“I only ask for the right to say that I don’t know how to exist in a world where people do the things that they do to each other. I ask for the right to say that I don’t know how to live with myself when I let go the things I let go.”
If we on the left wish to cling to the notion that we are over here because we are kinder, more compassionate people than those on the right, the ghoulish celebration of the death of an old woman is probably not a step in the right direction. This refusal to see people on the other side as anything but avatars of the ideologies we despise cannot not lead anywhere that we want to go, can it? Celebrating the death of a politician over twenty years after she was forced from office as though it is somehow a victory for the left is only possible if we refuse to see that person as fully human. The ability to reduce real human suffering to a mechanism of some vicious, cosmic justice is, quite simply, dangerous. It allows us to steel ourselves against the suffering of others in a manner which seems to me to be fundamentally at odds with the left’s stated mission. We cannot champion compassion for the vulnerable while cavorting with glee at the death of an eighty seven year old woman who hasn’t presented a threat to anybody in decades.
The refusal to see Margaret Thatcher as anything but the figurehead of an ideology, and the refusal to engage with her suffering as a frail, elderly woman and the suffering of her now bereaved family, speaks to the desire of so many on the left to engage in the type of vilification which we so hypocritcally denounce when it is perpetrated by the right. It doesn’t go anywhere, this requirement for Mr. Burns caricaturing of the other side’s inherent, one-dimensional evil. Worse still, it brutalises the very people who engage in it, hardens us to the suffering of anybody we can characterise as inadequately on board with the struggle. The same willful lack of compassion we lament in those who support the death penalty bubbles in us when we respond to the abuse of rapists in prison not with horror, but with a certain grim satisfaction. The invocation of “justice” to legitimise a disregard for the pain of those we despise leads, inexorably, to brutality. It cannot lead anywhere else. The true test of our politics is not in the way we respond to those with whom we have an intuitive sympathy. It is in our willingness to treat even the people we find incorrigible with the compassion we claim to believe is imperative for creating the society we wish to inhabit. There is no other way.