Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Nature of Our Cruelty

There always has been the cruelty of poverty and disease. But there is something different abroad in the politics now, perhaps because we are in the middle of an era of scarcity and because we have invested ourselves in a timid culture of austerity and doubt. …we have politicians seriously arguing that those without health-care somehow are more free than the people who have turned to their government, their self-government, for help in this area. In the wake of a horrific outbreak of violence in a Connecticut elementary school, we have enacted gun laws now that make it easier to shoot our fellow citizens and not harder to do so. ... We are cheap. We are suspicious. We will shoot first, and we will do it with hearts grown cold and, yes, cruel. We cheer for cruelty and say that we are asking for personal responsibility among those people who are not us, because the people who are not us do not deserve the same benefits of the political commonwealth that we have. [my emphasis]
Charlie Pierce calls out many species of cruelty in this brilliant post, but to me that last sentence says it all: The cruelty of our current politics is rooted in selfish, self-congratulatory privilege. But, he declares, “It doesn’t have to be that way.” So says Lincoln
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
…and so says Robert F. Kennedy:
“And let's dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”
Ahh, but there’s the rub: Too many of us believe — are, in fact, desperately committed to the proposition — that the “gentle” life should accrue only to the virtuous (by an inevitably self-serving definition of that word), and that others deserve the savageness of their lives. But, as Pierce again says…
The time for camouflage is over. Cruelty is cruelty. It should be recognized as a fundamental heresy against the political commonwealth and wrung out of all its institutions.
There. We have our mission.

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