From Facebook, October 4th 2018:
For my birthday today, I would like you to make a donation to your attention span.
It is increasingly difficult to keep paying attention to everything that is going on the world; to keep tabs on contexts, nuances, entire stories instead of short clips, multiple news sources instead of the few that most cater to what you already believe. It is a challenge to stay alert, and even more to take action wherever Democracy allows you to take action. It is much more convenient to submit to news-fatigue and to start gravitating to news that is dumbed down and edited for your convenience.
The people cheering at the Trump rally yesterday are mostly good people. They are simply not able to pay attention to the entire story, either because their bandwidth is limited by a busy schedule to put food on the table, or because they have only ever heard one side of every story, or they believe that a rhetoric of hate will play out in their favor. But everyone who is alert enough to read this far into my post, should do everything to maintain that alertness, to not get lazy, to not get news-fatigue, to vet the news you read, and to do you part in replacing the hate in this country with compassion.
Compassion takes work. Compassion is never easy. Compassion is not a hashtag. You can't put compassion on your credit card. you can't outsource or delegate compassion. Compassion needs to come from within, and it is fueled by your attention span.
But what is compassion, and what has it come to mean to us?
George W Bush was a self-proclaimed ‘compassionate conservative’. This term however was never completely clear in its meaning. Moderate republicans saw it as something to identify with because it implied “not 100% conservative”, and the religious right conveniently interpreted ‘compassionate’ to be ‘Christian’, whereas Liberals widely criticized the term as meaning: “I am not going to help you but I feel really sorry about it.” Still, in each of these varying interpretations, the word ‘compassionate’ paired with ‘conservative’ signaled a contrast; an asterisk that said “yes, I am a conservative, BUT…”
Bush rode his entire campaign on this relatively new term, and subsequently won (insert another asterisk) the presidency against Democrats who were portrayed as reckless spenders, on compassion, social services and safety nets.
The compassion in Bush’s conservatism was briefly on display with his ‘no child left behind act’ --as laudable as an effort as it was debatable in efficiency-- but then came 9/11, which effectively sidelined Republican compassion until the end of the Bush era.
And thus, compassion came back home to its original owners; Liberals, who eagerly exploited the fact that they had regained exclusive rights to exhibit it. Between 9/11 and the 2008 elections, Liberals hammered on the need for compassion, and it won them the presidency. Obama championed compassion, not only during the campaign but during his two terms as well, causing conservatives to search for their counter-move, and they eventually found one: Political Correctness.
After going on the defense (John McCain & Mitt Romney) and saying “Hey everyone, we have embraced compassion again as well”, Republicans realized they could not compete with Liberals for who was the most compassionate. So instead, they weaponized the concept of Political Correctness to make Liberals feel guilty about feeling compassionate.. At every turn, conservatives would take Liberal compassionate ideals such as equality and gender-choice, and condemn them as authoritarian or ‘communist plots’ designed to dictate behavior, and stifle people’s freedoms to be racist, sexist and homophobic. After eight years of Obama, conservative rhetoric was clearly defined: “America has suffered under Obama’s PC thought-police, and deprived us of our inalienable right to act the way we want and say want we want!” However, because this rhetoric was so incessant and relentless, the word ‘compassion’ slowly became synonymous with the term ‘Political Correctness’. And then we elected Trump, who not only manages to govern without compassion, but who takes pride in it.
These days, if we argue that we have become too politically correct as a country (a conservative argument that is rapidly taking hold amongst moderates and young Democrats as well) we need to be absolutely clear that Political Correctness is NOT the same as compassion. When we get so confused that we start to believe that denouncing compassion in the name of fighting Political Correctness is a GOOD thing, then we will get bigger and bigger rallies like the Trump rally in Mississippi on Tuesday. You watch the video from that rally, you see a blind denouncement of compassion, rather than a nuanced critique on Political Correctness.
So in the interest of clearing our heads, let us begin to establish the differences between Political Correctness and compassion, so that if we start discussing whether we have gone overboard with certain PC dogmas, we do not simultaneously rally to further curb compassion. There are naturally plenty of similarities between Political Correctness and compassion, but the two are not the same, and more importantly, they should never be mistaken for each other.
The world, and especially the United States, desperately needs compassion from all of us, now more than ever, if only to end our artificial divide that keeps a corrupt two-party system in power. Only when we denounce this division ourselves, when we see this division for the smoke screen that it is, can we start working on rebuilding a government that works for our future.
Oh, and to my guy friends: do not be intimidated by anti-PC charges that compassion is somehow ‘lame’, ‘emasculating’, ‘libtard’, ‘cuck’ or ‘loser’. I have seen those terms a little too often in the past week thrown at men who defended due process in the Kavanaugh hearing. Contrary to what our sad excuse for a President wants you to believe; your freedom to be an asshole is NOT the new cool. It really isn’t. It has never been, and it never will be.