Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Compassion & The Story

1. Compassion And The Story

- The Millennials. They have no compassion.
- Remember when we were the younger generation and what the older and wiser said about us?
- You think there are no differences?
- Sure there are. Those who came of age in the year 2000 and after are more social, cooperative out of self interest, are less political except in protection of their freedom and demand for tolerance.
- They are ambitious.
- In a word. But do you know why they lack compassion?
- Why?
- They have no stories.
- Everyone has a story.
- Are you sure? There are only a few kinds of stories: those that end in death, those that are of wandering and returning home, those that are of falling in love and making a home. Do you see anything in common?
- What do they have in common?
- A story is an account of movement from place to place. A story ends when movement ends, when there is no longer any reason or possibility of movement. When we were kids the talk was all peace, love, understanding, beauty, truth...
- I remember.
- These words refer to states of inaction: they are reflections, bring to mind awareness of a good relation to the world.
- They tell us we are at home. I get it.
- To feel at home requires character, requires that we have a certain character that the place we find ourselves in suits perfectly, suits so perfectly we don't have to do anything. These feelings are the end of a story.
- But what is character?
- Habit. Habits are strengthened by repetition. Habits give us capacity to do things, but also take from us capacity to do other things. A body builder does well lifting weights but not at ballet. Ambitious people aim at achieving freedom from the restraints of character. To be able to do whatever is required to succeed, whatever is asked of them by others without shame or hesitation. They have no character, and consequently have no home.
- But they do have homes. They are about the only people these days who have their own place to live.
- Millennials seek freedom. They'll do what's required to get rich. There isn't a special place or person for them, because being changeable themselves, so are the places and people appropriate to their different selves changeable. What kind of stories can they have if there can be no end?
- They can still die.
- But the significance of death in those stories was in the failure to get home. Dying without trying to go home is not a story.
- Then what happens?
- Why do people want freedom? To have the power to do things. What do they want to do? Presumably not satisfy desires, that's not the Millennial type. Millennials are ambitious. They want to acquire things, not for the pleasure of use, though that comes along with it. Possessions, and especially money, are sought as symbols of power.
- They want political freedom to exercise power to acquire symbols of freedom to exercise power...
- A circle. They distract themselves from sight of this meaninglessness with entertainments, games, intoxications. For them homes are geographic places with walls that protect these activities. They go from activity outside the home to activities inside the home. They don't stop, and they don't notice they don't have a story because they keep recycling activity with others outside the home to recovery activities within the home. Ambition however can have a kind of story.
- What's that?
- Deliberately acquiring more and more symbols of power and freedom.
- If we don't have any reason to acquire power to be free for its own sake what reason can we have to acquire more power to be free for its own sake?
- None. But you see, there is a kind of character to the ambitious, despite their claim to be entirely flexible in their pursuit of more and more symbols of power. They get good at the politics of acquisition, but get very bad at everything else, finally reaching the point that the words describing what we feel when we are at home have no meaning.
- Love, peace, truth.
- On the other hand when you feel yourself struggle on your way home you don't want to be free of the demand to go home. Taking such freedom upon yourself means a loss, means literally the loss of home. Once you know what it means to be unfree and struggling you can share what people feel who are in similar circumstances. You don't blame or dismiss them as losers in the game of acquiring freedom and power, don't pretend they are practicing an arcane form of freedom unfamiliar to you. You certainly don't blame anyone for not having the character of acquiring more and more symbols of the power to acquire, which is a deviant, deformed character that can never find a home.
- The only people who have compassion for others, who can see them in their stories, are those who have stories themselves.


