Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Noble sides vs cruelty glands...score: 10-4 for cruelty

By Heather Mallick, Toronto Star, October 6, 2010
News photographers complain that rapid changes in the newspaper industry are destroying their craft but I say it’s only a dip in their fortunes. We are hungry for photos, mainly of human faces, so that we can rush to judgment. Our noble side battles with our cruelty gland, a vestigial bean of meanness. Guess which wins.
Ms Mallick is writing about the incident in which a Rutgers student, a gay accomplished eighteen-year-old violinist, jumped off the George Washington bridge to his death, after he was filmed having sex with a male partner by two of his dorm mates, one male and one female.
Noble sides battling with our cruelty gland....and guess which one wins.
It is our lot to face this question squarely. And also to face the consequences of that very pyrrhic victory.
In the short run, I would have to agree with Ms Mallick that, too often, our cruelty gland wins. However, we also live in some kind of authentic hope, and belief that we can and do reduce the number and the visciousness of our acts of pure cruelty.
Revenge is one of the most common acts of cruelty. The U.S. government, under George W. Bush, is one of the prominent perpetrators, presumably acting "on behalf of the people" against those who attacked on 9/11.
But such revenge is not restricted to the government of the U.S. According to the new Lawrence Martin book, Harperland, Harper literally hates Liberals and seeks their complete destruction. According to the townhall meeting hosted by Christiane Amanpour last Sunday on the relationship between Americans and Islam, many Americans hate Muslims and they are demonstrating their contempt in opposing the establishment of an Islamic cultural centre two or three blocks from ground zero.
While there are policy moves to indicate some softening of the relations between labour and corporate management, nevertheless, the equation held by most employers that workers are simply able to be reduced to a "cost" and thereby subject to easy dismissal in any all-out campaign to cut costs, continues to underly most management-worker negotiations, to the detriment of both parties. Here is a form of structural cruelty, given the premise of the perspective.
So with such short-term vision, and such a micro-accounting mentality, many acts become magnified to unveil a picture of excessive cruelty, when the longer term picture may be more positive and noble.
Crime gives evidence of dropping; acts of kindness and beneficience show an increase in frequency and magnitude (see Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates); kindness from family to the elderly, while not complete, certainly seems more evident that previously; and both unions and corporate executives are seeing that they need each other in the current economic conditions.
There is still much evidence of selfish greed and also of intolerance especially against gays (five suicides in the last three weeks by gay men on American college campuses is not a noble sight) and of myopic and mindless political rhetoric by Tea Partyers are signs of both manipulation and cruelty.
And the tone of trashing anyone and everyone seems to have either risen in fact or at least in common perception, as we commodify all people and all "ideals."
In the words my father used to use when he disagreed with some approach, "This is no way to run a railroad."
Compassion, clemency, empathy and collegiality....these are the words that the next generation needs to learn, and they must replace jungle competition, greed, selfishness and bullying....
We know what we have to do, but as Richard Burton commented on marrying Elizabeth Taylor, "I believe I know what to do, the question is can I make it interesting!"
It was not like this, half a century ago, at least in the small towns and villages where most of us grew up.

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