Being Human: Stupidity and Compassion Robert Hariman Northwestern University firstname.lastname@example.org www.nocaptionneeded.com
the lecture that I am not giving The distinguishing and most valuable characteristic of human being is the ability to reason The Delphic imperative: Know thyself The Socratic principle: The unexamined life is not worth living
Being Human: A or B? Option A: Reason Option B: Fallibility “Man can be viewed either as a poor or as a rich creature.... Man contains in himself the stored-up harvest of all of physical reality, or he is a creature of deficiencies, left in the lurch by nature, plagued by residues of instincts that he does not understand and that have lost their functions.... Man is a creature who has fallen back out of the ordered arrangements that nature has accomplished, and for whom actions have to take the place of the automatic controls that he lacks... From this point of view, language is a set of instruments not for communicating information or truths, but rather, primarily, for the production of mutual understanding, agreement, or toleration, on which the actor depends.” Hans Blumenberg, “An Anthropological Approach to Rhetoric” “As rational metaphysics teaches that man becomes all things by understanding them (homo intelligendo fit omnia), this imaginative metaphysics shows that man becomes all things by not understanding them (homo non intelligendo fit omnia); and perhaps the later proposition is truer than the former, for when man understands he extends his mind and takes in the things, but when he does not understand he makes the things out of himself and becomes them by transforming himself into them.” Giambattista Vico, The New Science
Political Speech, Humane Speech How should people communicate if they are to form sound political judgments? Two principles of communicative action: –Reason (+ fallibility = stupidity) –Relation (+ fallibility = compassion)
The Normative Problem Can a scholar say that some person, act, or practice is stupid? NO: –One-sided imposition of values from a position of privilege –An act of bad faith likely to damage discussion and other inquiry –Scholarship requires precision, not use of vernacular concepts –Scholarship should be objective, neutral, and dedicated to knowledge for its own sake YES: –Scholarship in the humanities cannot be objective or neutral or avoid affecting human interests –Scholarship should recognize the attitude in other guises, attend to what lies outside its category system, be engaged with its intellectual history, and grounded in ordinary language.
The Ground Rules Having taken care to avoid obvious errors, although not at the expense of avoiding worthwhile risks, a scholar may: –Argue that everyone is foolish –Analyze stupidity as it is a discourse active in specific periods, societies, cultures, institutions, or practices –Take a political standpoint, which must be identified, that impels confrontation on these terms –Engage in phenomenological investigation of one’s own stupidity –Stand within or beside practices or beliefs thought to be stupid to understand them, perhaps to address bad judgment or abuses of power –Articulate the term to identify dehumanization or destructiveness that might be not seen or rationalized otherwise
Stupidity, n. a lack of ability (especially mental ability) to do something a wrong action attributable to bad judgment or ignorance or inattention lack of intelligence rashness, thoughtlessness dullness of mind extreme folly
Conventional Wisdom about Stupidity A lack of reason (cognitive deficit) Caused by collective association Passive or self limiting Localized
Cognitive Deficit “He is a few bricks short of a load.” “She is not playing with a full deck.” “Not the sharpest tool in the shed.”
Collective “Most people, when let alone, are not dumb. They can make reasonable decisions if given the right information. However, when people are part of large groups, somehow it seems, the IQ of an average individual, and even the effective IQ of the group as a whole, appears to decrease. Members of the group can then do really dumb things.” (www.sciencebits.com)
Self-limiting The Darwin Awards: “The Awards honor people who ensure the long-term survival of the human race by removing themselves from the gene pool in a sublimely idiotic fashion.”
Localized The Arizona senator is holding on to the GOP base. McCain has a sizable advantage over Obama among evangelicals (76 to 20 percent), small town/rural voters (53 to 40), and those living in the South (54 to 40).
