X is for Xenophilia

| April 12, 2014

In Martha Nussbaum’s introduction to the collection of essays, “For Love of Country?”, she acknowledges that people’s compassion for others may cross the national boundary. She gives the example of the aftermath of 9/11, in which we felt “sympathy for many people who did not even cross our minds before” and many Americans began “to sympathize with the women and girls of Afghanistan… in a way that many feminists had been trying to get people to do for a long time, without success” (ix-x). There is a distinct contrast between the deaths of people from natural disasters, malnutrition, and disease, and the deaths of people caused by a current war. This leads Nussbaum into a discussion of compassion, and what specifically constitutes good compassion and bad compassion. Firstly, Nussbaum states that compassion “is an emotion rooted, probably, in our biological heritage” (xi). Compassion is a valuable emotion in relation to morality when it gets things right. If the emotions go astray or if it gets the seriousness of a bad event wrong, compassion becomes a bad thing. Our concerns should not stop with our local attachments as this may be seen as inactivity and a lack of concern for the plight of mankind and those who are suffering. There should not be an us versus them mentality as this may potentially lead to a failure of recognition of the other. For example, Americans alone do not oppose terrorism; the slogan should not be “Americans Against Terrorism”. Rather, we must see that “people in all nations have strong reasons to oppose terrorism, and that the fight has many active allies” (xiii). The us versus them mentality is damaging as it does not promote the project of humanitarian relief. Furthermore, this thinking may shift “into an attitude that wants America to come out on top, defeating or subordinating other peoples or nations” (x). Nussbaum believes that all people must become aware of their own ignorance towards the other and realize that we live in a complex, interconnected world. We must form a compassion that is good that begins with the local in order to understand those around us. We should constantly strive to “extend our strong emotions and our ability to imagine the situation of others to the world of human life as a whole” (xiii). It is in this way that compassion can be educated and taught.