Choice of compassion
Few months back, standing on the back deck at our home, at the edge of the woods, we saw a fawn hobbling along. It looked injured, vulnerable, and alone. There was no sign of the mother or a herd that it belonged to. It felt like it was left behind. In its condition, it was not going to be around for long.
The fawn’s mother must have tried to help. That is what mothers do. She must have licked the wounds, nudged the baby to get on its feet and keep moving. Such efforts on her part are the innate nature of being a mother. Care and love a mother has for her child are the mandates natural selection puts on us for our continued survival. A lineage that did not do so, will not be around for long.
Perhaps, one can even say that if a branch on the evolutionary tree is green, that branch has an innate sense of mothers taking care of the newborn.
The same invisible hand of natural selection, in the end, however, also guided the mother, and the herd, to eventually move on and leave the injured fawn behind. Compassion comes at a cost. For the herd, taking care of the injured fawn was a necessary strategy, but only to a point.
Are we the same? Merely pawns in the hand of natural selection which does the cost-benefit analysis and tells us to take care of the newborn to a point, but no more.
Hopefully not. Hopefully, we ignore the answer on the piece of paper the cost-benefit analysis spits out.
For us humans, the scope of compassion is broader. Not only do we have an innate drive to take care of a newborn, we also have the capability of making the conscious choice of compassion that goes much beyond what natural selection dictates.
As an individual, and as society, we make a conscious choice of compassion above and beyond what is required for the mere survival of ourselves as a species.
Perhaps our ability to make a conscious choice to be compassionate is yet another characteristic that differentiates us from animals. There are plenty of unfortunate people among us — young, adult, old — who do need help to keep their heads above the water. That sometimes also includes you and me.
We have made a choice to help those who get hit on the head by lightning. And misfortune strikes in innumerable ways, and ensnares many. These strikes begin from the moment we are born.
At the moment of our birth, we are dealt the genetic lottery. Some, for no fault of their own, draw a bad hand, and from the very beginning, are severely disadvantaged to carry on in this world on their own.
After the moment of birth, life proceeds smoothly but the dangers of being struck are not over. Besides our best efforts, and through no fault of our own, anyone among us can fall prey to sudden adversity.
There are plenty of ways for lives to unravel at any moment, and they do. If there is a way, our sheer numbers on the planet assures that some of us will fall victim to each and all of the possible ways. Anything that can go wrong does go wrong. Sometimes, horribly so.
When life does go awry, the unfortunate among us could use the safety net, a helping hand, to get back on their feet and feel the dignity of being a human again.
In the animal kingdom, being unfortunate ends the journey in a hurry. With the evolution of intelligence within us, we have made the choice to be compassionate and to help those in need. This choice allows us to blunt the cold brutality nature can be.
The choice of compassion, however, comes with a cost.
Seeing compassion to its logical conclusion needs resources. Those resources can only come from developing appropriate social structures — social security, medicare, food stamps, and various other safety nets.
Since resources these days are equivalent to some form of transaction between people in the form of money, taking care of unfortunate souls requires some redistribution of wealth. Take a little from those who have more than sufficient and give it to the needy.
Did someone just whisper socialism and liberals?
The mechanics to turn compassion into a reality begins to sound like socialism, and those who see this as the right path, the liberals. Doesn’t it? To get to that socialism it is also essential that the voice of the majority is heard, and hence, the need for democratic forms of government.
Then there is the other side. Capitalism and (modern day) Conservatives.
Take the example of the present day conservatives in the US (mostly republicans). Their often heard drumbeat continuously wants to dismantle the safety nets that are desperately needed for a society that makes the choice to be compassionate. Their motto is survival of the fittest.
Their war cry is to chant “Conservatives think like lions. Liberals think like lambs.”
You have to wonder, what kind of society do present day conservatives really want? What is their end game? A society based on principles of Darwinism? A society based on the coldness that natural selection could be? Leave the unfit, old, ill, and decrepit behind? Because that would be the natural thing for natural selection to do.
Do conservatives want a society without compassion? Indeed, there is a notion of social Darwinism where everyone’s well being depends on the strength of their two limbs, intellectual wherewithal, and the strength of their heart, lungs, and their ability to avoid the pandemic.
Deep down, do conservative really believe what they preach from the podium?
If by some misfortune, a republican (preferably a politician; they are ones who babble the most) fell into a dark hole, will they live up to their words and will not want anyone to extend a helping hand? Perhaps we should give the test to all senators and house representatives, and let them be Dan Aykyrod in Trading Places and see how they emerge two hours later when the trial ends.
We should let them walk over hot coals and see if they come out at the other end with their principles intact.
As for the fawn, we did not see it again. Perhaps it got devoured by the conservative lions who tore up the safety net that compassionate lambs had put together.