What About Other People?
It was a very warm morning when Ray arrived, and since I never use air conditioning, Ray found the kitchen uncomfortable, so we had breakfast on the patio.
"I don't understand why you don't use your air conditioner?" he began.
"So, you use one?" I asked.
"Of course. Why would I want to be uncomfortable?"
"Well you shouldn't. If you need an air conditioner to be comfortable, you should use it. I'm not a bit uncomfortable." I explained."
"Yes, yes, I know all about your years in the tropics. But you might think about other people's comfort, you know." By which, he meant his comfort I assumed.
"Why should I think about other people, Ray?"
"Don't you care about other people at all, Regi?"
"What other people?"
"Well anybody. Everybody," he said.
"No, I do not care about them at all. I never even think about them."
"You never think about anybody?" he asked.
"I never think about some abstract, 'anybody, everybody,' no. I think about you, sometimes."
"Oh thank you," he said a bit sarcastically.
"I have to think about you. I had to think about you today, because you were coming to breakfast, and I had to think about what you might like."
"That's not what I mean, Regi, and you know it. I mean... look... do you know what the government is doing to people in this country. Do you know the horrors the TSA is inflicting on travelers. I can tell you some stories."
"Please don't," I interrupted. But he persisted.
"I just read a story about a perfectly innocent man who had fourteen thousand dollars confiscated by the police, and now he cannot get it back. It's called asset forfeiture."
"Yes I know," I said. "They used to be called mugging."
"That's right," Ray continued. "He just had his money stolen from him. And what about the old couple, I think they were in their eighties, who were shot about thirty times each by DEA thugs who raided the wrong home."
Ray was quite excited.
"Look, Ray, I don't fly commercial airlines, and I do not know the man who had his fourteen thousand dollars stolen, and I do not know that couple you are talking about. Horrible things happen to people all over the world every day. What is it you think I'm supposed to care about? They have absolutely nothing to do with me. Do you care about them Ray?"
"Of course I do," he said indignantly. "I care about people and what happens to them."
"Why?" I asked.
"Well, because I do, It's natural to care about people."
"Listen, Ray. If the police stole your money, I'd care about that. If you got hassled at the airport by the TSA, I'd be sorry it happened to you, but frankly I'd say you asked for it. That old couple the DEA shot up, what do you know about them?"
"Well nothing, really, except that they were innocent of any drug violations. Just a nice retired old couple minding their own business."
"Ray, you do not know that. They may have been what you say, or they may be retired con artists, or burglars. They could be anything, pedophiles, murderers, lawyers, schoolteachers, or politicians. How can you care about people you know nothing about?"
"I doesn't matter what they were, Regi. It's not right that people can be shot to death in their own homes." He added belligerently, "by mistake!"
"Or on purpose either," I said. "But, Ray, you weren't talking about the injustice of things that happen to people. Their death was a terrible injustice, of course, but you were talking about caring about people."
"That's the point? Don't you see. Don't you care about the people those things happen to?"
"No I don't. They are wrong and they are evil, but I do no know any of those people. They mean no more to me than all those who were ever killed in all the history of the world. I cannot become emotionally or intellectually concerned over every wrongful death in the world. Anyone who did would go crazy.
"Right at this moment, thousands of children are dying of malaria in Africa. Everyone one of them is suffering horribly, their inevitable death will be their only relief. Most of those deaths could be prevented if governments had not outlawed DDT. It's a terrible evil, but I cannot care at all. What would that even mean? Should I wring my hands and fret about it? Would that be caring?"
"You know, Regi, I don't really believe you. When you talk about those poor children dying of malaria in Africa, I can hear concern in your voice. I think you do care."
"Well, think what you like." I said. "I'm not trying to convince you. I was only answering your question."
I really like Raymond, and I understand why he becomes so easily exasperated with me. It's a common experience of the very sensitive. Other's pain and suffering is not easy to dismiss, especially if one easily identifies with others, and Raymond is one of those people who easily identifies with almost anyone, even those who are not at all like himself. It is impossible for him to imagine that others do not share his values and view of life. He imagines that others only want what he wants in life, to be free to live as he chooses with no desire to ever offend or harm anyone else.
It never occurs to him that others are only interested in what they can have or enjoy in life, without any concern at all with what they have and enjoy costs anyone else. Ray's greatest mistake is the mistake almost all charitable people make, the belief that others think and feel what he does.
I knew that Ray needed to leave soon, and really did not want to leave our conversation in a negative state.
"I know you think I'm some kind of misanthrope, Ray, and perhaps in one sense I am. Look for yourself at all the things you've been telling me other human beings have done to each other. Police and politicians are just as human as those victims you've been telling me about. If they are what humanity is, what should my view of humanity be?"
"The truth is, I do not regard humanity as some kind of evil. I regard humanity is nothing more then the expression of what beings who are capable of conscious choice choose. I just know that most of those beings choose not to be as rational as possible and behave in ways that are in defiance of their own nature. I do not care to guess why they choose as they do, but they do, and every example you have given me of their behavior is the proof. You care about the victims of their behavior. Do you care just as much about the perpetrators?
"You give me no reason to be concerned about "others," as your refer to them, because they choose to be evil, and to make themselves the victims of their own choices. I despise what humanity has made of itself. If I were not aware that every individual is responsible for their own life and whatever they are, I would despair of life itself. But I believe all individuals must choose for themselves what kind of lives they choose to live, and if most choose to live lives such as you have described, than to maintain my own sanity, I must not be at all concerned with the suffering and horrors others experience because of their own ignorant and stupid choices.
"You see, Ray, the moment you begin to see the plight of others as something beyond those others' own choice, as though everything bad that happens to people is something beyond their own control, you make everyone a kind of victim of fate, not what human life really is, the sum of each individual's private choices."
"Well, thanks for breakfast, Regi. Guess we'll just disagree on this one," Ray said on the way out the door.
óReginald Firehammer (07/16/12)