Sunday, August 25, 2013

Compassion and Ideology

Pat Buchanan commented recently that “whites are the only group that you can discriminate against legally in America now.” The conservative media took their opportunity to thumb their collective noses at the liberal elites. The liberal media took the opportunity to flaunt their talent for withering snarkery. This story was just another example of the froth of the 24-hour soundbyte news cycle, hear today, gone tomorrow, leaving a largely unnoticed residue of animosity. 

The story resonated with me because the problem of the white male has been on my mind lately. My work gives me the opportunity to visit residents of correctional facilities and listen to them, and the experience, I suspect, will stay with me for the rest of my life. Prisoners are not what you might expect. They are not angry or rebellious on the whole. They don’t drag tin plates across the bars of their cells. They march in single file, their heads down, in slow and measured paces, and if you look them in the eyes you can see what defeat looks like. Their egos have been torn down and nothing’s been built to replace them. 

Riding Several Horses But Pleasing No One
If you listen to certain feminists, specifically the ones bred in the hothouse environment of small liberal arts colleges, you might be led to believe that as long as your skin is white and you have a penis, you possess something called “privilege.” The families of these feminists manage to cover the $40,000 per year tuition. When these feminists grew up, there were books in their homes. Maybe even a piano. They were chauffeured from soccer practice to African dance lessons. They’ve visited foreign countries. Regardless of all these seeming advantages, all women lack the privilege that all men possess. 

There are signs that white males are being left behind by society. The economic calamity of 2007 has been referred to as a “mancession” because the wave of unemployment hit men especially hard. Just think of Detroit: a once booming manufacturing hub, being torn down little by little, and nothing is going to be built to fill the empty spaces. 

I’m suggesting that feminism is an ideology. As an ideology, you can put it alongside conservatism, liberalism, communism, antisemitism, white supremacy, black nationalism and any of a number of assorted “isms.” What all ideologies share in common is a commitment to a set of core ideas. Some of these ideas are absolute and unquestioned. Other ideas are open to minor tweaks and updates.The solutions they offer are always the same, even though the problems are ever-changing.

Another thing that ideologies share in common is a foil.  If it weren’t for capitalists, Karl Marx wouldn’t have had much to say. If it weren’t for white privilege, the feminism of the 2010’s would lose its ballast and drift off into the stratosphere. Conservatism would wither if it weren’t for the mythical Welfare Queen and black boys in Chicago. There would be no liberalism without the myth of a sentient being known as “society” which lurks at the outskirts and devours the weaker members of society. 

In reflecting on the possibility of evading ideology and its pitfalls, I’ve come to the conclusion that compassion is the best answer. Compassion is that which makes us pause for those who have fallen behind, and try to help them. Compassion does not make distinctions based on skin color or gender or infirmity or the ideological purity of the recipient. Most importantly, compassion unites rather than divides. 

Compassion is an invitation. It is offered to every human being, but there are some who decline. They opt instead to send jobs overseas and complain about the cost of unemployment benefits. They live in mansions and rob the poor. They poison the water that they don’t have to drink and the food they don’t need to eat. These harpies have always been with us, since the beginning of history, and they’ve always been the origin of inequality.


  1. Large amounts of clean water didn't exist until the 19th century...
    It is compasionate to support local jobs, but not to support world wide jobs? Where people probably need the jobs more than we do... Seems to be there's an artificial limit to "compassion". Perhaps the "harpies" simply have a smaller area of compassion awareness than you do?

  2. Those are legitimate points. I will give the example of cholera in London in the 19th century, where the wealthy had clean water, and the poor had drinking water that had been mixed with sewage. But as far as sending jobs to other countries, this is not done in the name of compassion. Jobs are sent to countries where workers can be virtually enslaved. Chinese laborers at Foxconn leap from the building to kill themselves. Laborers in India are locked in condemned buildings and forced to work, and the buildings collapse or burn and kill them by the hundreds. And I also believe that a strong America is the only America that can make a positive difference in other countries. Today, America is made weak by these harpies. I do no profess to have an unusually refined sense of compassion, but these are things I believe to be true.

  3. I'm really not sure about the difference between ideologies and principles. I have smething of an ideology. For instance, I believe very strongly in original intent in interpreting the Constitution, because it is the best way to preserve rule of law over rule of man. Some would say I am an ideologue.

  4. Thanks for writing, Stuart!
    My intention -- which I don't think I managed to achieve completely -- was to suggest that compassion is what ideology lacks. Ideologies have a scapegoat; for white racists, it is the black man. A compassionate worldview, in contrast, does not require a scapegoat. So when you speak in favor of the rule of law (which I congratulate!!) you are speaking of a worldview in which there are no scapegoats. As long as you follow the law, you benefit from living in a society of laws. I am speaking of the social contract: as long as you follow the laws and the laws are created by the people, you have nothing to fear. However, when a state of tyranny exists, the rule of law means nothing.