Compassion is a wonderful thing. A nation cannot govern or even survive, however, using compassion as its guiding ethical principle. The United States currently seems hell bent on disproving this fact, and is well on the way to confirming it. It is too bad that this is true, and we should all agree that it’s a damn shame that you can’t run a successful democracy without periodically inflicting pain, creating suffering and harming some human beings in order that many more can live in peace and pursue their lawful ambitions and desires. Nonetheless, that is an immutable fact of existence. Government policy that attempts to deny it is not merely incompetent and naive, but ultimately suicidal. A culture that elevates compassion above all other values like responsibility, accountability, prudence, process and proportion is betting everything on the inherent goodness and rationality of humanity. History tells us it’s a losing bet.
When I woke up to the horrible news of the Paris attacks, and after I had finished simultaneous laughing and crying about the fact that President Obama picked yesterday to proclaim that the threat of ISIS had been “contained,” it suddenly occurred to me that the majority of the crises this nation struggles with today are linked by the same cultural and leadership malady. The United States increasingly is unwilling to accept the reality that governance is utilitarian, and that punishment, deterrence, sacrifice, pain, retaliation and accountability are indispensable tools that must be used and used unapologetically. The alternative is chaos, and chaos is what we are facing.
An impressive number of these crises have been in the news this week:
Illegal immigration: The issue of what to do with illegal immigrants, Donald Trump’s wheelhouse, was central to the last Republican candidate’s debate. Trump repeated his fantasy of deporting all 13,000,000 of them, and supported his policy by recounting the Eisenhower era’s “Operation Wetback.” Jeb Bush and John Kasich, alone among the debaters, openly derided Trump’s “solution,” both pronouncing it cruel and lacking compassion. Former Bush 43 speechwriter Michael Gerson, who joins Charles Krauthammer and George Will in the Washington Post’s tiny conservative pundit ghetto, applauded. He then set about deploring Trump’s prescription with a series of irrelevancies and rationalizations:
The operation in question, energetically led by Army Gen. Joseph Swing, probably did move more than 1 million undocumented Mexican immigrants back to Mexico (though the figure may be exaggerated). People were taken with few possessions, in stroke-inducing heat, deep into the Mexican interior and dropped off, at first by bus, then on cargo boats in conditions a congressional investigation later compared to 18th-century slave ships.
A straw man. Trump’s comparison was meant to point out one thing: mass deportation can be done, because it has been done. How it was done 60 years ago is irrelevant. What a congressional investigation (led by Democrats) compared it to for maximum negative impact is irrelevant. How hot it was is irrelevant.
Eventually there was a mutiny aboard the Mercurio after seven passengers drowned jumping from the ship. Dozens of others died after being left in sweltering, remote locations.
Moral luck. The accountability for what happens to illegal immigrants when they force our government to return them and Mexico refuses to cooperate in repatriation must be assigned to 1) the illegal immigrants and 2) the Mexican government. Bad things happened? Bad things tend to happen to people who break laws. Bad things should happen to those who break laws. The irrefutable argument against U.S. immigration reform proposals, including “the Dream Act” is that good things must never happen to to those who break laws, or the government is encouraging its own laws to be broken. (Dream Acts are the perfect embodiment of the compassion over reason trend.) Gerson is arguing that the U.S. shouldn’t enforce laws in order to avoid bad things. That is an emotional, irresponsible argument.
So, a dramatically expanded Immigration and Customs Enforcement “deportation force” (Trump’s words) would take people from their homes — where some have lived, worked and worshiped for decades — using a massive fleet of buses to transport millions of frightened men, women and children to hundreds (thousands?) of mass detention centers surrounded by fences and (inevitably) barbed wire.
Compassion, however, is not a reason not to deport illegals and their children. A nation cannot enforce laws at all if enforcement itself is considered a breach of compassion.
War and terrorism: President Obama’s foreign policy has been governed and crippled by a core bias he shares with many nice Americans, but no effective American leaders of the past: he believes avoiding bloodshed, not killing civilians and not sacrificing U.S. soldiers is more important than keeping the world out of the hands of murderous despots, dictators, psychopaths and genocidal maniacs. His paralysis by compassion has led to disastrous delays when rapid U.S. military action was essential; it has led to the implosion of the Mideast, it has allowed some of those murderous despots, dictators, psychopaths and genocidal maniacs to manipulate his fear of being responsible for deaths to their advantage (and to the peril of the rest of the world). Obama’s influence, born of mass media’s ability to make the ugliness of war visible to citizens who do not understand the nature of deterrence, war and U.S. responsibilities abroad, have made compassionate opposition to military engagement a political force that induces irresponsible pandering by too elected officials.
