Moving Beyond the Stalemate of Being Enemy Combatants (Warrior Poet Mental Yoga 211)

 

My study of moral psychology has made me somewhat more humble. It has made me realize that my mind will jump to conclusions and that many of those conclusions will be wrong. I can’t often perceive that reality at first. What I have found is that the best way to make an effective apology, which also happens to be a good way to initiate any kind of interaction and/or consideration for change with anyone, is to start by saying what you’re wrong about. So, in any sort of politically charged encounter, don’t start off by making your case about what you’re right about. Start off by saying what you know your side has been wrong about historically, and that you know the other side was right on those issues. Being humble, acknowledging fault, or praising something on the other side, has been proven to win hearts and minds, to create an atmosphere that supports consideration and empathy. Start off in that way, and then by the power of reciprocity, the other side is more inclined to match your effort. What you want to avoid at all costs is the normal human interaction of assuming that everyone who is not a blind unquestioning ally is an enemy combatant. Avoid throwing arguments at the other side for pure consumption and to create emotional outrage, not even by the other entity, but by the onlookers and bystanders of the matter. Avoid that dynamic at all costs. The power of apologies and acknowledgements, the expression of empathy and respect, is what is required to lay the groundwork for genuine conversation. That is what I want to leave with you.

Jonathan Haidt

(transcript from an On Being interview with significant editing/paraphrasing from me 2017)

Visceral Empathy (Warrior Poet Mental Yoga 172)

If

your exuberant empathy

for one

is

guarded

by

vehement anger and resentment

towards another,

you are likely

hypnotizing yourself

into believing

that you are

much more

caring,

understanding,

and

loving,

than you truly happen

to

viscerally be;

you are drawing

 a line

in the sand

 with

your empathy

 where no line

should exist.

To limit

empathy

is to fake

such a grace

or

taint it with darkness

and

turn all of its light

into

a murky bastardized force

of

schizophrenic relativity and antithesis.

In

the highest spiritual elevation,

it

is

an

all or nothing

state

of

consciousness and being.

Cribb

2017

Awareness as a Human Being or Not (Warrior Poet Mental Yoga 165)

But think in terms of individual men, women, and children, not of States, Religions, Economic Systems and such-like abstractions: there is then a hope of passing between the horns. For if you begin by considering concrete people, you see at once that freedom from coercion is a necessary condition of their developing into full-grown human beings; that the form of economic prosperity which consists in possessing unnecessary objects doesn’t make for individual well-being; that a leisure filled with passive amusements is not a blessing; that the conveniences of urban life are bought at a high physiological and mental price; that an education which allows you to use yourself wrongly is almost valueless; that a social organization resulting in individuals being forced, every few years, to go out and murder one another must be wrong. And so on. Whereas if you start from the State, the Faith, the Economic System, there is a complete transvaluation of values.Individuals must murder one another, because the interests of the Nation demand it; must be educated to think of ends and disregard means, because the schoolmasters are there and don’t know of any other method; must live in towns, must have leisure to read the newspapers and go to movies, must be encouraged to buy things they don’t need, because the industrial system exists and has to be kept going; must be coerced and enslaved, because otherwise they might think for themselves and give trouble to their rulers.

The sabbath was made for man. But man now behaves like the Pharisees and insists he is made for all the things—science, industry, nation, money, religion, schools—which were really made for him.Why? Because he is so little aware of his own interests as a human being that he feels irresistibly tempted to sacrifice himself to these idols. There is no remedy except to become aware of one’s interests as a human being, and, having become aware, to learn to act on that awareness. Which means learning to use the self and learning to direct the mind. It’s almost wearisome, the way one always comes back to the same point. Wouldn’t it be nice, for a change, if there were another way out of our difficulties! A short cut. A method requiring no greater personal effort than recording a vote or ordering some “enemy of society” to be shot. A salvation from outside, like a dose of calomel.

Eyeless in Gaza

Aldous Huxley          1936

Empathy and Objectification (Warrior Poet Mental Yoga 162)

My definition of reduced empathy is when we cease to treat another person as a person, with their own feelings, and start to treat them as an object. But it could be reasonably asked: Don’t we all do this all of the time to each other? We enjoy a friendship because the person gives us something, we enjoy a sexual relationship because the person’s body is an object, we employ a person because they provide a service we need, and we might enjoy watching someone for their beauty or athletic grace. These all involve aspects of the person as an object.

My reply to this would be that if our empathy is turned on, then all the while we are treating the person as an object, we are simultaneously aware of their feelings. If their emotional state changed, such that they were suddenly upset, we would not just continue with our current activity, but we would check what was wrong and what they might need. If the friendship is based purely on what we gain from the relationship, such that we abandon the person when they are unable to still provide that, that would be not just a shallow relationship, but an unempathetic one. But I should qualify the definition of empathy by adding that the point at which we objectify another person while simultaneously switching off our sensitivity to his emotions is the starting point toward zero degrees of empathy. It is not the end point because as we have seen in the catalog of crimes that people commit, such a state of mind simply makes it possible to behave in more and more hurtful ways.

