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September 21, 2010

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — sbj @ 4:23 pm

Sometimes, you read something and it resonates with you in a way you never expected.  Often for me, that occurs when Iam reading a passage from an old book, and it echos or mirrors concepts that exist presently. I had that experience while reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin over the weekend and coming upon the following passage.

The passage is discussing the difference in the treatment of slaves by Southern owners – who’s profit margins required considerably greater and more rapid productivity – versus those in more northerly locations.

… while the [more northern] master, content with a more gradual style of acquisition, has not those temptations to hardheartedness which always overcome frail human nature when the prospect of sudden and rapid gain is weighed in the balance, with no heaver counterpoint than the interests of the helpless and unprotected.

It can be argued (and was, over lunch, just this afternoon) whether Beacher Stowe was correct in assuming that “frail human nature” is easily overcome by evil forces such as greed, or, rather, that the frail trait of compassion is oft overcome by human nature itself (defining greed, for example, as a defining characteristic of human nature).  However what does seem inescapable is that today as much as 158 years ago, for the most part, compassion seems to only extend as far as one can comfortably reach.

Is reducing your consumption of plastic representative of compassion?  How about cutting your use of fossil fuels or embracing other ways to conserve?  Supporting renewable energy initiatives? Recycling?

I would submit to you that these are absolutely acts of compassion.  There are so many resources that are in limited supply.  Limited to the point that there is a clear end point to the resource based on current consumption trends.  Further, world populations continue to grow toward a point beyond which our planets resources (even the renewable ones) can sustain our existence.

Do the “helpless and unprotected” have to exist today to care about them, or to act in their best interests?  I do not believe so.  To me, any act of kindness toward a future generation (recycling, self-limiting the size of your family to help control over-population, etc.) is every bit as philanthropic and compassionate as one toward those in need today.

Awareness of injustices brought slavery to an end (and, at a slower pace, is advancing equality with regard to basic human rights).  Most people today are aware of, and acknowledge the importance of, equality. Perhaps, if there is more discussion and acknowledgement of the compassion, charity, and sacrifice required to meet the needs of future generations, everyone can find a similar level of urgency regarding the fate of our descendants, and the problems they now stand likely to face can be eliminated, or at least reduced, before they are even born.

(note: this is in no way to imply that no one is doing any of these things.  Many good people (in fact, you are probably one of them) are doing good things daily.  However, this fact does not change the reality that so many, particularly in business where profits are determined by efficiency etc. rather than by caring about individuals or groups of people, are not.  Slavery was, remember, a business, it was not personal; and it is in that context that the quote and my ponderings are cast.)

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