Must look up what Spinoza says about pity. As I remember, he considers it intrinsically undesirable, insofar as it is a passion, but relatively desirable, insofar as it does more good than harm. I kept thinking of this yesterday, all the time I was with Daisy Ockham. Dear Daisy! Her passionate pity moves her to do all sorts of good and beautiful things; but because it is just a passion, it also warps her judgment, causes her to make all kinds of ludicrous and harmful mistakes, and translates itself into the most absurdly sentimental and radically false view of life. She loves to talk, for example, about people being transformed and ameliorated by suffering. But it’s perfectly obvious, if one isn’t blind by the passion of pity, that this isn’t true. Suffering may and often does produce a kind of emotional uplift and a temporary increase in courage, tolerance, patience and altruism. But if the pressure of suffering is too much prolonged, there comes a breakdown into apathy, despair or violent selfishness. And if the pressure is removed, there’s an immediate return to normal condition of unregeneracy. For a short time, a blitz engenders sentiments of universal brotherliness; but as f or permanent transformation and improvement–that occurs only exceptionally. Most of the people I know have come back from battle unchanged; a fair number are worse than they were; and a few–men with an adequate philosophy desire t o act upon it–are better.

[…]

Buddhist writers distinguish between compassion and Great Compassion–pity in the raw, as a mere visceral and emotional disturbance, and pity informed by principle, enlightened by insight into the nature of the world, aware of the causes of suffering and the only remedy. Action depends on thought, and thought, to a large extent, depends on vocabulary. Based on the jargons of economics, psychology, and sentimental religiosity, the vocabularity in terms of which we think nowadays about man’s nature and destiny is about the worst. . . .

– Aldous Huxley, Time Must Have a Stop

Advertisements