Thursday, January 27, 2011


Political Mayhem Thursday with Guest Blogger, my dad

I'm letting my dad take the blog today. It's funny... I've never thought of him as a writer; his professional identity for me is that of a painter who has the most amazing eye for light and beauty (you can see his work above and here). I don't remember, actually, seeing much he had written until very recently.

But, sometimes, this amazing thing happens with people you love-- you find out they can do something exceptionally well, and you didn't know. It's a wonderful surprise, and that's what has happened here. Here is his reflection for today:

I was walking up Royal St in New Orleans just as the art galleries and shops were opening for the day. In front of a gallery there was a young man lying on the pavement, flat on his back, with his cell phone still in his hand. Everyone had to walk around him and did. They probably had seen this before. Death by overdose. If he were still alive, would they have stopped? Why don't we stop and see if we can help?

In this week's State of the Union address and the Repuplican response there was no mention of those citizens living in poverty, nor was there talk about the desperate state of many of our cities where untold heartbreaking stories of desperation are now playing out. Why?

The heroes that were honored most were small businessmen and our servicemen and women whom we sent out carrying weapons. They received the loudest and longest applause. Not mentioned were those whom we sent out with medicine, plans and programs for bringing better lives to those in need. Why?

Is it because compassion is a sign of weakness? Is compassion out of fashion? Is compassion too expensive? Or is compassion a personal affair and not a communal prerogative as Fox New's popular Glenn Beck and the Southern Baptist Convention instruct us to believe.

After increasing for over a decade the number of people entering poverty zoomed up following our financial crisis in 2008. In 2009 and in 2010, with extended unemployment compensation, increased distribution of food stamps, earned income tax credits, and perhaps the stimulus spending, the rate of those entering poverty has leveled out at too high a level. Today, nearly 44 million Americans are livgin in poverty including 17milliion living at half the official poverty level. 1 out of 5 children in our country are living in poverty. Should we continue these endangered programs? Will our country show concern going forward? Should we?

I believe that our national conversation about city, state and federal deficits is incomplete.. When we recover and are a "wealthy" nation once again will we also be a morally rich nation? I think we are approaching a bankruptcy of compassion. Or am I only showing my weakness?


Something something mumble invisible hands mumble mumble.
What's that, Lane- the Communist Mumblefesto?
Compassion comes from deep inside and sadly too often these days, at the time of misplaced sense of entitlement reign and me-now, deep inside is a very lonely place.
No, Mr. Osler, you are not showing weakness. Compassion - and action upon it - is a sign of bravery and strength because it takes true effort that is often uncomfortable and, at times, tiring.

We, as a country and as individuals, need more compassion. It is too easy to just think, "Oh, they could do better" or "They don't want to do better." That may be true in some cases, but to generalize the situation only removes us from responsibility.

Poverty is a national and local crisis; thus, compassion should be a governmental and personal responsibility.

But... can it be taught?
To somewhat quote a wonderful comment Bruce Springsteen made during a solo made-for-TV concert, “Compassion is how we connect with (express?) God … and when we lose compassion, we lose that spiritual connection.”
Herr Donut:

A Mumble Into the Grumble of Nations.

The Communist Mumblefesto starts off: "There is a mumble haunting something, the mumble of jumble."
You seem to have logic-ed the Republicans into submission!

Or else they don't want to make you mad because you might paint them.

Or maybe they are compassionate?
Compassionate conservatism went out with the Bush years (remember those? Eight years of deficit-financed spending, job loss, costly foreign military actions that cost lives, torture, secret prisons, Gitmo, and the actual erosion of Constitutional rights?) I do. That's what it looks like when conservatives are "compassionate."

Now, we've elected a bunch of John Galt worshipping rugged individualists.

On the other hand, Democratic compassion appears to be weak-willed capitulation, so, you know, all's fair.
I think that having compassion has nothing to do with being brave, it has nothing to do with being weak or being strong. Compassion has everything to do with being a decent human being. It takes but a second to stop and try to put ourselves in someone‘s less fortunate shoes at any given moment and that alone can only make us both humbler and more humane…something that no republicans or democrats can ever teach or compel, since human decency is not something either have shown lately.
So, to be clear, if I don't believe that massive government entitlement programs are the appropriate way to help the truly needy and poor in this country then I am not compassionate? If I simply believe, and trust the research that confirms, that the health of the overall economy, the size of the population, and the relative wealth of a country have much more to do with poverty rates than how much money that country dedicates to the social safety net, does that somehow mean I don't care?

I understand that liberals and progressives are fond of justifying massive government spending by trying to paint any conservative that has serious disagreements with that spending as evil, uncaring, etc. But is that really true?

I don't believe you're weak because you want the government to be the source of help for the poorest among us. I simply believe you're going about it the wrong way. I understand that you believe that I'm wrong as well because I don't think government is the answer. But do you really think that means I'm not compassionate?

Anon 12:44 -- trust me, logic or a lack of response played no role in my silence. I just wanted to give you libs the chance to pat yourselves on the back all morning for how compassionate and caring you all are. Job well done by you too.
To answer rhetorical questions not posed to me, no RRL, I think what makes most conservatives uncompassionate is the me-first, take care of the individual and that will take care of society attitude. Obvs. this is not a universal conservative trait.

And "government" isn't a liberal bandaid. All of us that arent anarchists believe that government can and does protect us and provide for us, at least in some ways. Liberals tend to believe that targeted interventionary policies (a welfare state) can energize natural/market forces to respond to social justice issues, which is moderately "compassionate" in the sense of they're trying to make things fair, but they miss out on something that you actually hit on: the measure isn't how much is spent per person, but rather how many people are subject to poverty conditions.

