Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Fear, Pity, and the "Used-to-Haves"

Aristotle famously argued (§ 1378 and 1452) that the impact of tragedy and oratory is very much contingent on the speaker's ability to arouse fear and pity in the audience. Who would think that a little bauble from the Huffington Post fulfills Aristotle's requirement. The poets and playwrights ought to be jealous. Alas for its humble author, the piece doesn't provoke the emotions how she intends. You see what was supposed to happen was simple: she writes about how terrible her life is and we feel pity. Then, of course, we wag our fingers at the usual suspects. Of course Aristotle could have told her (1386) that displays of the terrible often produce the opposite of pity, but nonetheless I'm feeling full of pity. Why?

Because no one deserves to be this foolish and it's a downright pitiable sight to see someone suffering who has absolutely no clue as to the causes of it. The world with all of its complexities seems to swarm around this woman who sees only her own unjust deprivation. What indignation she harbors that all is not the way things ought to be, as if all she had were secured by some omnipotent guarantor who has now been usurped by a cabal of corporate raiders. Of course it's a normal human reaction, as a certain philosopher observed, to assume that which has always been will continue to be, but letting a few years of luxury forecast the future demonstrates only that she' seen so little.

Conservatives and libertarians have overused the word entitlement, but no other word exemplifies her expectations. Because she works hard, because she has made a certain wage, because she has lived a certain way, she's entitled to further compensation, presumably in perpetuity. Never mind who actually needs her services, how often, and at what expense. Never mind that we only receive if we serve. We're supposed to empathize with her excruciating separation from bourgeois comforts to the point where we simply assent to the fact that what she possessed was not lost, but stolen. Yes, let us wag our fingers at those protean demons of deprivation, today the "Republican Congress" and "Corporate America!"

As an intellectual expression this is drivel ripe for ridicule. As intellectuals ourselves we want to reprehend the fool who has guzzled so desperately the PC Kool-Aide that she's stained with its cheap crimson glow. Nevertheless her utter lack of apprehension and comprehension of any facts or reason deprives us of any desire or reason to offer correction. We just sit and pity that evil, ignorance, which we fear for ourselves.

The author suffers genuinely I have no doubt, yet not from "The Great Theft," but from cupidity gorged on excess, incensed by privation, and rooted in ignorance. 'Tis true 'tis pity; And pity 'tis 'tis true.

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