Unconventional Wisdom about Stupidity Lack of social imagination (asymmetric with reason) Distended individualism Aggressive: a will to power Universal: the dark matter of human relations Cultural: distinctive forms representative of specific modes and histories of social organization
Asymmetry “ Stupidity can ’ t be the opposite of genius, because there are limits on genius. ” “ Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I ’ m not so sure about the universe ” (Albert Einstein) “ It ’ s so simple to be wise. Just think of something stupid to say, then say the opposite ” (Sam Levenson)
Expert Stupidity “Four or five frigates will do the business.” Lord North “Pasteur’s theory of germs is a ridiculous fiction.” Pierre Pochet The telephone has no commercial application.” J.P. Morgan “X-Rays will prove to be a hoax.” Lord Kelvin “Radio has no future.” Lord Kelvin “Everything that can be invented, has been invented.” Charles H. Duell, Commissioner of the US Office of Patents, 1899 “A pretty mechanical toy.” Lord Kitchener (on the tank) “Speaking movies are impossible.” D.W. Griffiths “There will never be a bigger plane built.” Boeing engineer on the 247 “Nor are computers going to get much faster.” Arthur Samuel, New Scientist, 1964 “Not only have individual financial institutions become less vulnerable to shocks from underlying risk factors, but also the financial system as a whole has become more resilient.” Alan Greenspan, 2004
My definition of stupidity, in part, provisionally, with due respect for the necessary additions and qualifications yet to be acknowledged NB: all reflect sliding scales: some S. is inevitable, more S. is worse: 1. Acting on the basis of mistaken judgment contrary to available resources and one’s best interests. 2. Willful denial of how speech, action, practices, or institutions are harmful. 3. Rigid adherence to delusions of knowledge, control, or importance that accompany speech and action in the face of evidence that they are mistaken and counterproductive. 4. Insisting on definitions of others that are categorically mistaken to avoid association or change.
The Discourse of Stupidity in the US Vernacular and Elite Verbal and Visual Social, Professional, and Political
John Clease interview with Keith Olbermann, MSNBC “I want a president who is so damn smart... that I’d keep my mouth shut so he wouldn’t think I’m a fool.” [By contrast, some Republicans want] “someone who is not going to be not terribly bright or very highly intelligent or awfully sharp or a very good judge of people.” [On a McCain gaffe while speaking:] “I spent a week trying to think of something that was stupider to say than ‘my fellow prisoners’ and I absolutely couldn’t come up with anything.” [Poem about Bill O’Reilly:] still has one skill, a skill of sorts he can amuse a true dumb ox the dumbest crayon in the box the kind of ox that watches Fox
Oops!.. he will not shirk from Rupert’s work he really is a perfect Burke. “uh....Burke at the end?”...... “Cockney rhyming slang”... “Well I’ve heard of that, that’s a substitution process, but what is Burke supposed to rhyme with? “Well, it it it it it It rhymes with the Berkeley hunt” “OK.... [forced laugh]
“ Stupid” in US public discourse From Ashley Todd to Levi Johnston: The five Stupidest things that happened this election, 32/6, November 4, 2008, http://www.236.com/news/2008/11/03/from_ashley_to_levi_the_five_s_1_10003.php http://www.236.com/news/2008/11/03/from_ashley_to_levi_the_five_s_1_10003.php Here are a few more that I am sure you considered and didn't have the space: Bill Clinton's entire primary season performance, Dennis Kucinich admitting that he'd seen a UFO during one of the debates, Rudy 9-11's decision to bypass all the early primaries and focus on Florida, Hillary ignoring all the caucus states, McCain's economy strong/economy in crisis, suspending campaign/but not really, cancelling debate/debating anyway week of absurdity and really the STUPIDIST MOMENT EVER: Choosing Sarah Palin in the first place (and let's face it she get's a whole wall of stupid all to herself. You've no doubt seen the ad in which Liddy Dole accuses her opponent, a practicing Christian, of godlessness, which the media have been raising holy hell about. The ad is rank nonsense and is obviously malign. It's also a prime example of what I have been writing about on this blog. No matter what the pols say, they assume people are stupid enough to be moved by simplistic analyses, dopey slogans, and misleading ads. http://howstupidblog.com/mediahttp://howstupidblog.com/ Somehow, in Sarah Palin's brain, it's a threat to the First Amendment when newspapers criticize her negative attacks on Barack Obama. This is actually so dumb that it hurts. Glenn Greenwald, FRIDAY OCT. 31, 2008 13:38 EDT http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/10/31/palin/index.htmlso