Do Americans Have Compassion?
By John Fleming
Justum et tenacem propositi virum non civium ardor prava iubentium,
Non vultus instantis tyranni mente quatit solida.-Horace
The world has a sick man on its hands. In this morbid country the people are all "looking out for number one" and the hardasses have no sympathetic feeling for the Golden Rule or concern about the plight of their fellow man.
Compared to Europeans, and others (Asians, South Americans), or to get more specific, South Africans, Argentineans, Ethiopians, do Americans have humane compassion and spontaneous interest in the welfare of others? Two books published rather recently declared no. The one, by British writer Ronald Segal, from 1968, develops the theme that Americans are devoid of compassion (passim). Segal-besides they're all the same!- states the case directly by quoting a schoolteacher acquaintance of his from Britain teaching in the States: "They have no compassion," she said (p. 55). Segal discussed the compassionlessness in relation to a competitive money society outrageously abandoned to everything, socially excessive and radical while still being politically conservative.
Eleven years later, the late American historian Christopher Lasch, in The Culture of Narcissism, in very different terms, from a very different perspective, observed the same ruthlessness of Americans, which he noted pungently with a quotation: "The death of conscience is not the death of self-consciousness" (H. Crosby). The famous book of Lasch, who explored every aspect of the anything goes morality, is from 1979, but I defy any student or scholar to cite a more useful book on the subject should it be considered outdated or old; there has simply never been another book like it published. Lasch places the Americans' void of compassion in the context of capitalist warfare, consumerism, the undermining of the family, and the devastation from the helping professions, and ultimately in Hobbes' war of everyone against everyone, unrestrained by a decent culture.
The result is monstrous-parades for imperialism, a Schadenfreude industry, unmitigated violence, the world's highest imprisonment rate (the victims being on the inside), a divorce rate of every other-indicating that the people plainly cannot get along with each other-random for the fun of it homicide, and so forth. In many ways what the world sees of brutality and complacence in the U.S. on television is an understatement of the actual misery, unhappiness, violence, injustice, chaos, moral disintegration and cultural collapse that occur. History shows that as a state falls apart it begins more and more to terrorize its own people. (Der Feind steht im eigenen Lager.) As the end comes nearer and the ruling elite fears for its power, it lashes out blindly, unpredictably, viciously. Hence, the "national security" establishment plays out in the lack of compassion; the NSA-CIA terrorist apparatus is one weapon whereby the powerful are terrorizing, harassing and murdering Americans in the U.S. and abroad. Some of the unacknowledged victims are known as TI's-targeted individuals, about whom there is a large underground literature on the Internet. The Patriot Act was a huge victory for the powerful in domestic class warfare. That man without compassion makes a natural counterrevolutionary terrorist and a fine NSA cadre goon. Government is terrorism.
Look at them. Look at the unhappy, self-seeking uncompassionate Americans! Amidst a sick society of moral chaos and social disintegration, they drift aimlessly and recklessly from one sensation to the next in vain pursuit of peace of mind that lifelong proves elusive. Their folie á millions resembles the problem of the Internet medium Twitter: Everyone wants to amass the reward from a large following but no one wishes to waste time as a mere follower. Americans adulate celebrities (the "democracy's aristocracy") only due to the false consciousness and delusion that they thereby gain power themselves, as though it rubs off from one onto the others. If it is not about themself, they are not interested; thus the ability of American television to launch one short-lived craze after another. As Lasch observed, they seek not so much fame as national television celebrity, a lucrative state of admiration and envy devoid of demonstrated achievement, a moral vacuum where people are famous for being famous.
Yet, despite being beset with enormous problems, there, astonishingly complacent, sit the Americans, like a turd in a punch bowl, as if in such shock because of overwhelming problems that would otherwise goad them into action that their response is to do absolutely nothing. The common criticism of foreign observers is that nothing ever happens in the U.S. or ever changes. It is the annihilation of brotherly love, of disinterested concern for humanity, of "altruism," of selflessness, of the categorical imperative, and of the desire to help others spontaneously and without affectation or self-interest or ulterior motive. To the injustice and suffering of others the American is stone indifferent.
John Fleming is author of the book Word Power, available through Amazon.com