their fate.

    by JaciCee on Wed Jul 23, 2008 at 08:47:07 PM PDT

    •  Their Faith is That the Others Wrong. (0+ / 0-)

      I grew up hearing that from some of the Catholics in our neighborhood, and of course some of the Protestants expressed the same sentiment in return.

      This is a common positions given that the scriptures have quite a few absolutist writings.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Wed Jul 23, 2008 at 09:13:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I am not sure that we are compassionate, or that (7+ / 0-)

    we ought to be compassionate, because "compassion works."  That would be a utlilitarian justification for a decidedly non-utilitarian sentiment, it seems to me.
    My favorite explanation for why we ought to be compassionate comes from a song by Laurie Anderson.

    If you see a man who's broken,

    Pick him up and carry him;

    If you see a woman who's broken,

    Pull her all into your arms,

    'Cause we don't know where we come from.

    We don't know what we are.

    The mystery of our existence is the deepest thing we all share, and makes us brother and sister travelers in an infinite darkness.  That is why we should care about each other.  To put it all very poetically.

    •  Except that I find Compassion to be a (4+ / 0-)

      VERY utilitarian sentiment, so much so that I wouldn't even call it a sentiment, I would call it a Work. Verily.

      Nice Laurie Anderson quote; thanks.

      "In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder, a secret order." Carl Jung

      by Unduna on Wed Jul 23, 2008 at 08:55:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Global Middle Class Pre New Deal vs (0+ / 0-)

      post Marshall Plan. Looks pretty functional to me.

      The poetry is beautiful but it reflects only a selection of cultural views. The functionality argument speaks to promoting the general Welfare, which as one of the organizational principles of our government is legally the business of all of us.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Wed Jul 23, 2008 at 09:06:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I think we are talking at cross-purposes. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Gooserock, luckylizard

        You are offering reasons for just action other than compassion.  Compassion is a reason to act.  Legality is another reason to act.  Promotion of the general welfare is a third reason.  Self-interest (Eternal Hope's reason, in the diary) is a fourth reason.

        I am just pointing out that they are not the same.

        •  But Why is Compassion Compassionate? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          LithiumCola

          I'd argue that it's for very functional reasons, because of our evolutionary makeup.

          We're not a loner species, we're a very social species, awash in drives and behaviors that promote bonding and cooperation. Part of that bonding is vulnerability, an evolutionary sacrifice of self sufficiency for the overall gain for the species from the greater resiliency of community.

          Compassion is compassionate because people are basically built to need support in a great many circumstances. And so we are in turn built to need to feel and exercise compassion as well. It's why there can be such a thing as a general Welfare, and why that in turn is often self-interest.

          That's what makes us brother and sister fellow travelers.

          We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

          by Gooserock on Wed Jul 23, 2008 at 09:41:44 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  That is not coherent. (0+ / 0-)

            I can see how "evolutionary reasons" could explain why people engage in behaviors that increase species fitness -- but that is not why, as you rather mysteriously put it, "compassion is compassionate."

            Compassion is not an action, in the first place.  It is a motivation.  It may be that we feel the motivation for evolutionary reasons (although just-so stories about evolutionary psychology do not impress me) but that certainly does not and could not explain why those actions are compassionate.

            In any case, you are mixing up the motivation with the purported explanation for the existence of the motivation.

            I am saying that acting out of compassion is not acting out of self-interest -- it is a different motivation.  It is no response to me to say that the motivation I am discussing was engineered by evolution for some purpose other than the purpose for which I am acting -- which is compassion, not a desire to promote the fitness of the species.

          •  Let me put it this way: (0+ / 0-)

            What sorts of motivation would you say are not engineered by evolution to promote the species?  If the answer is "all of them were so engineered" then it seems your line of thought results in you saying that all for all action whatsoever, your motivation is to promote the fitness of the species, and that is simply not correct.  People do things for lots of reasons.

            •  I don't think I would describe this (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              LithiumCola

              as an instinctual need for survival either, not for one's self or for the species. I think compassion may have a source in our deep emotions, and that function is obviously more evolved than base instinct. That is where empathy seems to arise. I think there is a connection to the "other" where other disappears. There is no longer a division. And what is compassion except the need to act on these emotions without benefit to self? Some people call it love or truth.

