chapter  7
28 Pages

Compassion’s Compulsion

Compassion can be a touchy subject, touching, as it does, on what touches the heart by seeming to put us in touch with something other than ourselves while leaving us open, in the process, to being read as an easy touch. Not that some anti-compassionate lobby takes arms against the emotion, mounting a campaign of aversion therapy meant to bring out the latent “ouch” in compassion’s electric “touch”; what makes compassion so touchy is, rather, the absence of such a lobby, the fact that every hardening of the heart against compassions knock presents itself as hardheaded reason resisting^#/^ compassion the better to keep the way clear for the true. For just as compassion confuses our own emotions with another’s, making it kissing cousin to its morbid obverse, paranoia, so it allows no social space that is not already its own, no ground on which to stand outside its all-encom­ passing reach. From ruthlessness to Schadenfreude, its antonyms pro­ liferate, but who would make his home in the sterile landscape they call forth? W hat future could one build upon their unforgiving slopes when social relations, collectivity, the very weave of communal life, all seem to hang on compassion s logic, though that logic may, as Kant insists, demand a dispassionate, mathematical abstraction of compas­ sion’s tender touch until it becomes the vise-like grip of duty’s iron fist. That fist may then curl back inside compassion s velvet glove, but only the better to pack the punch that, even when stopping us dead in our tracks, always stops us in the name of love.