And Now For a Philosophical Interlude…

When I was a kid I came up with a term which no doubt has an equivalent somewhere in academia. That term is “selective compassion”. Here’s a theoretical example of it in action.

Me: Here’s a picture of me with a rat I just killed.
People: Ew, rats are disgusting – I hope she washed her hands!

Me: Here’s a picture of me with a cat I just killed
People: OMGs, that’s horrible someone should rape and murder that bitch!
Me: It was a feral cat that was slaughtering our endangered local wildlife…
People: Kill the bitch!!

Because rats = filthy vermin and cats = cute pets. Never mind that cats can be vermin and rats can be cute pets. In real life people actually do get upset over the shooting of feral cats for that very reason. But no-one cares when a pest rat is poisoned, even though one of the most popular rat poisons on the market causes the victim to bleed to death through the eyes, nose and ears, which is a horrible way to go. It’s just a rat, after all.

Meanwhile, as a child I saw people stomp on completely harmless spiders (living creatures guilty of nothing other than being spiders), yet get upset when I mistreated a teddy bear (a non-living ball of stuffing). Why? Because teddy bears are cute and deserve compassion despite not being alive, whereas spiders are creepy and deserve to die even if they’re no threat at all. Even at the time I saw the major flaw in that kind of thinking.

The point? Human beings are neither logical nor rational – logic and rationality are things we’ve always had to consciously strive for. Our reactions are based on illogical emotion and prejudices drilled into us from birth, and once we’ve had a knee-jerk response to something we’re often very reluctant to put that response aside. Which would be all well and good, if those responses didn’t so often lead to pointless cruelty and suffering.

What makes it even sadder is that we apply selective compassion to our fellow human beings as well. I do it, you do it – everyone does it. We can’t help it. It takes a lot of effort to ignore that first response, but if you can do it then you can give your compassion to everyone equally. Which really isn’t as easy as it sounds, because I really do mean *everyone*. Even people you have every reason to hate.

Empathy and compassion are hard. Hate is easy. But you’ll probably learn more from the one than from the other.

Neato text ornament here