Compassion, Harmlessness and Mary Trump

Compassion is not only a basis for Buddhism it is also one for Christianity since love without compassion would hardly be love. It thus unifies Eastern and Western traditions and is a trait without which our humanity would be in question. Like so many I endeavor to deepen my understanding of compassion and look for its manifestations as some sort of assurance that humanity is moving forward. It is with keen interest that I watched Mary Trump’s ’TV appearances and read the interviews she gave. She was poised and her manner did not fall prey to wanton criticisms, her view evolved from facts and the inward search those facts seem to me to have elicited within her. Her honesty underlined how articulate she was and her perception though unstinting was not without cause. While some may call it cold and unsparing, I would call it compassionate. Why? Because as best as I can see she wasn’t interested in criticizing but understanding, and her efforts led her to see her uncle, our president, in relation to the context that gave rise to his behavior. She came to the conclusion that that behavior and way of being and living was dangerous, and when asked if she had compassion for him, she said she used to but does not now. Should compassion extend to actions and behavior we deem dangerous, or in my own cosmology, harmful? I would say no.  In the Mary Trump instance a chief reason is that the danger her uncle poses represents a conclusion of her analysis and pondering. She did not decide he was dangerous and then tried to prove it. That conclusion does not undo the underlying compassion that got her there, the need to understand, to sort out, to make sense, to not judge without cause. When things or people are harmful, compassion has a totally different role, and Mary Trump indirectly perhaps helps us better see that role .I, for example, do not feel compassion for Nazis or slave owners because some actions go beyond the reach of compassion. Despite some exceptions, as adults slave owners and Nazis chose to be cruel refusing awareness of the harm they were causing, just as to the best of my understanding this president is choosing harmful policies without caring about the suffering they lead to.

Racism and Public Health

Early in July the city of Memphis unanimously passed a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. In 1866 Memphis was the site of a massacre where dozens of black people were raped and killed by white terrorists and in 1968 it was where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, thus drawing a line from the past to the present at a time when coronavirus is disproportionately affecting Black residents. Over 50 cities have passed similar resolutions declaring racism a public health crisis, these cities are in urban centers, as well in in rural areas, with various sizes and demographics,  such as a cluster of small towns in Connecticut, and contain surprises such as the Douglas County Board of Health in Nebraska.

In June an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine addressed the health effects of being subjected to racism and discrimination and declared that they can lead to brain disease, “accelerate aging and impede vascular and renal function” thus drawing attention to the stresses and difficulties affecting African Americans and other minority populations. The resolutions are not binding, yet their impetus being inspired by the research of scientific journals nevertheless make them one step on our journey to redress the wrongs of racism.

Billionaires and Inequality

There are now 788 billionaires in the US, or at least there was in 2019 according to a study by Wealth-X which issues a comprehensive report yearly, that is 12% more than the year before. Collectively they control $ 3.4 trillion which is 14% more than they did in 2018. The US actually has more billionaires than any other country, more than the next 5 countries combined. China is second with less than half the US number. In 2016 the 620 billionaires in the US controlled $2.6 trillion. The growth among the mega rich which is partly due to the tech boom is now the subject of much discussion. It is becoming more and more inescapable that the US has economic policies which favor billionaires and end up placing workers at a disadvantage. Are the rich too rich, many are now beginning to ask?  Given it is an election year it is assumed the question will be a continued topic. When considering how difficult it is for many workers to be paid a living wage, how many jobs are being lost to automation, how many are unemployed with no assurance they will be able to get their job back due to Covid-19, when several studies show the US trending towards being a plutocracy, how rich is too rich is not only an important topic it is a must.

Deforestation and Viruses

Beef, soy, palm oil and wood products are four commodities that lead to a push towards deforestation. Besides the known ecological benefits of lush vegetation in such places as tropical rain-forests, scientists are now putting together a revealing, if disturbing scenario. At the edges of the world’s rain-forests deforestation is bringing people in closer contact with animals. Their habitats are being destroyed, they ravage for places to go and eat, and end up closer to humans. A consequence besides the hardship to the animal life is that this closer contact makes humans more susceptible to the viruses these animals or insects carry. Mosquitoes we know carry malaria, but they also hover over monkeys who may carry certain viruses and thus the mosquitoes carry them from the monkeys to humans. Yellow fever can be thus transmitted. Several diseases each have their trajectory, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, for example, can be traced to rodents. Ebola, is another disease that stems from contacts with humans at the forest‘s edge. Corona-virus as we know falls into that category too. The Sunda Pangolin who is able to survive in pockets of forests has contacts with animals such as bats which have contacts with humans, but the Sunda Pangolin, prized for its meat, skin and scales is also poached and illegally brought to Malaysia and Viet Nam and then into China, and there in a Wuhan wet market researchers think the corona-virus began.

Our ignorance too often leads us to ignore the inescapable connections that exist within the planetary system of living things. Still they are there and we ought to do better understanding them.