The Death of Compassion

The Yin-Yang of Compassion
The Yin-Yang of Compassion

I make no secret of my opinion that our country, as a cohesive culture, is in trouble. I see near-daily mass shootings, the rise of white supremacists and Neo-Nazis, and the rapid degradation of public institutions such as schools, matched by the rise of for-profit institutions such as prisons, as part of a cohesive pattern of cultural disintegration.  But I also see this pattern to have a deeper cause – the loss of compassion.  

One of my favorite current writers is Paul Krugman. In this past Thursday’s New York Times column “Nasty, Brutish, and Trump,” Paul writes in part:

[…] In short, you might want to think of our madness over guns as just one aspect of the drive to turn us into what Thomas Hobbes described long ago: a society “wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them.” And Hobbes famously told us what life in such a society is like: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” […]

I think this nails what I’ve seen as an increasing pattern of behavior among far too many people. Including people I’ve known and cared for, even loved, most of my life. It’s as if these people are suddenly becoming Pod People, alien minds in the same old body.  I listen to people talk, and I don’t recognize them as the person I knew just a few short years ago. 

This past week saw well-known commentators, all of whom claim “Conservative” credentials, openly mocking the latest mass-shooting survivors of a Parkland, Florida, high school for speaking out and demanding our nominally representative government officials “do something”  to end the murders. These students were given a platform by CNN to talk to their elected representatives in a public forum which, in a Democracy, is what We The People are expected to do. But some of those elected officials refused to even show up

So what the fuck?

When did it become OK to openly mock traumatized teen-aged victims, recent survivors of a civilian shooting resembling military combat action, for saying that maybe this stuff shouldn’t happen and maybe the people we choose to promote the general welfare of all our citizens should do something to stop it?

When did mass shootings become accepted in this country as a “normal” way of life? Something that we just have to learn to live with, like traffic jams and bad weather? We are now averaging almost seven shootings per week, ever-increasing in both frequency and number of fatalities per shooting. Which is a just a statistic unless you happened to be part of one

I had an unsettling on-line argument the other day on guns with a person I’ve known for 40 years. He now lives in rural Oklahoma, where he also grew up.  My friend talked about how, when he was going to school back in the last century (same era as me) he and his classmates would bring their hunting rifles to school to show off. Everyone had a gun rack in their pickup trucks and would keep a gun in their gun racks. He demanded I explain why things changed, why I though he should have to “give up his guns” just because schools were now routinely being shot up. 

Our conversation did not end well. 

This conversation was more unsettling than those I’ve had with other people, and I’m not sure why. Maybe because in this conversation my friend became deeply offended when I suggested that, if he thought there were solutions to mass shootings besides “gun-grabbing” he should try forcing his elected officials into taking action.  My take-away is that, quite simply, witnessing a mass shooting of high school kids just didn’t disturb him.

They weren’t his kids, it happened in a far-away city and it wouldn’t happen in his town, so no big thing.

This isn’t the only person I’ve debated/discussed/fought with over gun ownership. I no longer even try talking to most of my family on this because I’ve accepted nothing good will come of such action and I want to continue living with them. But this raises another issue; why the fuck do I have to hold my tongue to avoid offending people whose out-spoken opinions deeply offend me?  

The definition of “Compassion” is:

A feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

Which brings me back to Paul Krugman. His recent column nails it for me, because I see what he sees. We are rapidly becoming solitary, poor, nasty, brutish people, huddling in solitary lives, demanding the right to accumulate arsenals of military-grade weapons to defend ourselves against imagined hordes of others who intend to violently steal away our hard-earned wealth because those others are too lazy to work for themselves. 

When did compassion die in this country? More importantly; is there a way to reclaim compassion before we as a nation disintegrate into hordes of warring tribes barricaded inside our walled fortresses, mocking the misfortunes of others and coveting their successes?

Is a Mad Max existence really utopia for so many Americans?  

Cross posted to Daily Kos

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