Yesterday’s Paris attacks demonstrate that avoiding serious and total commitment to eradicating terrorist groups by violent force, a compassionate refusal to acknowledge the threat posed by Islamic radicals, and a denial-based policy of not subjecting Islamic immigrants to any special scrutiny at all, can and will lead to a greater threat of terrorism.
Mass incarceration, drug legalization, and law enforcement: A collective shift has occurred focusing more attention on the dire consequences to the law-breaker of a law-breaker’s own actions than on the actions themselves. The shift is based on excessive and often misplaced compassion, allowing the very process of law enforcement to be vilified and discredited. Yes, families, communities and lives are tragically harmed when a citizen commits a felony and is convicted and imprisoned. Still, we must enforce the law, and penalties must be sufficient to deter lawbreakers. That means punishment must hurt, and must disrupt the lives of others sufficiently that there is incentive for potential lawbreakers to avoid it.
Compassion is at best a secondary consideration, not a primary one. During the current police vilification typified by Black Lives Matter, the deaths of law breakers resisting arrest, threatening police, and endangering the community when individual officers over-react, panic, behave unprofessionally or make a questionable judgment are completely subsumed in the debates. Condemnation of the police and law enforcement is the only topic. A human being has died, you see: compassion dictates that no criticism attach to the victim…for breaking laws, for defying lawful police requests and demands, and for setting into motion dangerous event that led to his own death. This blursethical lines, and encourages lawlessness.
“Hate speech,” censorship, trigger warnings, “safe” places, political correctness, etc.: Legitimate and important activities in a democracy, such as political advocacy, dissent, forceful rhetoric, art, creativity, satire, humor, expression and thought can all make others uncomfortable, offend them, upset them , intimidate them, shock them or worse. Focusing exclusively on the unpleasant experiences of unappreciative listeners, watchers or readers and applying compassion—their feelings matter more than the freedom to engage in the activities upsetting them—leads directly and inevitably to the restriction of liberty and restricted liberty. The fact that the nation’s leadership and media, in such trivial matters as the Washington Redskins name, increasingly default to concern about feelings-based harm rather than liberty encourages the same misalignment of priorities in other settings.
Donald Trump: This is a different kind of crisis. The very real threat of him coming to power is due to the backlash against the national, international and cultural carnage resulting from the flaccid “compassionate” policies of the Obama administration. There is phenomenal groundswell of support for a boorish narcissist who appears to have no compassion at all.
The United States of America cannot maintain a cultural consensus or its own ideals if it abandons compassion entirely. It should not be an all or nothing choice.
Compassion, witch joins such values as empathy, sympathy and benevolence under the category of caring, is an important ethical value but far from the most important one. For competent leaders, it is well down the priority list, and in many circumstances should be jettisoned entirely. A long, nice, slippery slope has elevated compassion to dangerous prominence in the ethical balancing process that governing and democracy require. There are ethical values that are fatal in excessive quantity and naive application.
Compassion, unfortunately, is one of them.
17 thoughts on “On Immigration, Speech Suppression, War, Terrorism, Police and More, It’s Cultural Death By Compassion Poisoning”
Jack: “It is too bad that this is true, and we should all agree that it’s a damn shame that you can’t run a successful democracy without periodically inflicting pain, creating suffering and harming some human beings in order that many more can live in peace and pursue their lawful ambitions and desires. Nonetheless, that is an immutable fact of existence. Government policy that attempts to deny it is not merely incompetent and naive, but ultimately suicidal. A culture that elevates compassion above all other values like responsibility, accountability, prudence, process and proportion is betting everything on the inherent goodness and rationality of humanity. History tells us it’s a losing bet.”
I have been reading Alain de Benoist and, according to him, it is a misnomer to refer to (especially our American system of) democracy as a democracy. It is a plutocracy, an oligarchic-industrial something-or-other where the *real* decisions, and the ones that matter, are in small sense made by people. Alain de Benoist refers to the origins of democracy (in a real sense) and locates it in communities where people are in real communication. I bring up this point (which, Heaven forbid and protect) sounds lefty-chewy not because I am burping up my Chomsky but because it is true: tremendous powers that are not democratic, and certainly not communities of persons, have been choosing the paths of global realpolitik, invasions, and all else, and screwing many things up mightily.
