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Topic: Compassion and Survival revisited

  1. #1

    Compassion and Survival revisited

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    Beckers made me think of this article in relationship to a point he made in regards to the instinct of survival and the relationship to the group

    ZNet Commentary
    Animal Rights - The Case For Kindness August 21, 2004 By Dave Edwards

    The Tear-Stained Robot

    Writing in the Guardian, Peter Singer, a leading figure in the animal rights movement, describes the confrontation between animal rights activists and researchers experimenting on animals:

    "This situation has arisen, in part, because the animal research community holds an ethical view that the animal movement rejects. That view is, in essence, that animals are things for us to use, as long as we spare them unnecessary pain.

    "The animal activists, on the other hand, reject the assumption that animals are inferior beings, and that their interests should always be subordinate to our own. They see this as 'speciesism' - a prejudice against beings that are not members of our own species, and similar in many respects to racist or sexist prejudices against beings who are not members of a dominant race or ." (Singer, 'Humans are sentient too', The Guardian, July 30, 2004)

    Singer notes the irony of scientists acting on the basis of an essentially Biblical version of the world. Genesis 1:28, after all, declares:

    "And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." (Genesis 1:28, www.bibletools.org)

    Darwin, by contrast, Singer notes, revealed an unplanned process of evolution - a process which provides no basis for assuming humanity should always take precedence over other animals. Singer roots his case for animal rights in a combination of objective fairness and compassion:

    "As Jeremy Bentham wrote almost 200 years ago: 'The question is not 'Can they reason?', nor, 'Can they talk?', but 'Can they suffer?'"

    The problem for Singer is that while science has helped challenge man's 'God-given right' to exploit animals, it has also challenged the idea that animal suffering necessarily matters. In his book, The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins writes:

    "The argument of this book is that we, and all other animals, are machines created by our genes. We are survival machines - robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment." (http://www.world-of-dawkins.com/Catalano/quotes.shtml)

    If we are merely "robot vehicles" produced by a random, godless universe, then restraint and compassion might be considered a freak of nature - a kind of ironic moral folly thrown up by selfish genes. In reality, the universe is supremely indifferent - the suffering of animal "robot vehicles" matters only if we choose to believe it does. If we choose to believe otherwise, who is to say we are wrong? By comparison, issues of human self-interest - health, longevity, pleasure, pain - are viewed as far more substantial and real, beyond mere subjective opinion.

    Converting Pain Into Profit

    A crude form of social Darwinism is certainly used to justify the ruthless operation of the greed-driven market economy. Unhindered economic 'natural selection' is said to emulate the natural world by 'evolving' more sophisticated technologies and societies, so generating wealth for all. It is understood that here, too, there is no place for 'sentiment' - efficiency is everything. Thus, the Farmer and Stockbreeder magazine in 1982:

    "The modern layer is, after all, only a very efficient converting machine, changing the raw material - feeding stuffs - into the finished product - the egg." (Quoted, Danny Penman, The Price Of Meat, Gollancz, 1996, p.82)

    And Hog Farm Management magazine:

    "Forget the pig is an animal. Treat him just like a machine in a factory. Schedule treatments like you would lubrication. Breeding season like the first step in an assembly line. And marketing like the delivery of finished goods." (Hog Farm Management, September 1976. Quoted, Peter Goering, Helena Norberg-Hodge and John Page, From the Ground Up, Zed Books, 1993, p.25)

    The suffering that results from this reduction of feeling sentient beings to the status of unfeeling objects is beyond belief.

    As noted above, people who feel compassion for the suffering of these and other animals are forever confronted by the 'pragmatic' challenge: compassion is all very well, but it is rooted only in the human mind, not in God-given morality, and so does not offer a serious challenge to the common sense priorities of profit, economic growth and national wealth. Typically, animal rights activists are met with a version of this response from the owner of a Dorset coarse fishing centre:

    "If these people have a problem with what we do they should have the decency to come and speak to us and not threaten my family and our livelihood." (Quoted, Sandra Laville, 'Lobster liberators boiling mad', The Guardian, July 30, 2004)

    >From this point of view, compassion for animal suffering is seen as deluded and even immoral, involving the subordination of genuine self-interest to indulgent fantasy.