2. How Not To Have A Story

- I hear this shouting as I walk in the door to Ralphs:
- Hey! Hey you! Stop! I want to talk to you.
- What?
- We're talking about you. We're trying to get you out.
- Who's we?
- The mother. The son. The aunt. The son's wife. Hey! Where are you going? I'm talking to you!
- Who was it?
- I don't think I've told you about her. You know, in the crazy place I live, there is the 80 year old mother who is demented and has taken to popping out of her bedroom and attacking me with her feather weight fists shouting in a foreign tongue.
- She wants you to leave, like the lady said.
- Yes. I try to avoid her by leaving 6:30 in the morning before she awakes and returning when she's asleep, but I don't often succeed. There's her son, the self proclaimed messiah, who giving a few dollars to the unhoused on the street thinks he is doing god's will. He is brilliant in his own way, able to express clearly to himself and others what he is doing.
- What does he say?
- Right in line with what we were just talking about. He says he doesn't care about the people he is saving, that he doesn't want to know anything about them.
- He doesn't want a story?
- His story is of increasing power. Each new unhoused he hands a few dollars to represents an increase in his power.
- A typical act of charity. Lessen the pain of the symptoms but leave the disease to take its course. Tell the billionaires giving charity they aren't doing anything good and they answer would it be better to do nothing and let people starve? Answer them they should do both, treat the symptom and the disease. If they don't, they are acting to give themselves a sense of their own power and not with sympathy.
- Exactly. The Messiah knows this too. He says he is capable of compassion, but his first interest is building his self image, protecting his idea of  himself.
- He says that?
- Remarkable, right? So he met me and housed me in his Beverly Hills lunatic asylum. Another inmate is the so-called aunt. About 60, she lives most of the year in the old country. But she likes to come a couple times a year, stay at the apartment, sit on the couch in the living room 18 hours a day watching TV, shouting at the dramas and laughing hysterically, the mother going back and forth bringing out food to her. At the end of the day she sinks down on the couch, talks to herself a while, falls asleep, and goes on talking to herself in her sleep. Same day after day for months.
- Ok. So who is the woman at Ralphs?
- Another 60 year old from the old country. She pushes around a cart with plastic containers filled with prepared meals. For a while she was storying food at our asylum and coming several nights a week to cook and eat, leaving after midnight. I escaped from her at Ralphs, but when I next went to Starbucks, there she was again! This time I talked with her:
- Why are you plotting to get me out?
- The old woman wants you to go. Her son doesn't. His sister, the only normal one in the family, does. She controls the money. They're working on him to get you out.
- Why does the aunt want me out?
- She wants to control everything. Make the mother and son her servants. Have you seen the way she orders everyone about? She doesn't want me to come either.
- Why do you go there?
- I get  hungry. I like to be able to eat when I'm out in the day. The son's wife too wants you to go. She's going to move back in.
- Why? She gets an allowance and keeps a comfortable distance.
- She thinks they have money and she wants it.
- How am I stopping her?
- I don't know. The whole family is crazy.
- I know. Too crazy to watch over their money. The acquisitive of the world come out the woodwork. They want to pounce on the unattended property they think is there.
- But there's nothing! The family lives off social security.
- That's what you think? Could be. But the relatives have money...
- They'll never get any of it. You won't tell them I talked to you?
- What do you have to lose?
- I need to get the things I left there. I'll see you there.
- No you won't. I'm never there.

3. Home Box Office

- These people: they're perfect for a TV serial. Home Box Office would buy it. The catatonic mother, spending ten minutes washing each dish in the kitchen, waking up in the early morning to come running out of her bedroom swearing at you in foreign words about her stolen chicken leg, pounding her fists on your back, you fighting your way under this heavy fire to the door and escape. The visiting woman squirreling away her food in the apartment. The Messiah son inviting insane prostitutes home, demanding sex and when they refuse calling the police and having them arrested, dragged out kicking and screaming: they were invited! they were invited!
- They were invited.
- The building manager showing up and demanding all unauthorized occupants remove themselves or she'll call the police. And the aunt from the old country, sitting catatonic before the TV musical programs, waking to shout with laughter, sing along, then relapse into catatonia. And the separated wife, on an allowance from the family, calling every night to see to it that the Messiah takes his pills, tells him he can't take prostitutes home to his mother's house, and he tells her he can, no woman can tell him what to do, not his sister, not his wife, not his mother, and not the crazy prostitutes either! By the way, what about this sister?
- She lives with her doctor husband in a ten million dollar house.
- Also in Beverly Hills?
- Yes.
- Terrific! What should be call the program: Crazies Of Beverly Hills? Beverly Hills Psychos? This is good. Anyone else there you've left out?
- I don't think so.
- What about you?
- What about me?
- How are you crazy?
- I'm not.
- You have to be. Only a crazy person would live there.
- But what if I'm not?
- Let me think. Let me think. Yes! That's funnier still. We can show the poor sane guy being tormented by all the madness. Give me more details.
- The Messiah paces up and down from the kitchen to the apartment balcony, tapping the ash of his self rolled cigarette out at the kitchen sink and in the wind at the balcony, shouting and coughing ...
- What is he shouting?
- His views of life. How everything and everyone is corrupt. Only he follows the rules, gives away money. After a while he throws himself down on his belly at the balcony glass door, the pressure on his coca-cola filled stomach working its way out in explosions as he reads his prayer book: he is the righteous one, booom! the lord is his master, boooom! All the while he rhythmically kicks his heels in the air.
- Why does he do that?
- He says it's from restlessness. Soon he will be out the door, sitting in the gutter outside Ralphs drinking Coke and smoking, reading his prayers, or if not there pacing up and down the sidewalk at the Robertson Starbucks with his home country friends. They smoke, pace, shout above the traffic, reassuring each other that every pretty girl who passes in a whore, is a materialist, a demon.
- Wow.
- So can you sell the show?
- I'll get back to you.


Further Reading:
The Dispossesssed