I am not sure how to read the above paragraph. Many on the European Right, (a so-called New Right) are saying that it is the result of some global policies by huge national and corporate interests – the US and its system-allies – are saying that what they are after has little to do with ‘preserving Western civilization’ (the Conservative ideal I have been made to understand) and expanding manufacture and distribution networks. Very little to do with ‘democracy’. So from this perspective going after the baddies who pulled off these recent slaughters is not so much really the demos ‘punishing’, but the system and the structure annihilating a viable opposition which, in numerous senses, it has helped to create!
Is this true? I wish that I knew. My platform is that I think everyone is lying to me and no one even seems to know the truth.
Jack: “The issue of what to do with illegal immigrants, Donald Trump’s wheelhouse, was central to the last Republican candidate’s debate. Trump repeated his fantasy of deporting all 13,000,000 of them, and supported his policy by recounting the Eisenhower era’s “Operation Wetback.” Jeb Bush and John Kasich, alone among the debaters, openly derided Trump’s “solution,” both pronouncing it cruel and lacking compassion.”
I have also been reading Raul Hilberg’s ‘Destruction of the European Jews’. The most amazing tale is that of Germany forcing a cultural divorce between its German native culture and the Jewish non-German culture. He documents how it was carried out with clinical precision. I mean it was both clinically precise, i.e. Germany decided to rip out the Jewish culture from within its German culture, an act that takes startling will and clarity of purpose, and full disregard for the one being ripped out. It helped me to understand what, in fact, Germany was trying to accomplish. And I write of course as a Jew. And then I began to read Houston Chamberlain to understand the reasons why Germany wanted to rid itself of the Jewish culture within it.
I bring this up because there is no way in Heaven or in Hell that America will ever be able to deport 13 million people. To literally disassociate them, wrest them out of its national body. It will not happen, not ever. It would require a Nazi- and nationalist-like plan and have to be planned at a central level.
And you put it well here: “A million, however, means it is too late, and thirteen million is science fiction. There would be riots, protests, civil disobedience, disturbing photos, even armed uprisings. That the deportation would be justified doesn’t matter: it can’t be done. Saying it would tear communities apart, as Jeb and Kasich argued, is beside the point: it would tear the nation apart. Even if it could be done, and it couldn’t, it would also look terrible, and would be exploited by the enemies of the U.S., both internally and abroad, to devastating effect…”
Someone once wrote that – in some future – the US could Balkanise. If that were to happen it is at least conceivable that regions would develop along ethic/cultural lines. In my (admittedly not very politically correct) readings, some people propose that this is a necessary step and should not be shied away from. Ginsberg wrote in a ‘poem’ “Who really wants to get f**ked in the a**?” and someone else might say “Who really wants to melt all together”?
Who came up with this “let’s all melt together” ideas anyway. Let us, rather, melt apart. I am more on that side of the equation, horrid as that sounds. I wonder if it has to do with my diet? 😉
I have come to understand why you instinctively hate (?) Donald Trump. I was listening to someone of unpopular political views say that though he could not take Trump at all seriously he gloated at the way he has been able to talk sh*t in such a way that no one can really answer him back. He subverts everyone’s tele-image and gets them all twisted up. They have to eliminate him … but how?
To heck with ‘compassion’. I wish now to define a platform f true hardness but I just don’t know how to do it.
Well put, Elizia. What do you think of this piece? (I’ve invited the author here for further discourse.)
Oops, sorry to answer my own self but I mistakenly invited the man who posted a link to Mark Steyn’s piece. Not that he’s not welcome here. I now have invited the true author, Mark, here. I think he has something to say. steynonline.com
Must be all the coffee but I just had to post Prentice Matthew’s response to my comment on Mark Steyn’s piece. I said, “@FarkleUp: Interesting, forthright, yet, in the end, flawed. https://t.co/3zI6kUUkqi and he said, “@prenticemathew: @FarkleUp your argument is so overwhelming I don’t know what to do with myself.” I laughed when I read it.
A wise Buddhist teacher once coined the term idiot compassion. Sure, we all want to be thought of as kind and nice. But this should not be the overriding prescription regarding what we say and how we treat people. This short video “Be good, not nice” makes it clear why this is important: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=wZCP5Uojalk
Rachel is smarter than she looks.
A profoundly accurate analysis, Jack. Nice job.
I’m just not sure an administration calibrated to deal with campus rape and micro-aggression is up to the task of dealing with organized genocidal macro-aggression.
Jack, do you REALLY think Donald Trump might out-poll Hillary? Come on! In that hypothetical contest for women’s votes, Hillary wins in a landslide. The greater riddle to me is why Trump’s supporters don’t realize that. Well, maybe some of them do realize that – and that is why they support Trump.
