How To Stop Caring

By Helen Razer
Artwork by Elliott Routledge

Let’s say it from the outset: cancer is shithouse.

I don’t want to poke fun at people who lay on the cosmetic of compassion with a trowel. Let them have their selfie.

Rather, I want to look at the effectiveness of compassion itself. So, for the sake of argument, think of what we call compassion here as ‘genuine’ compassion, and not its conspicuous, marketable cousin. Let’s pretend that there is some compassion in the world that is as real as it is selfless. And then, let’s begin to consider that even this compassion is kind of useless or, at least, less useful than many suspect.

If I were the type who gave a shit about showing that I care, I would at this point tell you that I am very, very compassionate and often hug the homosexual, celebrate diversity, rescue financially embarrassed otters, etc.

As I have no interest in decorating with daffodils, I will simply tell you that my aim is to distribute to every global citizen enough to eat, somewhere regular to sleep and sufficient time and material goods to live a mostly tolerable, occasionally joyful life. This aim, however utopian, is dispassionate. To think of it as compassionate is, I claim, counterproductive.

As I have already displayed my arse to Obama and the Dalai Lama and that nice guy who made that stupid video, you are probably prepared for me to call Mother Teresa a bitch. ‘Never worry about numbers’, said Terri. ‘Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.’

This is the stinking problem with stinking compassion. While I appreciate the beauty of the idea of the Holy Spirit, I also despise the way that liberalism and the mass culture it created has modified this idea in its filthy guts. Yes, it’s all very well and good to help the person next to you but, I’ve just determined that this is currently my neighbour Craig, an up-and-coming financier. If I were to compassionately help him, I would find myself working to install an offensively ugly front yard water feature. This help would deprive others of a labour for which Craig can well afford to pay, hasten the disappearance of flower-filled, bird-attracting gardens and produce a need for chlorine and the possible devastation of my irises. (I don’t grow daffodils.)

So, frankly, fuck Craig. And fuck Mother Teresa, while you’re at it. And the Obama Lama and Tony Abbott and the stupid UN. And, your Facebook feed which tells me that compassion is what is needed to solve the world’s problems.

Can we not see that we cannot see all the people and complexes who deserve our ‘compassion’? I look at the objects surrounding Craig and me, and they do not, at first sight, arouse my compassion. It is only when I force myself to think that this iPhone was made from blood, that this t-shirt was sewn in dangerous conditions, that delivery of this and many other water features broke the backs, over time, of many men that I see that my ‘compassion’ is worse than useless.

Development is compassionate. Even though Uganda is bloody because of it. The UN is compassionate. Even though Palestine is bloody because of it. Helping Craig is compassionate. Even though his water feature is fuck-ugly.

Compassion can bite the arse I have freshly displayed to the fascist Dalai Lama, people with cancer and idiots en route to beatification. You can say that I lack compassion if you wish. And you can believe this lack of compassion, and not the unequal power relations upheld by its fans, is the problem. But, I believe you’d be wrong. I suggest you look at the numbers.

A melting pot of stimulating conversation and provocative debate. Presented by Sydney Opera House.

A melting pot of stimulating conversation and provocative debate. Presented by Sydney Opera House.