You and I would be utterly shocked at the utter void of compassion that was displayed at that time, in that "advanced" place. Executions were spectator sports ... "hanging day" was a banking holiday, with people showing up in droves, to witness the killing of another person (who had committed such petty crimes as pickpocketing, vandalism, or indebtedness). People were branded on their cheeks, to indicate what crimes had been committed ... including begging, or starting fights. Children were treated beyond-cruelly ... infants who were unwanted were thrown into open drains and sewers ... parents would even maim/cripple their children so that they could be better beggars. Animal torture was prolific, with cock-fighting, and ratting. People with disabilities were considered to be "possessed with evil spirits" ... babies with deformities (as well as their mothers!) were often killed, or exiled. Charity was rare .... seen as absurd.
Compassion was scarce, if in evidence at all ...
Compare that with today. Now, by no means am I claiming that we don't still have cases of cruelty happening ... but it's seen as abhorrent by most ... and we speak out. We no longer hang children for stealing ... we don't allow for animal cruelty, and a large number of people give regularly to charity. We have compassion. We've got a long way to go, to be sure, but we've come a long way in just under 400 years.
So, what happened? What changed, between 1700, and now..?
What is compassion? It's a product of the imagination -- being able to "put ourselves in another's shoes". Feeling what another feels ... feeling *with* them. Compassion is transcending ego-isolation -- connecting with another. Tapping into a shared identity with others.
As Steve Taylor eloquently puts it:
"... this new spirit of compassion can be seen as the expression of a collective psychic change that seems to be taking place within human beings: a gradual movement beyond ego-separateness. The first wave was something that individual human beings made happen, but this -- the second wave -- is something that seems to be happening to us... Whereas the first wave was a tiny undercurrent,the second wave is a mass movement, involving a sizeable proportion of the human race."[emphasis mine]
Going back to our portal into the 18th century ... from 1750 or so on, it was a tremendously transitional time to be alive ... for 6,000 years, slavery had been taken for granted, as a human "right". But in the 1700's, it began to be questioned ... is this good? And the anti-slavery movement was born. So too, it was unquestioned that some humans were *better* than others ... but it was being re-thought ... is it true? And a new model of democracy began to spread. For almost 6,000 years, it was unquestioningly assumed that men were superior to women -- that women were vastly inferior and fit to be beaten. But during this transitional time, the women's rights movement was birthed. The question of the rights of animals to live free from cruelty was pondered ... and the SPCA was formed. The treatment of criminals was reformed ... branding was outlawed, stocks/pillories were abolished, along with flogging and the rack, along with all forms of torture. Corporal punishment of children was opposed ... a sense of empathy for the suffering disabled children grew ... with a growing realization that we needed to care for everyone, including the very young, and the very old.
It wasn't perfect - not by a long shot (for instance, the "enlightened" founders of the USA only considered while male landowners to be free to vote ... and certainly the abysmal treatment of the Native Americans attests to the prevalence of the egoic/separate psyche). BUT ... something was happening ... transformation was observable.
Also during this era, the artists, authors and musicians began to demonstrate a profoundly new attitude toward nature, including the body. Romance literature emerged ... with poetry reflecting the inner life, not just the brute/logical conquests of conquerors. The artists were becoming aware of Something More than meets the senses. Catch the beauty of Wordsworth's poetry:
And I have felt a presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impells
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.
This newfound (remembered!) sense of empathy extended to all living things, and to all of nature ... rather than being merely detached observers of the world, they participated in it..!
War also changed ... rather than being merely a conquest for land ... it became more about liberating others from oppression. WWI was the last war to be openly welcomed by those who participated in it ... and because it was so devastating, the League of Nations was established, to ensure that nothing like it ever happened again. Unfortunately, such harsh punitive measures were taken against Germany, this led to them instigating what led to WWII.
(Shame never helps -- it always harms.)
It's interesting that Europe has been peaceful for the past 60 years ... after centuries and centuries of previously ceaseless fighting ....
Obviously, we have a long way to go regarding war..!
What else has been changing, in this "second wave" of compassion...?
- Attitudes toward sex and the body - our sense of shame has been fading.
- Gender boundaries ("what men do" and "what women do") have been blurring ... giving rise to empowered women, and "new men" (those who seem less influenced by the power of the fallen-ego, who are more sensitive, more empathetic, and less aggressive -- more secure in being, than in doing).
- More empathy toward nature ... a growing number of people becoming vegetarian/vegan ... animal rights ... a connection to all life, a reverence for life ... and a growing sense of responsibility/stewardship for the planet we all share.
- The decline of theistic religion ... more openness to what the Eastern/mystical religions/mindsets have to offer ... less focus on "consolation" and more emphasis on "transformation."
- A desire for reparation ... repairing the past harms done against indigenous peoples ... a desire for correcting injustices.
None of this paints a false picture of a Utopia. That's not even the goal (really - think about it -- it would bore the snot out of all of us). We have much work to do, much awakening to experience ... we're still in the "pig sty" coming to our senses ... never before have we seen such rampant materialism/greed being manifested ... never before have we seen such damage done to the environment ... and every day we hear of atrocities committed by humans, against humans.
And YET -- for the first time in the past 6,000 years of history, we are experiencing a growing movement away from the pathologies of the fallen/egoic psyche ... even if it is still, admittedly, a minority. We appear to be experiencing a shift -- moving from a "dominator" society into a "partnership" society ... a clear indication that humans are changing *on the inside* ... just as they first changed on the inside, 6,000 years ago. The signs of increasing empathy strongly suggest that the "walls of separation", borne of the egoic fall, are coming down...!
Why is this happening to us?
It appears that, in order to survive (even ourselves), we are becoming *more alive* ... that we are evolving into a higher consciousness (yeah, I'm well aware of how "woo-woo" this may sound -- stay with me!).
It may be happening because it *has* to ... otherwise, we may destroy ourselves. The built-in capacity for survival, built into this universe, may be kicking in ... doing what needs to be done to keep life itself going.
It almost seems as if a Plan were unfolding ...! ;)
Next ... I'll wrap up this book-study ... looking at how we've come, in a sense, full circle ...