Of course it’s possible. A major terrorist attack or an economic collapse or an Obamacare meltdown and it would be probable. He’s not getting the nomination, but I’m less certain of that than I once was.
And what about men’s votes?
I am convinced that men’s votes will not matter in 2016. They’ll be diluted and marginalized by other voting-bloc identity markers like race, age and ethnicity. And ideology. On the other hand, women’s votes are the decisive herd. The candidate that is least offensive to women will get the most of their votes, by a large margin. Clinton 42 won with the women’s vote. Clinton 45 will likely survive whatever happens before Election Day despite negative impressions among women. Many won’t trust her, but will vote for her anyway because of their assessments of the alternatives.
Women out-number men roughly 60%-40%.
My question is this: Is this the best we have to offer for the Presidency? Hillary — in a just world, a convicted felon — against a plethora of either too-far-right, too-young, or too-ideological Republicans? It will all come down to who has the best “machine”– and that, of course, is Hillary. One can only hope that (1) Hillary’s “history” — though vehemently denied — will catch up with her; and (2) the Republicans can come up with just one candidate that can challenge her.
My sister in law, like many Hollywood types before her, has threatened to leave the county if a conservative Republican runs and wins. She also says she will not vote for Hillary under any circumstance. ***WHAT?***
This only demonstrates the “great confusion” that exist among voters. NO ONE is rightfully taking the lead. From either party. A tragedy.
Let’s go back, for a moment, to the Founders and their view of Congressional service, There was ,naively, no sense at the time that politics would be a *profession*. The idea then was that regular (albeit ‘professional’ or ‘landowner’ citizens) would come forward and ‘do their duty’ for one or two terms, then return to their regular productive lives.
Alas,this is not the way it has turned out. (1) The nation is run by a bunch of lifetime politicians, who not only want re-election but who do so by bringing ‘pork’ to their jurisdictions; (2) A general view by voters that what the media says is “true” (years ago, during the Watergate era,a grad school professor told me that I should get into network and newspaper communications, because they have the power, and they decide what is ‘news,’ and what the public should know — this now a Pravda reference); career politicians owe so many debts to so many funders that it boggles the mind (regardless of Hillary’s lame excuse by calling up 9-11 and justifying her Wall Street support); and (4) the original concept of the Founders (so often and so mind-boggling misused or misinterpreted) has gone… forever.
Where are the high-functioning, results-producing, private sector candidates? Trump does not count: anyone who has made a fortune (a) starting off with his father’s inheritance; and (2) used the bankruptcy laws to remain a billionaire — doesn’t deserve any attention. (The fact that he is an asshole notwithstanding — we’ve had a lot of asshole but effective presidents.) Still, I think and hope that somewhere out there –clearly not this election cycle — can step forward. (I had great hopes for Fred Thompson — lawyer, actor, senator — but his half-hearted run is now explained by his cancer, which recently killed him.) WHERE ARE THE OTHERS? Without them, we are surely doomed.
Time for me to watch one of two Winston Churchill videos on my Kindle. Heroism, keen intelligence, and pragmatism did exist — albeit a generation-and-a-half ago…
Born in the wrong time, I guess.
Exactly what is wrong with electing a young president? Theodore Roosevelt was 42 when he assumed office and amongst other things created the National Parks Service, built the Panama Canal, received the Nobel Peace prize for negotiating the end to the Russo-Japanese War, and made the USA a world power by authorizing the construction of the Great White Fleet. JFK age 43 when elected, was the last Democratic president who was reasonably effective in office. Also, what is your criteria for being “far right wing”?
1. There is nothing wrong with electing Teddy Roosevelt, but that opportunity doesn’t come along that often.
2. There’s a reason he’s still the youngest Prez: EI is right that in general, youth is a bad bet. If JFK is the best argument for youth—his greatest accomplishments were 1) never getting caught with one of his mistresses and 2) getting shot, which elevated his reputation beyond reason—her point is proved.
The telling comment I saw in the paper today (10/16) was by Ben Rhodes, Obama’s Deputy of National Security, in response to questions about the administration’s policy regarding Syrian immigration: “We’re also dealing with people who’ve suffered the horror of war, women, children, and orphans. We just can’t shut our doors on these people.”
The emotional blackmail card and the long used logic of doing it “For the children.” In light of the possibility that at least one terrorist was a recent Syrian immigrant, I would follow Representative Stephen Lynch and advise a reassessment.