Our compassion is being exploited, don’t let it be replaced with anger and resentment
Compassion, on the surface, is very straightforward. If we had more of it, the world would be a better place.
Life isn’t straightforward. It is filled with innumerable complexities and uncertainties.
Outward compassion in a world filled with 7.6 billion people becomes an aspirational virtue that is difficult to attain and maintain.
One reason for this difficulty is because we evolved our compassionate traits in small tribal environments. This could be one reason why you are more likely to donate money to one child suffering versus a million children suffering.
And this is probably why Gautama Buddha suggested we should express compassion for all:
Have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike; as each have their suffering. Some suffer too much, others too little.
Another reason compassion is difficult is that suffering is fundamental to existence, therefore we have to overcome our own suffering first. Then, our attention goes to our family and it’s almost a guarantee that one of your loved ones is suffering and needs your compassion.
Then there’s the paradox lurking underneath. Too much compassion can become a burden on the person receiving it. It’s the ancient story of the archetypal overprotective mother seeking to protect her child but unintentionally harming them.
Also, the more suffering and adversity we overcome the more resilient and prepared we become for the future. This is how your immune system works via antibodies and, this is why I advocated that we should harness our inner immigrant if we want sustained success.
Despite the many positives of compassion, it can become negative. In fact, any virtue can if it is not tempered by other virtues.
Mother nature is a great teacher.
All species in nature experience systemic suffering. To give one example — the grass is a victim of the grasshopper who is a victim of the frog, who is a victim of other frogs but also snakes, and the snake is a victim of the monkey who finally is a victim of the eagle.
This system of suffering is required to keep nature in harmony. If this ecosystem were to be disrupted, there would be a chain reaction of consequences.
You can find examples of ecosystem interventions everywhere, many of them driven by human compassion and some are small but insidious.
My favorite example is the grey wolf being eradicated from Yellowstone, then their reintroduction in 1995, which created a destruction and subsequent revival of the ecosystem that even changed the structure of its rivers.
“What we’re finding is that ecosystems are incredibly complex. What happened is that the presence of wolves triggered a still-unfolding cascade effect among animals and plants — one that will take decades of research to understand.”
By now you may be wondering how is compassion being exploited?
To illustrate this, we can direct our attention to the bloodiness of the 20th century where we had seemingly innocuous ideas, appealing to our compassions, resulting in dire consequences.
Karl Marx’s ideas, as explained in his 1848 Communist Manifesto, are filled with appeals to compassion for the oppressed and suffering lower class. He calls this class the proletariat and compares them to a middle-age feudal serf, Roman plebeian, or slave.
On the surface, we can find this emotionally appealing but what starts as compassion, gets transformed into cynicism, anger, strife, and resentment for an enemy — an ambiguous system of capitalists and an ambiguous group called the Bourgeoise (oppressor).
Within Marx’s ideas and ones like this, you will rarely find data and you won’t find a hypothesis-driven pursuit to knowledge, just presumptions, emotional persuasion, and over-simplified solutions: for Marx, the solution was a revolution:
“to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class… and use its political supremacy to wrest all capital from the bourgeoisie.”
What transpired from these late 19th century ideas is 20th-century ruin. Opportunistic leaders and compassionate turned resentful “proletariats” led revolution after revolution that never resulted in a more equitable society devoid of oppression and suffering, it ended in chaos and modern forms of witch-burning that killed over a 100 million “bourgeoisie.”
The most illuminating example of this is told in The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. He tells his story, and Russia’s story, of the 20th-century concentration camps that you never learned about in school that killed ~50,000,000 people.
And, these compassionate social visions didn’t stop in the 20th century. The 21st century had another example. Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, inspired by Karl Marx and Lenin, led a revolution described by a British politician:
The late Venezuelan president, “showed us there is a different and a better way of doing things. It’s called socialism, it’s called social justice, and it’s something that Venezuela has made a big step toward.”
Again, the result was chaos, not equity or social justice.
In all of these examples, compassion lit the match but anger and resentment were the fuel to the fire.
These examples aren’t even unique to countries outside the U.S. either. To name one example among many in the U.S., in late 2017 on the campus of Evergreen State College, student compassion quickly turned to hostility regarding a need for social justice for the oppressed following the 2016 election and lectures by Robin DiAngelo to end systemic racism of oppressors.
