Bloody shovel

We shall drown, and nobody will save us

On Kindness

Professor Charlton writes that our society is very nice.

Modern society exceeds all previous societies in terms of its kindness – it is the least-cruel society ever. Naturally – if we focus on this single virtue to the neglect of all other virtues and sins, then we can regard ourselves as more virtuous than anybody else.

It caught my attention, not only because its rare to read Professor Charlton praising any aspect of modern society, but because it reminded me of a quote by the late Aldous Huxley, who said:

It’s rather embarrassing to have given one’s entire life to pondering the human predicament and to find that in the end one has little more to say than, ‘Try to be a little kinder.’

As much as I admire Huxley, I thought he was being too clever there. He never thought about kindness when he was young, and admired beauty and boldness. He only thought of it when he grew old, and needed people to be kind to him.

But the concept of modern society as kind especially reminds me of the last chapter in Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation series, which I blogged about a while ago. He talks among other things of the birth of kindness as a social value:

It’s an almost incredible fact, that in the middle of the 19th century there was no children’s hospital in London. And children weren’t taken into ordinary hospitals for fear that they might be infectious. (…) As I look at it I’m more than ever convinced that humanitarianism was the great achievement of the 19th century. We are so much accustomed to the humanitarian outlook that we forget how little it counted in earlier ages of civilisation. Ask any decent person in England or America today what he thinks matters most in human conduct, 5 to 1 his answer will be  kindness. It’s not the words that would have crossed the lips of any of the earlier heroes of this series. If you asked Saint Francis what matters in life he would, we know, answered chastity, obedience, poverty. If you asked Dante, Michael Angelo, they might have answered disdain of baseness and injustice. But kindness, never.

Quite true. Also you mustn’t go in the time machine to find people who don’t care about kindness. Just go abroad. Remember how the rebels shoved a knife into Gaddhafi’s ass while they beat him to death? Or all those honor killings of young girls who’s only crime is having some fun with a boy. But not only Muslims at all, see this article about a Chinese father who forced his daughter to eat shit as a punishment. Or the father who went on TV bragging how he beat his children into an elite university. Parents all over hired him to get the same results. They hire a dude to beat their children.

Not to talk about animal cruelty. In Hong Kong, a rich and developed place by any standard, a girl giggled while eating a fish fried alive. They call it 呼叫鱼, ‘calling fish’. It became a hit in all China afterwards. Or this weird Vietnamese festival, where they get a poor piglet and cut it in half in front of people, who rush to dip their napkins in the blood. I have a hard stomach but this was hard to watch. Poor cute thing. But again the concept of ‘cute’ is a relatively new thing.

These people beat the US military

I have little sympathy of the holier-than-thou vegans and animal rights activists, but seeing the Vietnamese piglet cut in half while the people watch in excitement just screams of barbarism. Yet our admired Romans used to do that all the time. Cruelty is a constant in human society, yet today kindness, the avoidance of making others suffer, seems the most basic requirement of Civilisation. Much of the disdan of leftist Europe towards the US is that Americans are not “nice”. Americans have no cozy universal welfare, and go around making wars that kill people. We on the other hand are nice and kind, don’t invade other countries, and accept Somali refugees. In fact our courts make kindness mandatory to the point of suicide. There’s lots to say against “kindness” from an anti-leftist perspective. But the fact remains that examples of cruelty such as the ones described above also seem beneath us. I guess its all about economic comfort. People insecure in their economic status don’t have time to waste on being kind to others, let alone animals. We on the other hand are (or used to be until the recent recession) secure in our welfare, so we have time to be kind and nice. As the economy declines cruelty is sure to make a comeback in our societies.

I just hope we don’t slash live piglets in half.

EDIT: I almost forgot mentioning this ultimate example of not giving a fuck about animals. See how in this restaurant in China they offered braised Koala, and quite cheap actually. No kindness towards animals, no sense of cuteness, not even a little respect of the value of an endangered species. Just cook the bitch and get some dough.

7 responses to “On Kindness

  1. aretae February 5, 2012 at 19:36

    Bravo — Economic wealth drives ethics. I agree 100%. Growth is the God-metric.

  2. aretae February 5, 2012 at 20:45

    I was reading in the morning to wake up (start brain, then start body). Happens that i was almost done, and when I refreshed, yours popped up…and was interesting

  3. zhai2nan2 February 5, 2012 at 22:07

    ‘seeing the Vietnamese piglet cut in half while the people watch in excitement just screams of barbarism. Yet our admired Romans used to do that all the time.’

    Notice that while Europeans have historically admired Greek and Roman thought, they have not admired MOST Greeks or MOST Romans.

    One can admire Pythagoras and Archilochus while cursing sodomy as the work of the devil, because Pythagoras and Archilochus had no tolerance for sodomy. Most of ancient Greece was somewhat less inhibited.

  4. The Slitty Eye February 7, 2012 at 19:31

    Kindness is such a claptrap, a contraption of masturbation. It should never be encouraged and magnified as a societal principle so as to push the ethic judgments by drilling. I speculate that empathy or altruism might be the ultimate roots for such notion. However, it is not the intention of my comment here to discuss such matters. The truth is drilling the concept of kindness could bring you to a dead loop of chronic suicide for any civilization. If economic welfare is the factor that induces the the frugality of our “kindness”, which could makes us ignore all the sensical logic that brings the economic welfare we take for granted in the first place. Then I would say, it’s an inevitable valve, a controller, a feedback mechanism, set to curb the eternal prosperity of mankind. This reminds me of the early design of the steam engine, as even described in the foundation book of economics by Adam Smith, that in order to prevent the engine overheated, a controller was designed so that it could automatically reduce the air input when it is overheated in the engine. If economic prosperity brings the illusion of eternal advancement to the mankind, specious notions like “kindness”, “happiness”, “fairness”, “equality”, serves as the automatic valve to slow down our practical progress.

    Both horizontal comparison (as you pointed out) and vertical comparison of “kindness” might indicate the level of advancement in civilization. But essentially it’s futile if my assumption stands. The focus should be on how we could break such ouroboros and create a straight path, if it exists. In this regard, the brave new world is the way to go, as well as I concern, the notion of “everyone belongs to everyone” serves better than “kindness”.

    • spandrell February 7, 2012 at 19:53

      Ok so here’s the Chinese perspective I take.

      You would like to be drafted in the navy, lashed for any minor misbehaviour, buggered by your sex-starved sailor mates and left to die for any minor disease.
      That was all very normal just 200 years ago.
      Chinese miners are treated as cattle also these days.

      Of course kindness is taken too far these days. But kindness is also growing in China. It’s only natural that when the economic surplus is there, people will try to be kinder when possible. Nobody likes suffering cruelty or even seeing it. Especially if you don’t have a religious explanation that rationalizes it.

Please comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s