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“The greater sorrow carves into your being, the more joy your soul can contain.”

— Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

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Marx on alienation

The laws of political economy express the estrangement of the worker in his object thus: the more the worker produces, the less he has to consume; the more values he creates, the more valueless, the more unworthy he becomes; the better formed his product, the more deformed becomes the worker; the more civilized his object, the more barbarous becomes the worker; the more powerful labor becomes, the more powerless becomes the worker; the more ingenious labor becomes, the less ingenious becomes the worker and the more he becomes nature’s bondsman.

Karl Marx on alienation, in the Elgar Dictionary of Economic Quotations.

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In the hierarchy of sentiments, compassion is supreme

All languages that derive from Latin form the word “compassion” by combining the prefix meaning “with” (com-) and the root meaning “suffering” (Late Latin, passio). In other languages, Czech, Polish, German, and Swedish, for instance – this word is translated by a noun formed of an equivalent prefix combined with the word that means “feeling”.

In languages that derive from Latin, “compassion” means: we cannot look on coolly as others suffer; or, we sympathize with those who suffer. Another word with approximately the same meaning, “pity”, connotes a certain condescension towards the sufferer. “To take pity on a woman” means that we are better off than she, that we stoop to her level, lower ourselves.

That is why the word “compassion” generally inspires suspicion; it designates what is considered an inferior, second-rate sentiment that has little to do with love. To love someone out of compassion means not really to love.

In languages that form the word “compassion” not from the root “suffering but from the root “feeling”, the word is used in approximately the same way, but to contend that it designates a bad or inferior sentiment is difficult. The secret strength of its etymology floods the word with another light and gives it a broader meaning: to have compassion (co-feeling) means not only to be able to live with the other’s misfortune but also to feel with him any emotion – joy, anxiety, happiness, pain. This kind of compassion … therefore signifies the maximal capacity of affective imagination, the art of emotional telepathy. In the hierarchy of sentiments, then, it is supreme.

— Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

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“… a world among worlds …”

To see ourselves as others see us can be eye-opening. To see others as sharing a nature with ourselves is merest decency. But it is from the far more difficult achievement of seeing ourselves amongst others, as a local example of the forms human life has locally taken, a case among cases, a world among worlds, that the largeness of mind – without which objectivity is self-congratulation and tolerance a sham – comes.

Geertz, C. 1983. Local Knowledge: further essays in interpretive anthropology. London: Perseus Books (cited without a page number in UNFPA’s 2008 State of World Population 2008 Report).

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…a tyranny probably worse …

…a return to “free” competition means for the great mass of people a tyranny probably worse, being more irresponsible, than that of the State. The trouble with competitions is that somebody wins them.

— George Orwell*, criticising Hayek

I seriously cannot wait to bust this out the next time somebody tells me I need to brush up on my Orwell because I’m arguing for limitation of economic freedom.

And watch their head explode.

*  in Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters (1970), cited in Funnell, W (2001) Government by Fiat: The retreat from responsibility. Sydney: University of NSW Press. p. 53.