dumb that it hurtsGlenn Greenwald, http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/10/31/palin/index.html re: sarah palin...the mind reels at how stupid this woman [Victoria Jackson] is. just a few quotes will suffice: "I don't want a political label," she wrote on her website, "but Obama bears traits that resemble the anti- Christ and I'm scared to death that un- educated people will ignorantly vote him into office.” Later in the posting she wrote: "We must in all seriousness ask if Barack Hussein Obama could be a Muslim terrorist sympathizer or a Marxist mole.” And unfortunately, there are tons of people who are more stupid than this, who will eat this crap up with a ladel. This country is drowning in stupidity! http://self-doubt-america.blogspot.com/2008/08/re-sarah-palin.htmlshe wrote on her websitehttp://self-doubt-america.blogspot.com/2008/08/re-sarah-palin.html
Sarah Palin Sounds Stupid (And Talks Funny) http://www.granbymass.net/nation/election-2008- nation/sarah-palin-sounds-stupid-and-talks-funny/ Victor // Sep 14, 2008 at 9:43 pm Sara Palin answered all questions by 'Charlie' just the way most sensible Americans would. Charlie was trying to ridicule Sarah with his questions. Another media flake who seems to thnk he is superior in intelligence than those he interviews. As for Bush and his doctrine, he's been a stumblebum since he was sworn in. Attacking Iraq instead of Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia has been his biggest blunder! One BIG BOMB on Bagdad instead of sending in troops, would have ended war in the mideast for many years! steve // Sep 18, 2008 at 3:49 pm Wow, Victor...you are stupid. Sorry, that was the first thing that popped into my head when I read your comment. Are you serious? Drop a nuke on Baghdad and gas prices would be $1,000 a gallon. Besides, perhaps one day Cheney will explain it to you in a letter from his prison cell...IRAQ HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH 9/11. Jeez... Taylor // Sep 29, 2008 at 6:30 am Gee Victor, you must have a lower IQ then Palin. What's your take on the Couric interview? Underestimated brilliance on Palin's part or was Couric ridiculing her too? She's a moron. Anyone who could not see that simply saying "I don't have much foreign policy experience, that's not what John wanted me for" would be better then Putin flies over Alaska (which by the way, he doesn't...they fly over the Atlantic when he comes here) is just moronic. God help us all.
Republicans blow off the smart cities with the counterargument that they win the exurbs — the frontier of new homes, young families and the fresh middle class.... That will not happen this year. Polls show McCain is losing 20 percent of self-described moderate Republicans.... But in the kind of pattern that has held true since McCain went over to the stupid side, his brother recently referred to suburban northern Virginia as “communist country” and a top adviser, Nancy Pfotenhauer, said it was not “real Virginia.” Timothy Egan, “The Party of Yesterday,” New York Times, Oct. 26, 2008 The McCain campaign is so dumb that it bought into the press’s confirmation of its own prejudices. Frank Rich, “In Defense of White Americans,” New York Times, October 26, 2008 Opening for a McCain rally in North Carolina last weekend, Representative Robin Hayes said he wanted “to keep the crowd as respectful as possible.” In order to pursue that goal as efficiently as possible, Hayes then announced that “liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God.” This was an especially unfortunate turn of phrase given the fact that he had begun his remarks by saying he wanted to “make sure we don’t say something stupid.” Gail Collins, “Confessions of a Phone Solicitor,” New York Times, October 22, 2008 “Obama and the War on Brains,” By Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, November 9, 2008
Real Americans “ We are a movement of the plain people,... We are demanding, and we expect to win, a return to power into the hands of the everyday, not highly cultured, not overly intellectualized, but entirely unspoiled and not de-Americanized, average citizen... The opposition of the intellectuals and liberals who hold the leadership, betrayed Americanism, and from whom we expect to wrest control is almost automatic. This is undoubtedly a weakness. It lays us open to the charge of being ‘ hicks ’ and ‘ rubes ’... We admit it. Far worse, it makes it hard for us to state our case and advocate our crusade in the most effective way, for most of us lack skill in language.... Every popular movement has suffered from just this handicap. ” Hiram W. Evans, Imperial Wizard, Ku Klux Klan, 1926, quoted in Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism “ The worst menace to sound government is not the avowed socialists, but a lot of cowards who work under cover--the long-haired gentry who call themselves ‘ liberals ’ and ‘ radicals ’ and ‘ non-partisan ’ and ‘ intelligentsia ” and God only knows how many other trick names! ” Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis We believe that the best of America is not all in Washington, D.C.... We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation. Sarah Palin, quoted at Palinisms: Dumb Sarah Palin Quotes, Gaffes and Lies
