The empire means widening our circles of compassion

Sep 4, 2023
A male in a chimpanzee mask gesturing stop with his hand.

In trying to get people to care about warmongering and imperialism what we’re really trying to do is get people to widen their circle of compassion to the furthest extent possible. To extend their care for the people around them to include caring about violence and abuse against people even on the other side of the world.

Everyone cares about themselves. Everyone who isn’t a malignant narcissist cares about their friends and immediate family. Once you start caring about your community you’re generally thought of as a decent person, and when you care about your whole country you’ll be regarded as compassionate and politically aware. Rarer than all these is having compassion for everyone in the world, and feeling the same about someone being killed by one of your government’s soldiers in an impoverished country overseas as you would about someone being killed by police brutality in your own neighbourhood.

Political awareness tends to stop far short of that point. It’s not hard to get people to care about tyranny that affects them personally or affects other people in their country, but getting people to think about the victims of your government’s starvation sanctions, drone bombs or proxy warfare is difficult. American progressives will happily focus on government abuses happening in their own country, but try getting them to look at the victims of their government’s abuses outside their borders and most of them get a bit squirmy.

This isn’t just because humans are tribal animals who are more inclined to care about their own group of humans than another, it’s also largely because the dominant information sources that westerners look to for information about the world are propaganda outlets which work to advance the information interests of the US empire. This means people are kept generally unaware of the cruelty and tyranny of the empire overseas, with their political attention being directed toward inconsequential narrative fluff like Trump’s mugshot.

Luckily for us, fighting the propaganda machine and working to expand humanity’s circle of compassion are not two separate tasks. Any effort to get people to pay attention to the abuses of western foreign policy helps weaken public trust in the propaganda machine which lies about those abuses, and any effort to weaken public trust in the propaganda machine helps the effort to expand people’s circle of compassion.

We’ve still got our work cut out for us, but what the hell else are we going to do? That’s the price of becoming a truly conscious species, which is the only way we’ll overcome our self-destructive tendencies enough to survive on this planet together. We’ve got to start caring about each other, and about all the other living creatures with whom we share this world.

As Einstein wrote in a condolence letter toward the end of his life,

“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.”


First published by Caitlin Johnstone from Caitlin’s Newsletter September 1, 2023

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