A FORTRESS IS A DANGEROUS PLACE TO LIVE
(1) We hosted a Crime Prevention Seminar in our home last night. (2) This week I’ve been reading Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block. (3) I’ve been in an email conversation with my sister-in-law concerning sport hunting and having compassion for the “other”.
Three events seemingly without a causal relationship, but tied together with meaning. They seem to fit Carl Jung’s concept of synchronicity: Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events that are causally unrelated occurring together in a meaningful manner. So, how are these three events related by meaning?
I had some misgivings about hosting the Crime Prevention Seminar, knowing little about how it would be presented and the motives behind the presentation. I did not want to host an organizing effort to start a Neighborhood Watch. I was involved in a grassroots attempt to make our neighborhood in Kansas City, KS a safer place to live that was essentially hijacked by the Police, turning neighbors into spies and allies of the government in its “war against drugs”. When a group of us were invited to view a video that the local police had made showing a “sting operation” at a drug house in which the most hopeless and marginalized citizens of our community were terrorized, humiliated, and used as objects in a cruel game of sport for the amusement of the police officers… I was disgusted and heartsick. Clearly missing was any compassion for the elderly, infirm, impoverished and depressed people who showed up at the house in order to purchase a respite from their suffering. Such people are generally hidden from our view. All we see are their caricatures drawn by those who profit from processing their souls in a dysfunctional and pathological “justice” system. They are the ones that brought condemnation down on Jesus because he identified with them by eating with them
As it turned out, the presentation wasn’t a solicitation for a Neighborhood Watch, but an attempt to sell products disguised by practical security tips offered as a public service. We were told that with the products a fortress would be created around us. It was assumed that everyone would want to live in a fortress.
Yesterday morning I was reading near the end of Peter Block’s book and came across this passage:
There is in every neighborhood structures for citizens to volunteer: Citizens on Patrol, Neighborhood Watch, safety meetings, educational pamphlets hung on people’s front doors by the police. These go under the title of crime prevention. They are a useful warning system and help us watch out for criminals, loitering, strangers hanging out in the neighborhood, but they still function within the retributive mindset.
[What is the “retributive mindset”? It’s a mindset based on fear and the need to control others by punishing them.]
Fear justifies the retributive agenda, fundamentalist in the extreme that has been on the rise for some time. The retributive agenda believes that a just and civil society is one that gives priority to restraints, consequences, and control, and underlines the importance of rules. It gets packaged as spiritual values, family values, the American way, love it or leave it, all under the umbrella of law and order. It helps build the incarceration industry and the protection industry, it creates a platform so that those in power can expand their power, and it discounts the rehabilitation industry…. Fear also fuels the allure of suburban life and is a subtle but clear argument against diversity and inclusion.
Peter contrasts the retributive culture (which is the status quo) with a restorative community (which is a possibility for the future) and says that change from the present problems to a hopeful future comes through a shift in our conversation - a shift from conversations focused on fear and problems to conversations focused on hope and possibility.
My sister-in-law emailed a picture of my younger brother (not her husband) kneeling in front of a bobcat holding its head in his hand as it lay on the ground. At first I thought, “Cool! Didn’t know they could be tamed.” And then I realized that it had been shot. My brother posed as though he was proud of the kill. I was disturbed. I wrote back:
Of course I realize that it is often necessary to kill animals. Animals kill animals, as you pointed out. There are some Deep Ecologists who claim a radical relativism when it comes to life - all life is equal in value. I'm not one of those. However, I do believe that ALL life has SOME value. An animal killed for meat has both extrinsic value (it has value as food) and intrinsic value (it has value for itself). In the same way, we have extrinsic value for others and intrinsic value for ourselves. It would be a terrible world if we only valued one another for our usefulness.
Another thing to consider, I think, is that everything is connected. If an animal suffers, its suffering affects the well-being of everything (to some degree). Many Native Americans held a form of that belief. They recognized the necessity to kill - but they also believed that when they killed a buffalo, for instance, they were killing a relative - something they were related to in a familial way. So, they were thankful to their brother buffalo for its sacrifice and they mourned its death.