Why is stupidity appealing? Answer I: Stupidity is the result of anti-intellectualism, which is produced in the US by the intersection of egalitarianism and Evangelical Christianity. –In the United States the more opulent citizens take great care not to stand aloof from the people; on the contrary, they constantly keep on easy terms with the lower classes;.. in democratic times you attach a poor man to you more by your manner than by benefits conferred. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, vol. 2, chapter 4. –“I thank God I ain’t got no education!” Holy Roller, 1928
I’m just a common man, drive a common van My dog ain’t got no pedigree And if I have my say, it gonna stay that way ‘Cause high-brow people lose their sanity And a common man is what I’ll be John Conlee, “Common Man,” http://www.cmt.com/lyrics/john- conlee/common-man/321208/lyrics.jhtml Matthew Tully has covered government and politics since 1992. He started his career at the Gary Post-Tribune, later covered the U.S. Senate for Congressional Quarterly, and has worked for The Indianapolis Star since 2002.... Tully graduated (barely) from Indiana University in 1992. A lifelong fan of Elvis Presley and the Chicago Cubs, he lives in Indianapolis with his wife, Valerie. Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?Category=NEWS08 “What the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick.” Sarah Palin
Presidential speech Flesch Readability Scores: comics 92; Reader’s Digest 65; New York Times 39; Internal Revenue Code -6 Annual Message 1790 30 (college), 2006 60+ (8 th grade) Inaugurals: 1979 20, 2005 60+ Public papers: from 50.3 to 69.9 Queen’s speeches to Parliament 1988 ff.: 40 Sentence length: from 40 words to 20; from 60 to 20 2003 Census: 43% read at 4 th grade level or below NB: appeals to “common sense” in public papers/year: TR 1, GB 50 Soundbite in TV ads: 1968 42.3 seconds, 2000 7.8 seconds
Populism: the rhetorical techniques Leveling expertise Denigrating eloquence and the media Monologic debate Insisting on absolute standards Selective use of skepticism Foregrounding truth in conviction Making provincialism a virtue contrary to sophistication A mission from God
Anti-Intellectualism in American Life Just How Stupid Are We? Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid Dumbocracy Dumbing Down Dumbing Down or Smartening Up The Dumbest Generation The Age of Unreason The Assault on Reason The Anti-Intellectual Presidency The Myth of the Rational Voter Foolish Words: The Most Stupid Words Ever Spoken Idiotocracy
80% don’t know that the Senate has 100 members 60% can’t name the three branches of government 65% don’t know that Congress can override a veto average score on a poll of college students on basic civics: 55/F 25% believe that the Constitution makes Christianity the official religion 48% reject belief in any form of evolution 42% say that human beings have existed since the beginning of time
Interviewer: While Sean is wrestling with his decision, his wife Tracy firmly support the McCain/Palin ticket. So we wanted to hear from her as well. What’s the most important issue for you in this election? Tracy: The one who has the most faith in the Lord I: That’s—make or break for you? T: That should be make or break for everybody. I: And when you hear people saying, “Well, we understand your faith, but what if you are going to vote against your husband’s interests to the American worker?” (sic?) T: The Lord will take care of us. That’s the way I look at things. I: For Tracy Curry, this election is not so much about politics as it is about values. She says she doesn’t feel Barack Obama shares her conservative, religious worldview. T: I can’t imagine having a president of the United States being named President Obama! I really have a problem with that. And I am not the only one. I: Because, that means what to you? T: His background. huh A mother what was an atheist huh that really gets to me. um A father that was a Muslim. That should get to everyone. I: And when Barack Obama and his wife Michelle say, :But, we’re faith-based, we’re Christians?” T: The church they were members of—that’s not the Christianity I know. That’s not the Christianity that’s in the Bible. I: And so for you, your are firmly decided? T: Definitely. I: And what do you say to your husband, who is still on the fence? T: I will pray for him. He knows what the right religion is.
