On Pity


On Pity

 

                                             Escracez l'infame             
                                                                               -Voltaire

 
Pity is a superfluous exercise meant to substitute for justice.  It can and often does, take the form of a wealthy corporation engaging in widely publicized campaigns of charity to polish up the public relations image.  Pity, as surely as an algebraic equation strives for equality, exacerbates the evil it purports to alleviate.  Everyone can see this at first hand; yet everyone denies it, if only subconsciously.  It is easier to feel pity than to actually work toward a solution. 
 
It is not the classic example which we'll get to momentarily, but WalMart is a good example of this phenomenon.  Although its campaign can't be described as pity per se, WalMart spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually polishing up its public relations image on Madison Avenue; to the effect that WalMart's a good corporate citizen – as if that's not a contradiction in terms – that it's a wholesome job provider to the community, that it imports fruits and vegetables into urban food deserts, that it provides decent goods at low, low prices.  Capitalism's famous for that.  Rather than engendering the actuality of being a good corporate citizen, WalMart: pays its domestic slaves, what it euphemistically refers to as its associates, sub-living wages.  It tosses the responsibilities for these employees' health care unto the shoulders of government, not neglecting to claim this is what free market enterprise, capitalism looks like; it demands slave wages of what it currently perceives as abroad and squeezes suppliers who don't measure up to WalMart's demands overseas; with its on time business model, WalMart minimizes its need for labor.  While five of Sam Walton's heirs reside in the top ten of Forbes's list of richest pseudo-persons on the planet. 
 
Bertrand Russell once wrote that while innocent until proven guilty was a good precept, with saints it  ought be just the opposite: guilty until proven innocent.  If that seems harsh, note it still allows the chance for redemption.  I think this idea ought extend to rich people: guilty until proven innocent.  As just one exhibit that I should think would sway this court in finding the Walton heirs guilty is their rabid hatred and fear of unions.  Do they want the US to become a third world country?  Isn't it likely that a business model as successful as WalMart's is likely to be emulated wherever it can?  Sure WalMart will still have perhaps not as many customers who can rub two dollars together to buy a tube of toothpaste.  But the other business interests?  Where are they going to get their customers?  And when the US looks like a Third World ghetto, where are the Waltons going to move?  To China?  Because now that's where the money is?
 
You may ask what WalMart has to do with pity although it seems pretty clear to me at this point.  The Waltons engender so much misery in the world it can only be perceived with pity, and the pity feasting upon itself, exacerbates itself. The pity that feeds on itself, that must of necessity feed on itself, and  exponentiates itself. 
 
These phenomena happen within a psychological dynamic.  Ugliness, often the product of pity – and poverty – engenders a type of depression that might be considered pity.  For all its affluence, there is plenty of ugliness in our society, all of it springing from poverty, a synonym for injustice.  One is hurt, at least emotionally by the sight of ugliness, which is to say poverty: a lack of art, unemployment, disparities of wealth, pollution and destruction of the natural environment, corruption in business and politics, and the indifference and lack of social cohesion of the societal whole.  All of this is wont to engender pity.  And does.  And the whole society becomes more Orwellian by the day.  And were that not bad enough is the indifference with which its victims greet it.
 
The destructive part of pity is a psychological phenomenon.  Indeed, the psychological phenomenon works something like this: I suffer, someone must feel pity for me.  And if someone must, then everyone must.  Yet pity only compounds the problem.  There are noble sufferers; many of them.  And humanity owes them.  We, despite ostensible appearances are as wealthy or as poverty-stricken as they.  What is worse, this dynamic almost always results in the victim turning the blame back upon him or herself, and convinces her that her poverty is her fault.  Nothing could be further from the truth.
 
