Questioning Compassion

I was already thinking about the way our civilization goes about using up everything in the most short-sighted manner when I came across this interesting post by Juan Cole, contrasting Melville’s Moby Dick with his Benito Cereno, and how the bureaucratic law-abiding business-as-usual mentality is far more responsible for the depletion of the Earth than the lone obsessive individual could ever be. In that post he describes how, in the late 18th century, Western concerns slaughtered hundreds of millions of fur seals, leading to their complete eradication within a generation. Hundreds of millions.

Which prompted this question to myself: we are supposed to feel compassion for human suffering, why exactly? Merely because we are members of the same species? But who decided to divide the world into species and other categories? We did. What makes those distinctions meaningful in any way? Nothing.

I’m no Saint Francis, no Buddha by any means, and I’ve probably been enjoying Rust Cohle on True Detective too much recently, but it sure seems to me that if I were an alien from another world I would have a difficult time distinguishing humans from other animal creatures of this planet other than by our utter callous ruthlessness in destroying all of them.

And it’s not just me in a bad mood – here’s Morgan Freeman, the veritable Voice of God, saying pretty much the same thing.


2 thoughts on “Questioning Compassion

  1. I understand where you’re coming from Tom. I’ve been there. BUT… I think some of us want to generate compassion in the world because we’re lacking so much of it. Not just for other human beings, but for Earth and specie care. I can’t say there hasn’t been times I though humans were the scourge, but I believe WE as a species can do better. I do believe in our potential. If an ape can learn sign language, humans can learn anything.


    • Yeah, I usually try to stay positive, look on the bright side and all that, but sometimes I relapse! I’ve been noticing recently that we no longer see California Quail in my neighborhood. There were hundreds only a decade ago (and literally billions two hunderd years ago). We’re blaming it on cats, but these cats are just an adjunct of humans, functionaries of extinction. Oops, there I go again :}


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