No Pity

The nonsense over Zimbabwe’s Cecil the Lion — hunted and likely stuffed and mounted by American dentist and Teddy Roosevelt wannabe Walter Palmer — brings to mind one of Everything But The Girl’s sadder songs, 1985’s “Angel”:

Show me something worse
Than a child outside a church
Begging with a cardboard box
In a heartless town that hurts and mocks
And on a chair anywhere
I will sit down and cry
And close my eyes

Against the Christmas windows
Here in Christmas town
A young girl rests her tattered head
And the festive lights shine down

And if she were a kitten
Someone would take her home
But we’ve no pity for our own kind
Our hearts are stone
Our eyes are blind

Show me something more
Than the wolf at the door
All the begging in the cold
To keep the wolf from the fold

Show me something more
Than the an honest girl turned thief or wore
Under African sun or Dublin rain
Necessities remain the same

On the roof the old wood shed
The moon rested its pale head
Cost a woman on a screen
Who saw same things she’d never seen
And on a chair in a hospital
She sat down and cried
And close her eyes

Show me something more
Than the wolf at the door
All the begging in the cold
To keep the wolf from the fold

Show me something more
Than the an honest girl turned thief or wore
Under African sun or Dublin rain
Necessities remain the same

It’s that second half-verse, And if she were a kitten / Someone would take her home / But we’ve no pity for our own kind / Our hearts are stone / Our eyes are blind, those words really get me. It’s true. We’ve no pity for our own kind.

Long ago, in Dubai, I did a story or two on The Arabian Leopard Trust. The founder was a Danish physician who had made a career in Dubai, and saw protecting the peninsula’s wildlife — the cats were beautiful and very endangered — as her way of giving back. One particular afternoon involved “raising awareness” about the Arabian leopard among expatriate children (European and wealthier South Asian) by having an afternoon of crafts — drawing, painting, coloring, making things. There may have even been a show.

The founder spoke at length to me about the value of protecting wildlife, about the need to care for the creatures we share the earth with. To save them and keep them from extinction. At some point close to the tail end of the interview, one of her South Asian servants made some kind of mistake. Not dropping a plate of something kind of mistake, but forgetting to get something kind of mistake.

The physician tore into the servant, berating him and insulting him. There was no physical violence, but for a bit, I wasn’t even sure about that. All the while, children were playing in the next room, getting ready for the party.

Which went ahead, of course.

I find Western animal activism to be, in many ways, a tawdry ethic. I’m no fan of cruelty to animals (nor industrialized agriculture, which turns animals into things, into inputs, in much the same way industry and mass society turn people into things and inputs), but I once watched some folks at San Francisco State University terrorize a blind person for the depraved evil of having a seeing eye dog. And that has shaped how I think about this.

We’ve no pity for our own kind. I’m no different. I can dismiss a homeless man begging on a street corner in way I cannot dismiss the mewling of a cat or the dark eyes of a dog. Perhaps this indifference is actually a necessary part of our very humanity. It may be that if we considered the very humanness of every person we dealt with (as opposed to the abstractions that self-righteously get us riled up), it would completely overwhelm us. We need this callousness, at least in some measure, in order to survive a brutal and cruel world.

But it’s one more reason I don’t really take part in all the outrage and posturing of the culture war. Because with only a few exceptions, outrage and concern and compassion are so narrowly focused at best and, at worst, deliberately and ideologically designed to provoke or try and score points. In the end, for most public moralizers, there’s always some human being whose life and wellbeing is of no concern. There’s always some child whose suffering is of no consequence.

And of course the guilty — however they may be defined — deserve no pity at all. No mercy.

I go back to the song. And it’s sorrowful lament. Which hasn’t lost it’s power for me, even after 30 years. Show me something worse…

3 thoughts on “No Pity

  1. I would like to think that this selective (and sometimes misinformed) outrage is typical of youth. But mob mentality is similar, and technology has now arrayed people permanently into mobs.

    It’s been said that having a child is like letting our hearts walk around outside our bodies: eventually unprotected and unprotectable. The death of even an adult child is very much a piece of personal death. I’m kinda socially obtuse by nature, and I think it was only after having children that I began to feel real empathy for others on a regular basis. Which soon led to complete overwhelm, as you say. Some kind of hard shell is necessary to reduce the sorrow of life to something manageable. As long as our hearts are not hardened on the inside — that’s another kind of death. There are other factors — time, stress, fatigue. I was far more grieved by the death of our last dog than by any of the others which went before, even though I didn’t like her very much. She was brought into our house by our youngest son during a rough time emotionally against my will. But I had been retired for years when she died. We were together almost all the time. She would follow me everywhere around the house, driving me crazy. But then suddenly there was no one to follow me around in the mornings when my wife was still asleep. I thought of all the things I could have done to be a little kinder to her (not that I was cruel, just somewhat indifferent). Especially walks around the neighborhood, which she loved, but which I usually felt too tired to bother with. I didn’t expect or want to get another dog any time soon, but after a few months my wife had us go to the shelter just to “look”, and within a few more days we had Maggie. Now I take her for walks 2 or 3 times a day, and if I’m late to do so she rowrlls at me in an almost human voice, wondering what the **** is the holdup. And so I’m in better physical condition myself. Whether I like it or not.

    I have spoken here mainly of compassion for animals rather than people only because human sorrows and regrets are just too terrible to contemplate at the moment.

    [BTW, I’ve been reading bits of “The King’s English”, a book (free download from Googlebooks) on the intricacies of proper usage of the elegant standard literary dialect of Southern England, as compiled by the Fowler brothers in 1906. I was especially curious about the rules for “shall” vs. “will”, which I thought I knew, but which turn out to be waaayyyyyy more complicated — 22 pages worth of explanation, which the author admits may still be insufficient for anyone who did not grow up with it, for whom the rules are 2nd nature (mostly). It turns out that my opening words above — “I would like” — is improper, because it is redundant. “I would” is already a conditional or subjunctive (?) equivalent of “I want” or “I like”. So the proper form must be “I should like to think” or else “I would think”, but not would and like together (not if the subject is 1st person, or rather what matters is whether the person making the claim is 1st person “[I claim] he should like”, or something ….). Just a bit of trivia. And completely obsolete anyway. Even a century ago, London newspapers were constantly breaking the rules, as the Fowlers never got tired of pointing out.]

  2. A shipmate of mine, from many years ago, told me; “That unattractive (sic) women need lovin’ too.” I have always been mindful and suspect of social, cultural and ultra critical attempts to force me into a moral corner. Thanks for confirming a view that I have long since held, Charles.

  3. Heres my thoughts as a 90% vegetarian who loved Black Beauty as a girl and regards the killing of helpless and dependent things as something we should only do out of necessity and without pride.

    Once you enter the human fray it gets much more complicated than killing a lion. Cops shooting people, people shooting cops, racism, poverty, segregation, cultural breakdown, etc. Homeless people often have mental illnesses and long-term problems that won’t be resolved after a bowl of food and a bath. It’s much easier to be sympathetic to an animal. Doesn’t make it right, but I understand why loving people can be in a way, much harder than loving an animal.

    I think that’s why I find peoples love so sentimental sometimes. They can only love things when they find them lovable, which is to say, not that often. The kind of love the Gospel talks about is costly, and not cheap. We have to pray for that kind of love, because it doesn’t seem to come to us naturally.

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