Once again, what led with compassion ended in anger and resentment, which turned violent with students holding faculty members hostage. The University shut down for a few days and hasn’t recovered. The full documentary of the events at Evergreen State College is located here.
Counterbalancing compassion with virtues like openness, dialogue, and rational discourse was needed, but instead, compassion became exploited with emotional persuasion and replaced with anger and resentment.
That brings us to 2020 where the media is presenting us with a need for social justice and a definitive cause of systemic racism and white supremacy. These causes are then justified by showing disparities in data, horrific scenes of police shootings, and resurrections of historical oppressions.
On the surface, this would be compassionate and historical journalism.
Here comes the “but” … but, the data (media) we are being shown is disproportionately focused on divisive group identity politics of two racial identities: black vs. white.
Our compassions are being pulled in all directions to not only focus on the people suffering but also with a fervor of negative emotions like anger, resentment, and projected guilt onto the proposed causes.
Again, we return to a polarization of those who are oppressed vs. the oppressors. What is starting as compassion, is getting transformed into cynicism, anger, strife, and resentment for an enemy — an ambiguous system called systemic racism (oppressor) and white supremacy.
A seemingly innocuous idea, like Black Lives Matter, which of course they do, is being orchestrated openly as something much different:
“We are trained Marxists. We are super-versed on, sort of, ideological theories. And I think that what we really tried to do is build a movement that could be utilized by many, many black folk.” -video from Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors
Where do we go from here?
My hope is to bring true compassion back to the table but to temper it with openness, dialogue, and rational discourse.
As you read the rest of this post, you may be succumbed to visceral emotions of divisiveness because of the social and political divisions that have been set up, but I ask you to seek hope and optimism for a shared vision forward.
Here are current examples of appeals to compassion that are driving divisiveness:
- White Males individual median incomes are $40,632 vs. $29,376 for Black Males
- The poverty rate is 20.8% for Blacks vs. Whites is 10.1%
- Police shootings only happen to white on black
- Systemic racism is the cause of all racial disparities
Now, here is more context that tells a different story. A story of optimism and a story of how complex systems have a multitude of causal factors.
This story doesn’t erase racism, that will never happen, but it does bring hope:
Let’s start with the racial income disparities:
White Males individual median incomes are $40,632 vs. $29,376 for Black Males
Is this racism? If so, then why would individual median incomes for White Females be $25,221 which is less than Black Males at $29,376?
What’s interesting to note is that the strongest indicator for individual income is age, therefore, older populations will have higher incomes:
- The median salary for U.S. 25–34 year-olds is $47,736 per year.
- For 35–44 year-olds, it is $59,020.
Therefore, you could say there’s an injustice towards 25–34-year-olds because of the large disparity.
Then, you could apply this to race and ethnicity. What are the average ages?
- White = 43.5 years old
- Black = 34.2 years old
- Latino = 28.1 years old
- Asian = 36.9 years old
- Japanese Americans = 40 years old
- Indian Americans = 32 years old
Okay, there’s a wide spectrum. Now, what are the incomes by race and ethnicity? -source
- $28,000 for all Latino
- $48,000 for all Asian
- $62,000 for all Indian
- $74,000 for all Japanese
By using the same racism logic as before, it appears that systemic racism favors Japanese Americans.
The poverty rate is 20.8% for Blacks vs. Whites is 10.1%
Why would the poverty rate among black married couples be 7.1%? -source
Do racists ignore black married couples and only focus on individuals?
Or, we can draw our attention to “The Case for Black Optimism”, by black journalist Coleman Hughes, which shows major progress:
- The Federal Reserve reported that over 60% of blacks at every level of educational attainment say they’re doing better financially than their parents — a higher % than either whites or Hispanics.
- From 2001 to 2017, the incarceration rate for black men aged 25–29, 20–24, and 18–19 declined, respectively, by 56%, 60%, and 72%.
- Between 1999 and 2015, the mortality rate for black Americans aged 65 and over shrank by 29% for cancer, 31% for diabetes, and 43% for heart disease. What’s more, all of those % drops were larger than the drops experienced by comparable whites over the same period.