    It is possible, however, to argue that the value of compassion and concern for others is rooted, not in divine authority, nor even in moral duty, but in enlightened self-interest.

    Neuroplasticity And Pragmatic Compassion

    The evidence is now overwhelming that the human brain continually changes as a result of experience. In his book, Destructive Emotions, psychologist Daniel Goleman notes that this 'neuroplasticity' has been observed using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), for example, in musicians:

    "MRI studies find that in a violinist... the areas of the brain that control finger movement in the hand that does the fingering grow in size. Those who start their training earlier in life and practice longer show bigger changes in the brain." (Goleman, Disturbing Emotions, Bloomsbury, 2003, p.21)

    Studies of top performers in a wide range of skills - from chess masters to Olympic athletes - have shown pronounced changes in the relevant muscle fibres and cognitive abilities. But there is much more.

    Research conducted by Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin recently studied brain activity in a European-born Buddhist monk, Oser, who had spent three decades meditating on compassion in the Himalayas.

    Davidson's research had previously found that people who have high levels of brain activity in the left prefrontal cortex of the brain simultaneously report positive, happy states of mind, such as zeal, enthusiasm, joy, vigour and mental buoyancy. Oser was asked to meditate intensively on compassion and then to relax after sixty seconds while being monitored by an fMRI magnetic imaging machine. Goleman describes the results:

    "While Oser was generating a state of compassion during meditation, he showed a remarkable leftward shift in this parameter of prefrontal function... In short, Oser's brain shift during compassion seemed to reflect an +extremely+ pleasant mood. The very act of concern for others' well-being, it seems, creates a greater sense of well-being within oneself." (Goleman, ibid, p.12)

    In another experiment, Davidson monitored the base-line state of left prefrontal cortex activity indicating normal everyday mood in 175 American individuals. Subsequently, he also monitored the base-line state of a 'geshe', an abbot, from one of the leading Buddhist monasteries in India. Davidson reports:

    "Something very interesting and exciting emerged from this. We recorded the brain activity of the geshe and were able to compare his brain activity to the other individuals who participated in experiments in my laboratory over the last couple of years... The geshe had the most extreme positive value out of the entire hundred and seventy-five that we had ever tested at that point." (Goleman, ibid, p.339)

    Davidson describes the geshe as "an outlier" on the graph - his reading was "three standard deviations to the left", far beyond the rest of the bell curve for positive emotion.

    These findings support claims made by meditators over hundreds of years that compassion and concern for others are in fact the basis of human happiness. They also support the claim that human emotions such as compassion, love, anger and jealousy arise more intensively and more often, the more often we generate them.

    It is important to understand the fundamental nature of the meditation in which Oser had been engaging. In Buddhist psychology, the word meditation has a very specific meaning. Here, the Dalai Lama explains:

    "Meditation means creating a continual familiarity with a virtuous object [idea] in order to transform your mind. Merely understanding some point does not transform your mind. You may intellectually see the advantages of an altruistic awakening mind, but that does not actually affect your self-centred attitude. Your self-centredness will be dispelled only through constantly familiarising yourself with that understanding. That is what is meant by meditation." (The Dalai Lama, Awakening The Mind, Lightening The Heart, Thorsons, 1997, p.51)

    In other words, repeatedly familiarising the mind with the suffering of others, and acting to remedy that suffering, has the effect of increasing the intensity and frequency of compassionate thoughts. The implications, as Buddhists have long claimed, and as science is beginning to confirm, are remarkable:

    "If everything you do with your body, speech, and mind is done for the benefit of others, there is no need to do anything more for your own benefit because the one is included in the other." (Gampopa)

    If it is true that concern for others is a source of personal happiness, then the implications for our relationships are also remarkable.

