Philosophical Ruminations on a Fragmented Humanity

1. On the Descending Relative Worth of Struggling Human Beings�

Most folks these days whose lives appear fairly stable are hard-pressed to empathize with the lives of those whose worlds end up turned upside-down or shattered, often abruptly.

Pick a tragic scenario for any neighbor or community whose fortunes have plummeted into some seemingly unscalable abyss. We have an abundance to choose from lately in America, and across the globe.

Empathy being the emotion that it is, feeling someone else’s pain requires having experienced that pain, or something very close to it.

Yet about the only time I hear anyone state that phrase – “I feel your pain” – it’s almost exclusively the words belonging to a comedian impersonating Bill Clinton.

We’ve become so emotionally insulated culturally of late that, unless we’re following someone else’s good juicy tragedy on TV as an evening’s gossipy entertainment, we really don’t want to know about all of the commonplace horrors affecting our fellow human beings all around us.

Well – isn’t that true? Take the homeless, as but one obvious example – as in, take them someplace else. Please.

So what’s going on here? Do real people in harm’s way just no longer matter to us as a (once caring) nation? Oh, sure – we’ll throw money at large numbers of neighbors in a crisis, but do most of us step forward to do the dirty work needed any longer, one human being on behalf of another?

One hesitates to make blanket statements here, but, actually – the answer is no. We don’t. And I can tell you the year our humanity got sideswiped, was pulled away from us, and we just let it go.

It was the summer of 1987, and there was a severe drought in America’s Southeast – particularly in the cattle-raising region surrounding Anderson, South Carolina. I know, I was there. Anderson was pretty much ground zero.

I reported on that drought, and on the cattle ranchers who suffered the loss of their homes and careers. That drought, which lasted more than a year, cost the farmers their hay, and the lost hay cost the cattle ranchers their starving cattle.

The moment the story broke, countless Americans from all over the place immediately responded – most of them farmers (if one drives from coast to coast, one realizes America is nothing but one gigantic farm). One man in Illinois filled his 18-wheeler with his own harvest and headed southeast. A man in Anderson, California filled an entire freight train headed east with hay, while an Alice, Texas farmer did the very same thing. Man alive – it was all just incredible to behold.

There were no financial donations made as yet. Just the desperately needed hay.

The major media didn’t pick up most of those stories and many others like them, however. They instead focused on the politicians who stepped forward with really big toys, like Air Force transports and large military convoys. Admittedly, that assistance was needed.

But when the politicians took over the media microphones, all that incredible, heart-warming help by everyday Americans was stopped in its tracks by, what – practicality – and one of America’s greatest potential modern day folk stories was subverted and superceded. And then it quietly (and quickly) went away.

That’s the first time I noticed a certain jadedness set in firmly in the American mindset. Prior to that time, rushing to the aid of a neighbor was a given – a person simply did that, without hesitation, because it was the right thing to do.

But now, what have we got? A downward evolution of the humans-need-humans principal – one that’s devolved so thoroughly we’ve built all kinds of justifications to no longer get intimately involved in anything that smacks of human struggle.

In place of what was once spontaneously concerned wherewithal and action, we now find ourselves commonly left with little more than jaded dismissals – as in, those-struggling-people-likely-screwed-up-and-are-probably-just-getting-what-they-deserve.

Is it any wonder our selfish culture is now widely loathed, say, all across Europe?

No. Human beings are all but expendable in the U.S. now. They – which is to say, we – may have finally become irrelevant.

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2. On the Deadly Sin of Pride: the “Us versus Them” MentalityâÂ?¦

Call it “ideological insulation” – this nasty sociological business of hanging out exclusively with our kind, and pointing critical fingers at others outside of our insulated and commonly highly-prejudiced groups.

One can also call such an unbecoming behavior “be true to your school,” for it’s no more substantive than that.

Or, you can just go ahead and label it “pride” – as in, one of the Seven Deadly Sins’ pride.

We can’t even watch cable news programs any longer for all of the editorializing that takes place during their broadcasts – most of it marketed to pre-determined viewing audiences that seek to hear the pre-packaged criticisms so thoughtlessly and callously given voice now on national TV.

Here’s what I now know for sure, thanks to having had a lot of direct contact late last year with a stunningly large number of my neighbors: the views expressed by TV’s far political right, in particular (although the far left, or far-anything, is no less biased), are often severely stilted and unduly self-righteous.

Living a happy and prosperous life isn’t about “us versus them” – and it never was.

Countless ideologues, particularly those within static world view belief systems, suffer from the “sin” of pride – which is about embracing a false superiority simply because one views him- or herself as a member of a uniform group of believers.

Pride for the individual is called self-esteem. Pride for being a mere member of a group, particularly one that has a political agenda, we’ll label a Deadly Sin.

In recent decades there’s been a push to separate “pride” (which is good) from “hubris” (which is bad), a severe form of pride that gravitates toward selfish self-aggrandizement. The deadly sin of pride is thus a semantics problem: pride in one’s self or in one’s group is a good thing – forget the terminology – while hubris is of a class of behavioral dysfunction that gravitates toward ugly self-promotion.

While I’m no more of a fan of dysfunctional behavior than the next guy, I don’t accept this distinction surrounding the word, “pride.” Ironically, it is people’s pride that tends to leave them in denial about their own pride (!) – particularly when in a group setting where a critical discussion about group pride rarely even surfaces (!!).

A quick aside here: throughout the centuries, psychological health rarely raised its head when philosophy was being (yes, too-often “pridefully”) practiced.

To date, the rules of “doing” philosophy have ignored sound psychological health in favor of what’s become a deluded well-oiled intellect (thanks in large part to far too many existential givens). And as stated in a previous article: the truth is, our emotions call the shots in our lives, not our brains – a failure of recognition that is probably the greatest single failing in classical philosophy.

Even our empirically-friendly behavioral psychology, taught almost exclusively at most Western universities, has yet no applicable working definition for “emotion!” Chalk that up to existentialist-colored positivism – which heavily supports “logic,” even when it literally fails to use it. When’s the last time any professional took the time to write down a series of “if” facts in order to determine a “then” conclusion?

So much for “reason,” then – which is the purported end result of practicing logic.

In any event, my week-long experience with everyday human beings – in this instance, while seeking signatures for a grassroots property tax petition while seated in a store front – surprised me (and pleased me) on several unexpected levels.

My work environment and contacts were strongly conservative in nature, but in chatting with countless passers-by, I was taken by an absence of “parrot talk.”

By “parrot talk,” I mean the kind of predictable pro-this, anti-that chatter that fills the airwaves on our cable news programs. It’s not real hard to tell the so-called conservatives from the so-called liberals in those settings, who are clearly at war.

But in the real world, I was amazed to discover that, with only rare exception, the only way I could tell a Republican from a Democrat was by guessing badly.

In actual practice, those who stopped to chat or sign the petition I was promoting were just everyday people – just like the kind I grew up with (and loved) as a kid.

And, God, how I had missed them, all of these yearsâÂ?¦ We were separated by our mutually practiced Deadly Sin of pride – all that “Us v. Them” bilge.

So, let’s posit this: enough already. Forget about the endless artificial distinctions.

People are just people.

How could such an overwhelming number of us have forgotten that?

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