Kindness & Politics

A Bit Vintage but An Archetype of the Middle Class

Does kindness require politics? I have known many people, especially religious people, who are personally kind but politically the opposite. They will do charity work and help the less fortunate but ulitmately support policies that screw them over. Earlier, I wrote about how people would offer me friendship in my more desperate times but wouldn’t stand up for me. They practiced helping the poor but not defending the weak. Is kindness hallow when not followed up with the effort for a fairer, more loving, and just society?

Well, it isn’t hallow but it is rather shallow. To use the fishing example. It is a proverb that if you give a man a fish, he will eat for a day, but if you teach him to fish, he will eat for a lifetime. Except, the lake is overfished and polluted so you have to keep giving him fish and believe in free market capitalism so much that regulating pollution and the overfishing of commercial fishing trawlers is wrong so you keep giving the man fish. He now works at a fish & chips shop supplied by the fishing companies who can afford to process the fish so the pollution is cleansed but it is for minimum wage so he still needs the charity fish.

That is kindness without politics and even if the man can eat, he can neither eat well or feel the dignity of standing on his own feet. He could have been a proud fisherman but he was making minimum wage for a big company and living on assistance. A cog in a cold machine and one that can’t even feed himself. It is not condusive to the mental health of most people. Justice is about the dignity and eudemonia of the individual. It is more sophisticated than simple material charity which doesn’t take much finesse to comprehend. It is the Aristotelian concept of the fully realized human. Charity needs to be oriented to ensure that every man, women, nonbinary, and child not merely lives but thrives.

Coming from a background in disability, the socialism I believe in is best articulated by Helen Todd in 1910 “Not at once; but woman is the mothering element in the world and her vote will go toward helping forward the time when life’s Bread, which is home, shelter and security, and the Roses of life, music, education, nature and books, shall be the heritage of every child that is born in the country, in the government of which she has a voice.” She was speaking about women but I would extend the sentiment to all genders. The abolition of the Rawlsian thin-good that I have longed for on this blog should be the flowering of society of virtue, culture, art, science, civicism, where quantum physics to rock & roll to petting zoos to fashion shows burst through the society with bright colors.

Doctor’s Without Borders can give life to the bloody streets of Mosul but nothing could defend their dignity than, if after ISIS had been driven from its fairest of skylines in 2017, that a symphony had ripped through the atmosphere of that desert with the divine defiance of adolscent rebellion for a noble cause. If Western pop stars, Sufi dervishes, and Persian-tradition poets combined to scream to the Salafi fascists who had left that city looking like Dresden that they may kill the bodies of the city, they could not touch its soul. Kindness is much kinder when it aims for eudemonia and dignity than mere survival.

I reflect on the college I went to. Colleges are imagined as what they were in the days of yore. Ecclectic epicenters of diverse art, science, and culture in addition to an animal house of hellenes doing cocaine and getting shit-faced. The College of Charleston, my alma mater, had mostly abandoned the arts and culture and deep hippie stuff and had devolved into a cheap dopamine-fuelled party without culture or depth. I know college is supposed to be, partly, an animal house but it is supposed to have the hippie and intellectual stuff too. Yet, the serotonin and softer pleasures were not as viscerally addictive as dopamine and they ended up zombies with minds narrowly obsessed with the pursuit of that chemical with the utmost celerity. Money spent on opera may be opulent but it is enriching to the culture. Money spent on cocaine is opulent with no redeeming qualities.

That college had crises of homeless students, homeless adjunct professors, homeless janitors and food workers, substance abuse epidemics, a mental health epidemic, a food insecurity epidemic, and the dopamine addiction of the upper classes was indirectly responsible for the deprivation. They were Rawlsians who could not admit there was a moral or spiritual virus with a society where cocaine partying socialites had their metaphorical asses squated on the homeless and starving. Which is another reason why the Rawlsian system need be abandoned and progress should aim for human dignity and eudemonia. They felt embarassed by the statsisitcs but felt no shame in humans being reduced to what they had been reduced to and the ugliness of the inequality.

In the end, the material deprivation and the aim for eudemonia and dignity are inseperable. The drive to give someone their basic needs out of basic sympathy is not nearly as powerful as the drive to build a beautiful society where the dignity of every individual and their eudemonia is the goal. In part, they are inseperable because, in politics, when you aim low, you end up negotiating down to almost nothing but when you aim high, you negotiate down to the middle. If institutions and governments aim for the absolute best then they will be more likely to get something good. The perfect is the enemy of the good without compromise and, often, the only way to the good with compromise.

All of that, everything that makes human life feel worthwhile, and which adds life to it, is the place of politics. Kindness, alone, without a political element, like in the fishing example, is only suffecient, at its best, to provide for the most basic needs of people. The belief that kindness doesn’t require politics bleeds into politics and what politics should be. And when I say “politics”, I refer not only to the government and that type of politics but politics in the sense that everything social is political. Political kindness is a kindness that is socially conscious and comprehinsive and the Rawlsian system’s kindness is not. The kindness of the Rawlsian thin-good is one of purely material charity since those are the only positive liberties it recognizes. That kindness, with its lack of social comsciousness and lack of regard for human dignity, is not social and therefore not political. Ultimately, it is not very kind.

Now, shallow material kindness may be kind but a system with that and devoid of a moral social and political kindness is unkind and so are the social pathologies which lead to that unkindness. One can argue whether or not the cocaine and alcohol were moral, directly, for their hedonism and lack of moderation, in and of themselves, but insofar as the hedonism led to the system neglecting the human needs for physical health, psychological health, and culture it was unkind. The regular dopamine pursuits conditioned the rich students to be selfish and this, indirectly, worsened the myriad crises. Which is to say if there is a cultural element to kindness then there is a cultural element to unkindness and that doesn’t just inlude direct harm to the weak and deprived but a culture which forms the social etiologies of that harm.

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