    Every time we give time, energy, money, friendliness; every time we campaign, march, protest, send emails to journalists out of compassion for human and animal suffering; every time we do +anything+ out of a kindly motivation, we are strengthening these positive traits. And we do not need to be, indeed surely cannot be, faultless in our efforts - it is impossible to live without harming someone or something through our actions. The issue is not whether we are hypocrites, but that we should sincerely aspire to become less self-centred and destructive.

    The ultimate rationale for defending animal and human rights, for working to reduce suffering and increase happiness, is that this motivation benefits us even as it benefits those we are seeking to help.

    Compassionate individuals are happier, and a society of compassionate individuals is a happier, more peaceful, more sane society.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Bruce A. Richardson's Avatar
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    Sep 1999
    Dallas, Texas

    Re: Compassion and Survival revisited

    Exactly. As it relates to current events, how would 200++ Billion Dollars of U.S. wealth, spent purely on positive, uplifting, compassionate projects have changed the world?

    I daresay a far more positive change would have ensued than spending this money on blowing up poor people.

  3. #3

    Re: Compassion and Survival revisited

    Quote Originally Posted by Bruce A. Richardson
    Exactly. As it relates to current events, how would 200++ Billion Dollars of U.S. wealth, spent purely on positive, uplifting, compassionate projects have changed the world?

    I daresay a far more positive change would have ensued than spending this money on blowing up poor people.
    Yes Bruce great insight, but do compassionate happy people need to consume, maybe there is some inverse relationship, more compassion less consumption or more consumption less compassion

  4. #4

    Re: Compassion and Survival revisited

    John Berger is good on materialism as a means of filling the forever emptying self.

    And I've yet to finish Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class, but more than ever want to.

  5. #5
    Senior Member
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    Jan 2002
    Dorset, UK

    Re: Compassion and Survival revisited

    Charles this is utterly fascinating.

    So here is evidence that compassion, as in looking after your peers, automatically stimulates a reward, as in the basic pleasure of performing other tasks that are essential for the survival of the gene, eating, etc.

    Also the more compassion is practiced, the more prominent and self-rewarding it gets. I expect the reverse is also true! How else can those who act without compassion, -e.g. wage an unecessary war in which huge numbers of humans will get killed, maimed, bereaved,- live with themselves.

    Ergo, someone who is capable of such a decision has not practiced compassion for a long time... (and is therefore capable of all kinds of future decisions, especially if mandated). Pit that against someone who fought in a war, felt the horror and then campaigned against it.

    I'm with Bruce: $200b++ spent with compassion could have transformed the world. -and dealt with terrorism far more effectively at the same time

  6. #6

    Re: Compassion and Survival revisited

    Well I hate to be the party-pooper around here, but this world's nature IS competitive, and we are ALL self-serving. In fact, the only reason we act compassionately at all is because it makes us feel better to do so, which is an entirely selfish act.
    Michael Peter

    If music be the food of love...
    play on

    William Shakespeare


  7. #7
    Senior Member
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    Dorset, UK

    Re: Compassion and Survival revisited

    Quote Originally Posted by His Frogness
    we are ALL self-serving. In fact, the only reason we act compassionately at all is because it makes us feel better to do so, which is an entirely selfish act.
    exactly the point! Compassion is self-rewarding. That's why it continues to exists, alongside the need to compete.

    And it seems the more it is practiced the bigger the feel-good element.

    My worry is that the reverse is also true: it may explain how and why evil progresses in an individual and in a group. We have seen in living memory that, when given a lead and a climate of loss of compassion, this spreads from individual to individual. This may be due to “desensitisation”, peer influence, or whatever, but this alone does not explain the degree of cruelty and evil so many individuals become capable of. In Saddam’s Iraq most brutalities were carried out by many others, not Saddam personally. In the occupied zone atrocities were common place.

    I had thought in the past that, once a climate of evil was established by the leader, the more sociopathic individuals in that society were allowed to come to the fore, and were able to indulge.

    Instead it may be that when loss of compassion, evil, is practiced, it can lead to a physical change in the brain, which in turn reduces the reward felt from compassion, which leads to a progressive reduction in the capacity for compassionate thought and action. Hence evil grows. From pogrom to Final Solution. We also see the progression of evil in individual leaders over time, from Caligula to Mugabe. But these leaders were dictators and unaccountable.

