Part of the series God: From Magic to Motivation
I’ve been thinking about compassion. I affirmed Karen Armstrong’s international Charter for Compassion. Some people may have criticisms with Armstrong’s approach, saying she’s picking and choosing from religious traditions, ignoring the bad parts and trumping up the good ones as what religion should be all about. I don’t mind that so much. That’s what we do in every field of study – focus on what confirms or gives us what we want; drop the rest. If we want change in the world, then someone has to start somewhere. Armstrong started with the Golden Rule, and with compassion, and with religious traditions.
I see it as a kind of behavioural filter. If her charter acts as one more hoop that people of any and every religious or political stripe have to jump though, then it might at least help expose everyone’s true motivations. We’ll get a better picture of exactly who their gods are.
The charter says nothing about belief or magic. The charter is a declaration of aesthetics, however. It isn’t really an argument for compassion but rather a call to make compassion the prime motivator in people’s lives. We need something in place that will regulate how individuals behave, if we want to have an orderly world economy and a peaceful global community. Life is now international. Armstrong is trying to do something to change religion from within.
We don’t usually think of compassion as a thing to argue for. We just take it as a good thing. Everyone should be motivated by compassion, right? We assume the world should be run by compassion, even when the material world seems ambivalent about the whole thing.
The more I thought about this, the more I figured there wasn’t a compelling argument for compassion. There are reasons to value compassion, sure, but what is there to actually make you compassionate?
I thought of three things:
1. Emotional Commitment
2. Personal Investment
Please add to the list.
This last one seems really important to me. People love predictability. But this means compassion is more a case for predictability than anything else.
The Golden Rule, the foundation of Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion, isn’t actually an argument for compassion. It’s an argument for predictability, even conformity.
Do onto others as you would have them do onto you. Don’t do onto others what you would not have done to you.
Be predictable. Follow the rules I follow. Want the same things the group wants. Be motivated by the same things everyone is motivated by. Do what you would expect of others. Even if you want others to challenge you, a good way to make that happen is to challenge them.
In a sense, the Golden Rule is general enough to work for any group that willingly consents to a group of predictable rules. It doesn’t have to be compassion. Greed could work the same way, if everyone conformed to it. Competitiveness could work the same way, if everyone agreed to it.
Armstrong believes a world motivated by compassion will create a just economy and a robust community.
Would you agree?
I need your help in this. I think I prefer a world motivated by compassion, but I don’t know an air-tight, leak-proof argument for that world.
Is there an argument for compassion that is compelling to you?
What do you think?
- – -
Some sources / neat links:
The soldier image was on openlounge.org. David wrote some lyrics on Compassion well worth reading. Please check it out and add your voice.
The website Doing Ethics – a neat, visual explanation of ethics in general terms (the link is geared towards health ethics, but the illustrations are still simple and clear. Here is the home page if you want to check the source, Robert Traer – he’s a process theology type of guy).
Ben Goertzel’s paper on universal ethics – descriptive more than prescriptive. Goertzel (wiki) has done some work with artificial intelligence. He’s fascinated by how the internet is changing things. He sees intelligence as the ability to detect patterns. The universe, according to Goertzel, shows signs of ‘continuous pattern-sympathy’ - as in tending to repeat the repeated, or the repeatable (… yes, redundancy is redundant…)