Beliefnet
A Pagan's Blog

In his  wonderful A Sand County Almanac Aldo Leopold gives my favorite description of what it is to be uniquely human.  He observes that when the last passenger pigeon died, a species that once had darkened the North American sky with its numbers, many people felt badly, very badly.  If on the other hand passenger pigeons had observed the death of the final human, none would have been at all concerned.

“For one species to mourn the death of another is a new thing under the sun.”
If anything, Leopold could have made his point even more strongly: humans are capable of mourning not only the death of another species, they can mourn the death of a species of no use to them.  When the last pigeon died they did not mourn as economists, sniffing sadly over lost profit opportunities, they mourned as caring beings that another being living another way and perceiving differently, was no longer existed.  It is the same capacity that causes so many of us to values the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, even though we doubt we will ever see it.  What appears most unique to us as human beings is our capacity to expand our care completely open endedly.
I was reminded of this by a link Makarios sent to my Facebook page on how John Roll, the judge murdered by Jared Loughner, died because he covered another man’s body with his own. This was heroism of the highest order, like the soldier who falls atop a hand grenade, giving his life so that others might live.  This heroism is the opposite of Randian “heroes” who praise their “selfishness.” It is the heroism that genuine conservatives and liberals are both able to exhibit and honor.
It is good to remember what is most distinct about us as a species because so many people today are in full retreat from their most basic humanity.  The sociopathic or simply infantile followers of Ayn Rand extol “selfishness” as a virtue when it is virtue’s opposite.  The right wing attacks empathy as a vice compared to their strutting empty belligerence.  So-called ‘Christians’ complain the Medal of Honor goes to soldiers who gave their lives in defense of others rather than to those who simply kill, thereby “feminizing” heroism.  That remnant of the old Left that places “class consciousness” and such ahead of decency are also guilty, but today they are not much problem.  Today our threat is overwhelmingly on the right.
Every spiritual tradition worthy of the name has praised care for others of no value to ourselves.  If some Ayn Rand fan wishes to get upset over this most basic or ethical points, there is an easy answer.  The “self” they assume to be so natural, crabbed, and small is in fact able to be enlarged to encompass a world with its love.  At that point my “self” interest is the flourishing of all things so far as is possible.  Love and care takes altruism and self interest and makes them indistinguishable. 
Ayn Rand and Glenn Beck and all those who praise John Galt and his ilk, or who froth at the thought of a judge with empathy, are quite objectively, deeply flawed human beings advertising their shortcomings as virtues.
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