The Brights The primary impetus for the Brights ’ endeavor is the need to constructively address the marginalized situation of persons who have a naturalistic worldview. If we are successful over the long term, then politicians, media, do-gooders, friends and family, acquaintances and employers will acknowledge and justly attend to the voices of the many and diverse brights. The movement's three major aims are: --Promote the civic understanding and acknowledgment of the naturalistic worldview, which is free of supernatural and mystical elements. --Gain public recognition that persons who hold such a worldview can bring principled actions to bear on matters of civic importance. --Educate society toward accepting the full and equitable civic participation of all such individuals. http://www.the-brights.net/
Why is Stupidity Appealing? Answer II: Democratic polity creates both populism and rationalism. Each becomes stupid by definition against the other. Both involve breakdowns in social imagination.
Why the verdict was stupid The charge: “Socrates is guilty of corrupting the young and of not believing in the gods in whom the city believes, but in other new spiritual things” (24b). The charge was contrived, the motives political, the defendant innocent: he had corrupted no one, was quite pious, and promoted no religious or political doctrine. In his speech of defense, Socrates demonstrates that: –He does not discredit the gods or turn common beliefs upside down –The prosecutor does not care about the youth of Athens –No reasonable person would corrupt close associates, as that would bring harm on oneself, and none of his associates have spoken against him –Although he has offended people by exposing their ignorance, that is no crime –He has been a model citizen in war and peace –His questioning is a service to the city –Rather than being impious, he is following a divine command.
Why a reasonable juror could vote against Socrates Socrates begins his speech by distinguishing between clever speakers and those who speak the truth, and then proves to be a clever speaker He devotes a good portion of the speech to addressing gossip that is irrelevant to the charges His argument against the prosecutor begs the question of whether the jury cares about the youth His arguments about harm are counter-intuitive or indeterminate He demonstrates only that he believes in a god, not the gods of the city He ridiculed their judicial procedures and their need for emotional and ethical proofs He told a jury of politicians, artists, and craftsmen that politicians, artists, and craftsmen were ignorant He told a jury of citizens engaged in public service that he had avoided public life because he was too honest to be engaged in “what occupies most people: wealth, household affairs, the position of general or orator or the other offices, the political clubs and factions that exist in the city” (36b) He claimed exemption from political accountability because he was on a mission from God.
Why they voted to kill, and how he framed it After Meletus proposed death, Socrates proposed free meals for life in the town hall where Olympic victors were entertained.... And, so –The first sentence was closer to the original verdict –His proposal smacked of hubris –??? Socrates’ explanation: –Socrates refused to weep, bring in character witnesses, or ask for mercy
The Great Divide Rationality, truth, the individual, liberty, private virtue, critical reason, withholding of the self from others Rhetoric, emotion, the people, solidarity, public virtue, democracy, the exclusion of difference from the community Both reject resources for deliberation and community contained in the other; both distort the relationship between self and society; both generate from a common predicament “Two excesses: to exclude reason, to admit nothing but reason” (Pascal).
Rationalism: the rhetorical techniques Leveling expertise Denigrating eloquence and the media Monologic debate Insisting on absolute standards Selective use of skepticism Foregrounding truth in conviction Making provincialism a virtue contrary to sophistication A mission from God
Euthyphro’s argument I say that the pious is to do what I am doing now, to prosecute the wrongdoer, be it about murder or temple robbery or anything else, whether the wrongdoer is your father or your mother or anyone else; not to prosecute is impious. And observe, Socrates, that I can cite powerful evidence that the law is so. I have already said to others that such actions are right, not to favor the ungodly, whoever they are. These people themselves believe that Zeus is the best and most just of the gods, yet they agree that he bound his father because he unjustly swallowed his sons, and that he in turn castrated his father for similar reasons. But they are angry with me because I am prosecuting my father for his wrongdoing. They contradict themselves in what they say about the gods and about me. (5e-6a)
Socrates’ command And while he was saying this, he was holding the cup, and then drained it calmly and easily. Most of us had been able to hold back our tears reasonably well up until then, but when we saw him drinking it and after he drank it, we could hold them back no longer; my own tears came in floods against my will. So I covered my face. I was weeping for myself, not for him--for my misfortune in being deprived of such a comrade. Even before me, Crito was unable to restrain his tears and got up. Apollodorus had not ceased from weeping before, and at this moment he noisy tears and anger made everybody present break down, except Socrates. “ What is this, ” he said, “ you strange fellows. It is mainly for this reason that I sent the women away, to avoid such unseemliness, for I am told one should die in good-omened silence. So keep quiet and control yourselves. ” His words made us ashamed, and we checked our tears. (117c-e)
Reason in a Corner Ehthyphro: Socrates expresses no interest in prudential reasoning about a particular case, opting instead for a standard of universal reason Apology: Despite being charged unjustly, Socrates refuses to use available resources for persuasion to save his life, and contrasts the use of reason to the social knowledge and rhetorical practices of the democratic community Phaedo: Socrates lives consistently to the end by forbidding his friends from any show of emotion while they are grieving. In all three dialogues, he shows little real interest in the particular standpoint of his interlocutor. It appears as though he loves justice, Athens, and his friends-- but only in the abstract. The “frigidity” of Socrates. Plato’s PTSD: harsh suppression of anger and grief due to institutional betrayal. To avoid forgiving Athens, compassion has to be banned. Hence, reason and democracy are joined in a traumatic history. Even if that history is not influential, it reveals a paradigmatic condition.