The Science of Evil

Simon Baron-Cohen          2011

The Kitsch Heart of both Communism and Capitalism (Warrior Poet Mental Yoga 161)

“Kitsch” is a German word born in the middle of the sentimental nineteenth century, and from German it entered all Western languages. Repeated use, however, has obliterated its original metaphysical meaning: kitsch is the absolute denial of shit, in both the literal and the figurative senses of the word; kitsch excludes everything from its pureview which is essentially unacceptable in human existence.

Ten years later (by which time she was living in America), a friend of some friends, an American senator, took Sabina for a drive in his gigantic car, his four children bouncing up and down in the back. The senator stopped the car in front of a stadium with an artificial skating rink, and the children jumped out and started running along the large expanse of grass surrounding it. Sitting behind the wheel and gazing dreamily after the four little bounding figures, he said to Sabina, “Just look at them.” And describing a circle with his arm, a circle that was meant to take in stadium, grass, and children, he added, “Now, that’s what I call happiness.”

Behind his words there was more than joy at seeing children run and grass grow; there was a deep understanding of the plight of a refugee from a Communist country where, the senator was convinced, no grass grew or children ran.

At that moment an image of the senator standing on a reviewing stand in a Prague square flashed through Sabina’s mind. The smile of his face was the smile Communist statesmen beamed from the height of their reviewing stand to the identically smiling citizens in the parade below.

How did the senator know that children meant happiness? Could he see into their souls? What if, the moment they were out of sight, three of them jumped the fourth and began beating him up?

The senator had only one argument in his favor: his feeling. When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object. In the realm of kitsch, the dictatorship of the heart reigns supreme.

  The feeling induced by kitsch must be a kind the multitudes can share. Kitsch may not, therefore, depend on an unusual situation; it must derive from the basic images people have engraved in their memories: the ungrateful daughter, the neglected father, children running on the grass, the motherland betrayed, first love.

Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass!

The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass!

It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch.

The brotherhood of man on earth will be possible only on a base of kitsch.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Milan Kundera          1984

 

Bokonon’s Republic (Warrior Poet Mental Yoga 159)

Bokonon had written a whole book about Utopias. The Seventh Book, which he called “Bokonon’s Republic.” In that book are these ghastly aphorisms:

The hand that stocks the drug stores rules the world.

Let us start our Republic with a chain of drug stores (prioritizing the protection of our own individual health, aches and pains, on our own demand via corporatism), a chain of grocery stores (our individual gluttony of the gullet supported by corporatism), a chain of gas chambers (prisons, a militarized and bullying police force, and any “indigenous” national scapegoat to take all the blame and be punished for being the enemies of public good and general welfare that they happen to be), and a national game (to obsess over and rewrite as our bullying team tries to destroy every other team in an over-dominating spectacle: the MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL, etc, etc, etc.). After that, we can write our Constitution (any way we want because everyone is too egocentric to care about anyone or anything else other than their own selfish distractions, excuses, and entertainment).

***forgive the added Cribb explanations in parentheses for those who get the original untainted and glorious satire of Vonnegut as it stands in its own succinct purity.

Cat’s Cradle

Kurt Vonnegut          1963

The Inheritance of All Healers (Warrior Poet Mental Yoga 156)

“One time,” said Castle, “when I was about fifteen, there was a mutiny near here on a Greek ship bound from Hong Kong to Havana with a load of wicker furniture. the mutineers got control of the ship, didn’t know how to run her, and smashed her up on the rocks near “Papa”Monzano’s castle. Everybody drowned but the rats. The rats and the wicker furniture came ashore.”

That seemed the end of the story, but I couldn’t be sure. “So?”

“So some people got free furniture, and some people got bubonic plague. At Father’s hospital, we had fourteen hundred deaths inside of ten days. Have you ever seen anyone die of bubonic plague?”

“That unhappiness has not bee mine.”

“The lymph glands in the groin and the armpits swell to the size of grapefruit.”

“I can well believe it.”

“After death, the body turns black—coals to Newcastle in the case of San Lorenzo. When the plague was having everything its own way, the House of Hope and Mercy in the Jungle looked like Auschwitz or Buchenwald. We had stacks of dead so deep and wide that a bulldozer actually stalled trying to shove them toward a common grave. Father worked without sleep for days, worked not only without sleep but without saving many lives, either.”

“Well, finish your story anyway.”

“Where was I?”

“The bubonic plague. The bulldozer was stalled by corpses.”

“Oh, yes. Anyway, one sleepless night I stayed up with Father while he worked. It was all we could do to find a live patient to treat. In bed after bed after bed we found dead people.

And Father started giggling,” Castle continued.

“He couldn’t stop. He walked out into the night with his flashlight. He was still giggling. He was making the flashlight beam dance over all the dead people stacked outside. He put his hand on my head, and do you know what that marvelous man said to me?” asked Castle.

“Nope.”

“‘Son,’ my father said to me, ‘someday this will all be yours.'”

Cat’s Cradle

Kurt Vonnegut          1963