This week is Chesed, which means roughly compassion or lovingkindess. That's a subject which comes up here fairly regularly. I see it as an idea that just seems central to a lot of things I care about, from politics to the psychology of mind to Latourian notions of agency.
Here's what I wrote about on Christmas a few years back:
I'm rather trying to appreciate the shared feelings, longings, motivations, needs, whatever, that are common to both religions [Buddhism and Christianity] and perhaps all religion. The belief in a better way of being; the universal truths that bind all humans together; the thread of compassion that links humans and the divine. The longing for a savior. The role of religion as a focus for these otherwise inchoate feelings.The political spectrum today seems to split along a line that divides the party of compassion from the party of its opposite, whatever that is -- authority, mercilessness, shrinking the circle of caring rather than expanding it. While I prefer compassion to its enemies I don't think I can wholly identify with either side, because compassion by itself can't manage a world and can't be a foundation for politics and generally is associated with a lack of rigorous thinking that bugs the hell out of me. Compassion must be tempered.
I'm no good at all at this kind of stuff, but what the hell, it's Xmas. So I'm taking a moment to dwell in these feelings before returning to the usual rounds of sectarian hatred. I'm by nature a negative person, an againstist, I'm with Heraclitus that conflict is the father of all things. But I'm tired of it, I want and need to get more peace love and understanding into my personal mix. Hence this slow, reluctant, erratic, but seemingly inevitable slide into religion. Most of my being resists it, truth to tell. But I have to assume that I'm just as human as the rest of the billions of people that exist now and in the past, and religion is just something humans do, as much a part of the game as eating, shitting, making love and dieing.
But the modern conservative movement is not about tempering compassion, it's about furiously denying it. Some branches do this through racism and xenophobia, dividing the world into an us and them, so we don't have to care about them. Another branch does it through a radical individualism as preached by the sociopathic prophetess of the satanic inversion of compassion, Ayn Rand.
But I have some compassion even for the compassionless, because I know they aren't monsters despite their monstrous ideologies. I imagine at the root they are driven by essentially the same forces that drive me. What leads one to anti-compassion, to the constriction of caring? Perhaps it's the seemingly limitless needs of the world. If you truly felt compassion for all the suffering in the world, you'd be overwhelmed, and useless. And once you start caring about your neighbors, where will it end? Better not to start. But to not care for others is to not be human. I think that part of the appeal of right-wing ideologies is that they promise to get the follower out from under this impossible dilemma. But it's a false promise, and the increasingly deranged shrieking of right-wing politics is just an effort to drown out the voice of conscience.