The Democratic Predicament Democracy replaces the distributions of a social structure (e.g., kinship) with the communicative practices of a community of strangers. Stranger relationality requires restructuring speech as public address Public address creates public media that delocalize meaning and diffuse community Public judgment and action depend on both disembodied reason and relational solidarity In these conditions, there are strong incentives for strategies of both relocalization and universality Biblical literalism; Socratic dialectic Christian evangelicalism; Socratic rationalism
The Repair To review: Democracy generates characteristic forms of stupidity: populism and rationalism Both reflect a breakdown in social imagination. Thus, repair of cognitive errors or deficiencies will not be sufficient. What is needed is a shift in attitude toward others in the community of strangers.
Definitions of Compassion “A painful emotion occasioned by the awareness of another person’s undeserved misfortune” (Nussbaum) Deep awareness of the suffering of another, coupled with the wish to relieve it The humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something about it Understanding without judgment Recognition of another’s suffering independently of judgment but not of obligation Seeing and listening with humanity, speaking with care not to harm unnecessarily, judging with integrity and humility Synonyms: sympathy, empathy, pity, mercy, kindness, charity, humanity, quarter, righteousness, clemency, quarter, sorrow, commiseration, fellow feeling, understanding, condolence, heart, altruism,... Antonym: Indifference
Caveats: Compassion should not be sentimental condescending merely emotional tyrannical Impractical sovereign Therefore it must be: discerning, egalitarian, intelligent, deliberative, specific, and humble. Thus, the Big Idea about compassion is that it neither needs nor articulates Big Ideas. It does not lend itself to abstraction and it is realized fully only as a way of being in the world, with all the limitations therein. Indeed, it is so deeply human that it needs stupidity:
The element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind; and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel ’ s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity. (George Eliot, Middlemarch)
US Altruism Data (Robert Wuthnow, Acts of Compassion) 45% of adults (18 yrs+) engage in voluntary caring activity Each volunteer gives 5 hours per week 1/4 devoted to informal volunteering (friends, neighbors); 3/4 formal volunteering 60% have stopped to help someone with car trouble 50% have given money to a beggar; 23% in the last year Only 2% said that “helping people in need” was not important to them However 37% said they could not count on immediate neighbors for help 36% said they could not count on church or synagogue members for help 33% said they could not count on relatives outside the immediate family 50% said they could not count on volunteers 67% said they could not count on social welfare agencies
The problem of language Language, democratic citizenship, and the public use of reason all depend on abstraction, vs. compassion’s focus on particular individuals and embodied relations Discourse reproduces social hierarchies that both sustain and damage relationships, vs. compassion’s emphasis on seeing through social ascription to repair relationships Integrity in language use vs. the slippage necessary for doing practical moral work
Speaking, listening, and seeing with compassion The big picture: working toward a language shift in the vocabulary of Western political thought: from reason to relation; from knowledge production to wisdom; from justice to humane community; from the “social morons” of neoclassical economics to visions of human flourishing.....
Speaking, listening, and seeing with compassion The hermeneutical principle: To become compassionate, one should learn to discern how speech reflects suffering, and how images call us into community. The rhetorical principle: To speak compassionately, one should learn to address suffering on behalf of the common welfare. The ethical principle: one should avoid emotional manipulation but not at the cost of surrendering all political agency, unless that act empowers others on behalf of a humane world.