Were you a filthy Marxist, I'd say you were talking about class struggle. The liberal, bourgeois ideology is that compassion means a higher class must benevolently act to protect and shepherd the poor lower classes. "Government" factors in to this not at all. A liberal might see civil government as the only way of intervening, whereas a conservative might instead rely on market forces (my little joke about invisible hands).

A true state solution would be to use the state and the state's power (law) to work to undermine and replace a class-based system, but that isn't motivated by compassion but rather social theory. All economic systems are about distribution of a limited number of resources. A compassionate person, that is, a person concerned with justice for her society, necessarily wants the fairest distribution.

I happen to believe that fairness is best summed up in from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. But the refrain I hear from my conservative friends these days is quite different, that the upper classes are that way because they're intrinsically more able or qualified (see: divine right of kings) while the lower classes are the way they are due to fault, error, or human nature. That's why I say the ethos of conservative (and here I include bourgeois liberalism) socioeconomic theories aren't compassionate, because they neglect the moral dimension of the socialist response to class struggle.

Maybe I didn't make that clear. I was trying to leave open the possibility the conservatives are compassionate too, in a different way. I amend my last line.

Most of what has been written has not been a plea for government action, but for human compassion, including that expressed privately. The very poignant New Orleans story at the start of the post clearly went to the need for individual, not government, action rather than willing blindness.

Anon 12:44
i agree with the notion that our nation, by and large, lacks compassion.
i also agree with assertions that we should examine long and hard our willingness to give, whether of our money or of our time.
but compelled compassion isn't compassion at all.
Woody raises an interesting question: Are government-funded social programs really compassionate?
To Craig:
I am sure they are not but... isn't our government run by people who have the capacity to be compassionate?
All people have the capacity to be compassionate.

So are government-funded social programs compassionate or not compassionate?
I do find it laughable the notion that America is not a compassionate country. I can promise you that it is without a doubt, the MOST COMPASSIONATE PLACE ON EARTH. In terms of actual numbers (giving of money and time) and "feeling" (faith based desires for giving and general principles on charity) Americans lead by leaps and bounds.

Is it where we want to be? Probably not. But many here have convinced themselves into thinking that there is possibly somewhere better out there. Or maybe it's the promise of a "brighter tomorrow" y'all seek. If that's so, then great, work to make it even better, but truth be told I think we are very morally rich.

PS Lane: looking at the stats, Conservatives give in greater amounts and donate more of their time than liberals, about 30% more. Thus your notion, if limiting your definition of compassionate to charitable giving, shows that maybe Conservatives generally don't have the "me-first" attitute you attribute to them and actually give much back to society.

Also, you stated
"I happen to believe that fairness is best summed up in from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." But go on to say that what conservatives belive is different. You state conservatives believe that "the upper classes are that way because they're intrinsically more able or qualified." Isn't that the same as "according to his ability?"

"While the lower classes are the way they are due to fault, error, or human nature." How is this belief different from yours where in such a system, "their needs" are limited by their own faults and errors?

You seem to be advocating that we scrap this "according to one's" abilty and need thing and just decide for everyone else what level they really are at. I don't think that's compassionate either.
Tom, I certainly won't defend liberalism; liberalism is as much antithetical to Marxism as right-wing conservatism is. I think social programs not conditioned on "from each according to his ability" (e.g., a welfare program) is ultimately unsustainable and reeks of class struggle itself. What I would like to see is a greater degree of public planning in how to more efficiently distribute resources so that something like class can be eradicated.

And I think you misunderstand Marx's slogan. Marx here is speaking of the post-socialist, eventual communist society where labor as a means of survival has ended and each society has begun to produce an abundance of what it requires to survive so that everyone can be provided for. Sure, it's idealistic, but I think the basic reasoning behind it is sound: in the ideal society, everyone should be expected to do no more than he is capable of, but also no less. That is, you and I, being trained attorneys, should not be expected to let our talents or expertise in the law lie fallow. People have a need for our services and we should, being productive members of society, provide it.

But, by the same token, no one should be allowed to deny us the things we need, either to survive or carry out our tasks.

This goes back to Marx's writings on the economic structure of a capitalist society (one with important ramifications today) about the under-use of available labor and an under-production of desired or necessary things to ensure that we stay at some particular point along the supply/demand curve.

Looking at it that way, yes, there are people who are poor because they have made exceedingly poor choices (a drug addict that loses his job, etc., and is forced to become homeless), but there are also people who are not poor thanks to no contribution to society from themselves (reality show stars, for example). Income inequality is growing, and there is a very real gap between how much of our limited number of societal resources are consumed by the "haves" and how much by the "have nots."

The liberal "compassion" neither you nor I favor is to attempt to force, through government action, giving up some of what the haves have to the have nots. I don't think that's a compassionate act, though the motivations may be such, because it essentially leaves all of the resources in private hands, just spreads them around.

That's not the solution I'm talking about; the solution I'm talking about is a change in the view between who "has" what in the have/have not distinction. I think we need to reexamine what ought to be publicly or communally owned (means of production, necessities to life, things required for the support of workers and work) and what things ought to be privately owned (luxury goods, chattels). And no one should be allowed to receive public commodities except that such a person contributes to society. We need to change our attitude from "I work on this," to "we work on this." Abandon the atomistic perspective that we are discrete individuals who work for a common purpose only because someone else is organizing us (be it a liberal government or private enterprise or whatever) and adopt the perspective that we are a society/world of people that have to get along together and work together to survive, or ultimately fail as we deplete our available resources, waste them, or use them inefficiently in the name of profits.

And to me, that's the compassionate stance to take; compassion isn't pity and charity (though that can be part of it). It is not an awareness of social justice and the choice of any means necessary to arrive at it. It is a sense of empathy and shared duty, the notion that together, with careful planning, we can succeed; whereas if we strike off on our own, we eventually will fall.
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