Not only that but it is the wrong response.  Because, as we've seen, pity feeds on and exacerbates itself, and exponentiates itself.  So what is the correct response to these injustices, if not pity?  Before we get to that, let's examine more of the big generators of pity.  Pity is a superfluous emotion.  It doesn't do any good; why exercise it?  Indeed, as we've seen pity is harmful.  One might be ebullient, drunk, stoned, spending time with her family with a sunny disposition, at the beach, eating lunch, in a classroom, teaching and being taught, anything's better than pity.  Certainly where the many victims of poverty are concerned, much more worthy a response is to work and struggle for justice.  “Injustice shared,” wrote Nietzsche, “is half justice.”
 
The classic example of pity being harmful is Christianity.  There are exceptions, but Christianity is overwhelmingly harmful.  It makes mockery of the fundamental instincts in man, in woman too.  Its trifling with sexuality for example.  Its announcement that first one needs the Kingdom of God and subsequently all the blessings of life – food, clothing, shelter, recreation – will be added to the slate.  It suggesting in all seriousness that there's something human after the nothing of the grave.  And, pity is almost the cardinal virtue of Christianity. 
 
Pity confuses.  Is confusion a way to alleviate the problems that pity purports to address?  Pity psychologically obviates the aspiration for strength – physical, emotional, mental – which requires challenge, testing, experiment, risk, even sometimes unto the bitter end; or at least to beat the fear of it possibly beating you that's ever present – especially in this capitalist nightmare.  How much work ethic before we consume all non-renewable resources?  What does pity accomplish?  What can it accomplish?  Nothing.  It is like a dirty wash rag ready for the hamper with the difference that the rag can subsequently be utilized again.  Pity is like hope: an unreasonable postponement of what ought be a present reality. 
 
Christian ideology by its very nature turns all natural values into anti-values – the drives, the functions, the appetites, the full spectrum of the creative and non-creative aspects of humanity – how can it generate anything other than pity?  And we have seen what is the dead end of pity.  At this point in humanity's evolution or non-evolution that dead end is extinction.
 
Christianity does some good, there is no getting around that.  Indeed, some of the dearest people I have ever known were not only Christians but leaders, almost the leaders in their church.  There are genuine Christians and believers who follow Christ's example; and there's no getting around the sincerity of their practice.  I am an atheist, but those to me are the fundamental tenets of real Christianity: sincerity and practice. 
 
The grossest example of Christianity failing in its tacit promises to address conditions of poverty, misery and despair are homeless shelters.  Go to some of them.  They perpetuate the misery they purport to address.  These shelters, underfunded though they may be, do little more than gather together the miseries of poverty, which must needs lead to the psychological phenomenon described above.  And in this particular case the way the guilt for the poverty is turned back upon its victim, is that this is a masquerade for justice; victimhood, not recognizing itself but perceiving the charity – itself a substitute for justice – has to wonder why he's been brought to such a low state.  Why is he, a democratic equal subject to the ignominy of charity?  It must be his own self.  It never enters his mind that he is a victim of his poverty.  The psychological phenomenon works a bit like this: the inhabitant, the victim, turns the blame back upon him or herself, and convinces herself that her poverty is her fault. 
 
Suppose this desperate drowner is looking for a life preserver and encounters the ubiquitous Christianity.  She's in for an encounter with an entity that has a totally delusional grasp on the concept of cause and effect. Christians actually believe God is going to pull back the curtains of causality so their self-fulfilling phantasms can come to pass.  Christians believe there is human life after death.  Christians believe that belief is the fulcrum upon which the reality of God is proved.  Christianity believes in the concept of sin.  Not degrees of good and bad.  Not shades of grey.  Christianity, to plagiarize Nietzsche deludes itself with imaginary causes: God, soul, ego, spirit, free will, unfree will.  It wallows in imaginary effects: sin, redemption, grace, punishment, forgiveness of sins. 
 
It's my bad French, but the quote of Voltaire's means “Crush the infamy.”  He was referring to Christianity.  I think it's fair in the modern world to include capitalism in a note of some of humanity's sickest experiments.
 
 

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