- Between the 1999–2000 and 2016–2017 school years, the number of black students who earned bachelor’s degrees increased by 82%. Over the same period, the number of associate’s and master’s degrees awarded to black students more than doubled.
Police shootings only happen to white on black
Coleman again writes “Stories and Data” which approaches police shootings with empirical data instead of emotional persuasion. “I no longer believe that the cops disproportionately kill unarmed black Americans. Two things changed my mind: stories and data.”
- For every black person killed by the police, there is at least one white person (usually many) killed in a similar way. The day before cops in Louisville barged into Breonna Taylor’s home and killed her, cops barged into the home of a white man named Duncan Lemp, killed him, and wounded his girlfriend (who was sleeping beside him)
- Even George Floyd, whose death was particularly brutal, has a white counterpart: Tony Timpa.
- To demonstrate the existence of a racial bias, it’s not enough to cite the fact that black people comprise 14% of the population but about 35% of unarmed Americans shot dead by police. (By that logic, you could prove that police shootings were extremely sexist by pointing out that men comprise 50 percent of the population but 93% of unarmed Americans shot by cops.)
- Instead, you must do what all good social scientists do: control for confounding variables to isolate the effect that one variable has upon another (in this case, the effect of a suspect’s race on a cop’s decision to pull the trigger). At least four careful studies have done this — one by Harvard economist Roland Fryer, one by a group of public-health researchers, one by economist Sendhil Mullainathan, and one by David Johnson, et al.
From Sam Harris, “Blacks are 13 percent of the population, but they commit at least 50 percent of the murders and other violent crimes. If you have 13 percent of the population responsible for 50 percent of the murders — and in some cities committing 2/3rds of all violent crime — what percent of police attention should it attract?”
A few more references, again, from black authors:
“Police Kill too many people black and white” by black author John McWhorter
Systemic racism is the cause of all racial disparities
“West Indian black families, despite being subjected to the same racist environments, out-earned American black families by 58%, and even out-earned the national average income by 15%.” -source
Why would systemic racism exclude black people that have an ancestry of West Indian descent?
“Although black immigrants (and especially their children, who are indistinguishable from American blacks) presumably experience the same ongoing systemic biases that black descendants of American slaves do, nearly all black immigrant groups out-earn American blacks, and many — including Ghanaians, Nigerians, Barbadians, and Trinidadians & Tobagonians — out-earn the national average.” -source
Why would racists exclude black immigrants and only black Americans?
The most comprehensive writings on this subject, please reference black author Thomas Sowell’s 2019 Discrimination and Disparities.
Hope, going forward
After reading all of that, I hope this can bring hope to a world that may not be so systemically racist as it is being portrayed. I hope it can bring openness, dialogue, and compassion to racial equity instead of impending anger and resentment.
To summarize, black economist, Ph.D., and author Thomas Sowell so eloquently explains:
“No one on either side of these issues has denied that there are different outcomes in different groups of Americans, as there have been different outcomes in different groups in other countries around the world, and over thousands of years of recorded history. What is at issue here, as in other times and places, are the causes of those differences. Discrimination as an explanation of economic and social disparities may have a similar emotional appeal for many. But we can at least try to treat these and other theories as testable hypotheses. The historic consequences of treating particular beliefs as sacred dogmas, beyond the reach of evidence or logic, should be enough to dissuade us from going down that road again- despite how exciting or emotionally satisfying political dogmas and the crusades resulting from those dogmas can be, or how convenient in sparing us the drudgery and discomfort of having to think through our own beliefs or test them against facts.” (Thomas Sowell, Discrimination and Disparities)
None of this denies that discriminatory bias happens or that there are systemic problems. But that, just like in nature, there is a complex system of socioeconomic factors, where human interventions can result in unintended consequences to those it purports to help. In Thomas Sowell’s book Discrimination and Disparities, he goes through many examples of compassionate human interventions having unintended consequences, like Welfare and Minimum Wage.
Instead of repeating the revolutionary history, we have to get our compassions back. Consider this an attempt to do that.
I’ll end with two things: a beautiful video of compassionate animals and the now-too-often-recited quote from Martin Luther King Jr. about the importance of fighting hate with love.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr. in his speech, Loving Your Enemies.