    So what happens if a leader who lacks compassion is re-elected with a fresh mandate for his policies. What climate will he create, at home, in the world? How will this progress over time.
    I do not expect the US will turn into the next “evil empire”, but a more subtle shift may ensue, particularly if “the enemy” also reacts to the compassionateless foreign policy, and people continue to look to this continued policy to provide security and allow their compassion to atrophy

  8. #8

    Re: Compassion and Survival revisited

    Quote Originally Posted by His Frogness
    Well I hate to be the party-pooper around here, but this world's nature IS competitive, and we are ALL self-serving. In fact, the only reason we act compassionately at all is because it makes us feel better to do so which is an entirely selfish act.
    Not true. Maybe some people are like that, but I know some who are genuine.


  9. #9
    Senior Member
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    Dorset, UK

    Re: Compassion and Survival revisited

    Quote Originally Posted by robh
    Not true. Maybe some people are like that, but I know some who are genuine.

    There's a difference between someone who doesn't give a toss, but acts compassionately with associated suitable rhetoric, -to impress or for political gain or whatever-, and someone who FEELS compassion and acts accordingly. I'm only talking about the latter. The former will not perceive feelgood stimulation of his reward centre as demonstrated in Charles' article, and that sort of act would soon give way to the next political need.

    My point was that leaders who lack compassionate thought are unlikely to adopt policies with a compassionate outlook, and they are likely to trigger atrophy of compassion in society over time. This will reverse the progress Western civilisation has made in the last half century.

  10. #10

    Talking Re: Compassion and Survival revisited

    Speaking of being compassionate, I just got this e-mail from my cousin. Perhaps you can help?

    Hundreds of Professional Hockey players in our very own nation are locked out, living at well below the seven-figure salary level. And as if that weren't bad enough they could be deprived of their life giving pay for several months, possibly longer, as a result of the upcoming lockout situation.


    For only $20,835 a month, about $694.50 a day (...that's less than the cost of a large screen projection TV...) you can help an NHL player remain economically viable during his time of need. This contribution by no means solves the problem as it barely covers the annual minimum salary, but it's a start, and every little bit will help!

    Although $700 may not seem like a lot of money to you, to a hockey player it could mean the difference between spending the lockout golfing in Florida or on a Mediterranean cruise. For you, seven hundred dollars is nothing more than a month's rent, half a mortgage payment, or a month of medical insurance, but to a hockey player, $700 will partially replace his daily salary.

    Your commitment of less than $700 a day will enable a player to buy that home entertainment center, trade in the year-old Lexus for a new Ferrari, or enjoy a weekend in Rio.


    Each month, you will receive a complete financial report on the player you sponsor. Detailed information about his stocks, bonds, 401(k), real estate, and other investment holdings will be mailed to your home. Plus, upon signing up for this program, you will receive an unsigned photo of the player lounging during the lockout on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean (...for a signed photo, please include an additional $150...). Put the photo on your refrigerator to remind you of other peoples' suffering.


    Your NHL player will be told that he has a SPECIAL FRIEND who just wants to help in a time of need. Although the player won't know your name, he will be able to make collect calls to your home via a special operator in case additional funds are needed for unforeseen expenses.

    YES, I WANT TO HELP! I would like to sponsor a locked out NHL player.

    My preference is (check below):

    [ ] Forward

    [ ] Defenseman

    [ ] Goaltender

    [ ] Entire team (Please call our 900 number to ask for the cost of a specific team - $10 per minute)

    [ ] Jaromir Jagr (Higher cost: $32,000 per day)

    Please charge the account listed below $694.50 per day for the duration of the lockout. Please send me a picture of the player I have sponsored, along with a Jaromir Jagr 2001 Income Statement and my very own Bob Goodenow (Executive Director of the NHLPA player's Union) pin to wear proudly on my hat (include $80 for hat).

    Name: _______________________

    Telephone: _______________________

    Account #: _______________________ Exp. Date:_______

    [ ] MasterCard [ ] Visa [ ] American Express [ ]Other



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