When I saw the picture of the bobcat, I felt compassion for the animal - and, I felt compassion for [my brother] if he was able to kill without compassion. I don't believe we can kill without it affecting us - without taking something away from us. Doesn't it affect our ability to love and to feel love? If this is true, isn't every killing a loss which should be mourned to some degree?
I don't mean to condemn the act, so please don't interpret it that way, but I can't help but feel a sorrow - for the bobcat and for [my brother].
She wrote back and mentioned that her dog kills bugs. I replied:
I think the bug that Buffy kills has intrinsic value. It demonstrates it with various defensive strategies - it tries to survive. For Buffy, the bug has extrinsic value - for play, perhaps. Buffy doesn't have the capacity to appreciate the bug's intrinsic value.
It seems that some animals have a capacity to mourn. I doubt if an ant feels sorrow when another ant gets stepped on... but it does seem that elephants become depressed when another elephant in the "family" dies. Dolphins won't leave an injured dolphin behind. I think dogs can mourn. I guess what I'm saying is that the capacity to feel compassion, although shown by many animals, is found in greatest degree in humans. The less we are able to feel compassion, as a species, the greater damage we can do to our environment and to one another. A soldier is trained to ignore his/her feelings of compassion - usually by objectifying the enemy (thus ignoring the fact that the enemy has intrinsic value- hopes, desires, love of family, etc.).
I also believe that the more we experience love, the more we are able to experience compassion. An abused child is wounded in its psyche as well as its body. Violent people are wounded people. Killing for sport can't happen without a reduced capacity to "feel" the pain in the other.
In her next email, she agreed that hunting for sport required a reduced degree of compassion. However, she felt that the capacity for compassion was on a scale and that both extremes of the scale were dangerous. A psychopath would be on one end and at the other; a person with too much compassion wouldn’t be able to survive. I wrote back:
It's hard for me to imagine that there can be such a thing as having too much compassion. I also doubt if we would ever discover what having too much compassion would be like. I think we always suffer from the scarcity of compassion, not an overabundance.
I agree that there can be danger in having compassion. Compassion involves having openness to the 'other' - an inclusion of the 'other' into our 'self'.
“Care flows naturally if the ‘self’ is widened and deepened so that protection of free Nature is felt and conceived as protection of ourselves ... Just as we need no morals to make us breathe ... [so] if your ‘self’ in the wide sense embraces another being, you need no moral exhortation to show care ... You care for yourself without feeling any moral pressure to do it ... If reality is like it is experienced by the ecological self, our behavior naturally and beautifully follows norms of strict environmental ethics.” - Arne Naess
When we experience compassion, we become aware of the internal relationships that already exist. A lack of compassion is simply an ignorance of those relationships - an ignorance of our connectedness to and interdependence with the ‘other’. The danger comes not from being compassionate, but from the lack of it in others. History shows us just how dangerous a person who closes off their 'self' from others can be, i.e., Hitler. The biblical story of Jesus, whether historical or not, reveals the potential risk of loving others. However, there's kind of a paradox here. It would seem that if we are really interested in survival, and if we recognize that all relationships involve some degree of risk, we should build very thick walls around ourselves, and not involve ourselves in the lives of others. However, the most dangerous neighborhoods are where people have taken that tactic, whereas the safest neighborhoods are those where neighbors really know one another and are compassionate toward one another. Go figure.
I don't think I've said that hunting and being compassionate aren't mixable. In fact, I mentioned the Native American's belief that hunting was a necessary part of (their) life, but they still recognized their connection to and had compassion for the animal that they killed. Living necessarily involves eating other life forms. I might even go so far as to say that the 'meaning of life' has to do with living sacrificially (offering our life as food) for others. Every time we take a breath we consume life. When we exhale, we contribute something to the environment which nourishes it.