Pankaj Mishra on the absence of compassion
May 25, 2018 1:15 PM   Subscribe

A Gandhian Stand Against the Culture of Cruelty. An essay by Pankaj Mishra on the importance of compassion in public life, and its absence today. "More ominously, this moral calamity in the world’s largest democracy is part of a global rout of such basic human emotions as empathy, compassion, and pity."
posted by russilwvong (4 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
His books "From the Ruins of Empire" and "The Age of Anger" read like potboilers but are nonetheless deeply challenging, and this article works as a nice companion-piece to the latter book.
posted by all the versus at 2:23 PM on May 25, 2018

I think kindness can be so easily marshaled in facile and harmful ways, as when you see lamented the squandered promise or whatever of some young man now become convicted rapist. That is poisonous and wrong, without doubt, but I think the “kindness” described here is a more fundamental moral bedrock. It’s a set of precepts formulated in terms of what no person should ever endure, and I think the article correctly identifies that as a necessary foundation of any coherent worldview that advocates justice. Only a categorical unwillingness to do terrible things to people is sustainable, otherwise you admit that there is some condition under which a person deserves terrible treatment, and then that condition can be widened and widened slowly in terrible ways. To be concrete, I think this manifests in things like: no matter what someone did to end up in prison, they shouldn’t be raped in prison; “kindness” as described here mandates that we as a society prevent that from happening even to people that have done terrible things.
posted by invitapriore at 8:39 PM on May 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

From the article:
"[...] a compassionate imagination does not refuse to assess individual culpability; it does not absolve offenders. Rather, it shows them mercy—an attitude that presupposes they have done wrong and must face the consequences, while acknowledging that their capacity for goodness has been diminished by the circumstances of life."
posted by haemanu at 3:09 AM on May 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

I liked that a lot; thanks for sharing.

I recently-ish joined a UU church and have been struggling a lot with their of idea of "transforming through love." As a therapist with a background in trauma recovery I have a strong belief that anger is necessary and healing; as a social justice advocate I likewise don't want to see righteous anger about unjust situations shut down to silence already oppressed people. And I'm struggling with... ok, then what? I agree with Mishra that of course it's not all or nothing, not "love everyone and anything goes" vs. "death penalty for all." But finding a stable foundation or worldview from which to build a sense of how to balance mercy and accountability is tricky, especially once you factor in the systemic biases of the kyriarchy. (invitapriore's point about forgiving well-off white rapists without really demanding accountability is a great example.)

No answers here, obviously, just a lot of thinking to do, and something I probably need to talk about more rather than just mulling things over by myself.
posted by lazuli at 8:08 AM on May 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

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