              It is true that these emotions may also be part of our human evolution, but I don't think we know enough yet of consciousness to understand why we are so motivated.

              A good question might be in what instances would a person not feel compassion for humans or other living things? (barring infirmity).

              I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere ~ Thomas Jefferson

              by valadon on Wed Jul 23, 2008 at 10:36:15 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  What do you make of (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            LithiumCola, slksfca

            such expressions of compassion as voluntarily sacrificing yourself to save the other? Here, compassion drives an outcome that is the precise undoing of self-interest.

            Seul l'incrédule a droit au miracle. - Elias Canetti Road2DC

            by srkp23 on Wed Jul 23, 2008 at 09:58:02 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Great diary, Eternal. (3+ / 0-)

    And needed. Thanks.

    "In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder, a secret order." Carl Jung

    by Unduna on Wed Jul 23, 2008 at 08:56:05 PM PDT

  •  I'm no philosopher, but... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eternal Hope, Unduna, slksfca, luckylizard

    Your discussion on greatness reminds me of one of my favorite philosphers, Soren Kierkegaard, and his wrestling, as would be appropriate in the 19th century, with the tension between the desire to affirm human equality and the desire for great 'men'.

    "The danger, of course, is that we constrain greatness so much that our leaders will not be able to perform the creative acts necessary for the good of our country. That is the main problem, in fact, of this country -- our leaders are not being themselves for fear that they will be seen as soft on defense or not presidential enough or whatever."

    Anyways, that seems to be the essential democratic bargin. You trade the possibility of ever having a truly great leader to shield yourself from the possibility of ever having a truly catastrophic leader. (And while GWB I'd say is as close to catastrophic as a democracy can produce, at least he's term limited.)

    "Furthermore, I think Nader should be destroyed!"

    by Zebras on Wed Jul 23, 2008 at 09:12:08 PM PDT

    •  I don't think that we have to sacrifice (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Unduna, luckylizard, Zebras

      creativity to also have human equality. I think that what many earlier philosophers suffered from was their insistence upon the notion that we had to maintain some form of an elitist group in order for greatness to occur.

      I would certainly never want to see uniformly imposed morality, but if any human being were allowed full range of their own creativity we might realize that all of us (unless we are mentally or physically impaired) have this potential. Broad human equality in human rights, equality in terms of education, and equality in terms of social evolution could only benefit society. We might create many "great men" if the human spirit were free to indulge in the practices once reserved for a select few.

      Thank goodness for the printing press.

      I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere ~ Thomas Jefferson

      by valadon on Wed Jul 23, 2008 at 09:42:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  My zen teacher (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eternal Hope, valadon, luckylizard

    said westerners do not understand compassion. True compassion is giving someone what they need. Sometimes they need a slap in the face.

    "If religion is the opiate of the masses, then fundamentalism is the amphetamine." Miz Vittitow

    by MillieNeon on Wed Jul 23, 2008 at 10:45:59 PM PDT

  •  On a bit of a lower plane... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eternal Hope

    I have tremendous empathy for people who do grunt work.  Those who clean things or clerks in stores are often not respected.  It makes me mad so I always try to acknowledge these workers.  I don't know who gets more out of it, though.  

    When I tell the housekeeper at the casino thanks for emptying an ashtray or taking my empty cup, it often surprises them and they always speak back.  Watching them work, I see that most of them try to be invisible and that's just a shame.

    With checkers in stores I always say some idiotic thing to make them smile.  Sometimes I have to try harder than others and every once in awhile I can't get the job done, but mostly it works.

    In both instances, I am not sure that I would be considered totally compassionate because I get a reward: I get to see them smile.  I think I do the act because I want to respect them but I also know that I will feel good when I do it.

    Ouch!  Now you've made me think too much.  :-)

    -7.62, -7.28 "We told the truth. We obeyed the law. We kept the peace." - Walter Mondale

    by luckylizard on Thu Jul 24, 2008 at 06:32:23 AM PDT

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site