David Fennario, a communist playwright I respected immensely when I was a kid, once defined a wealthy WASP as “a guy who loves his dog more than he loves the working class.” I remember thinking he was so smart, so brave. In 2001, Ward Churchill, a radical professor many of my graduate school friends respected immensely, sneeringly decried the outpouring of sympathy for the victims of September 11th. They thought he was so smart, so brave.
Last year, Aadita Chaudhury, an activist many of my colleagues respect immensely, sneeringly decried the outpouring of sympathy for Lindsay Shepherd. They thought she was so smart, so brave. And just the other day, Nora Loreto, a journalist I respect immensely, responded similarly to the outpouring of sympathy for the victims of the Humboldt Broncos tragedy. Many of you thought she was so smart, so brave.
Why don’t you love the working class as much as you love your dog? Why don’t you care about the helpless victims of American foreign policy as much as you care about the helpless victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks? Why are you uninterested in the silencing of students of color but outraged by “white girl tears”? Why are you unmoved by the plight of the victims of the Mosque Massacre, but devastated by the death of a bunch of “white, straight, cisgender male” hockey players? Two faulty assumptions underlie all objections of this kind: (1) love is a scarce resource, and (2) loving is a zero-sum game.
Love is not a scarce resource and loving is not a zero-sum game. Like the Grinch in Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957), whose “small heart grew three sizes” on Christmas Day, most of us discover that we have much more love to give when we become parents or fall in love. This newfound love isn’t a liquid asset that can be readily spent on anyone or anything; it’s inextricably tied up in a relationship with a specific person. Likewise, the love we feel for our friends and neighbors isn’t a liquid asset that can be readily spent on strangers; it’s inextricably tied up in relationships with specific people.
The same is true, alas, of the love we feel for members of our tribe or group. As such, loving is rarely if ever a zero-sum game. As Rousseau rightly observes in Émile (1762), the choice, more often than not, isn’t between loving x and loving y; it’s between loving x and loving nothing: “Every particular society, when it is narrow and unified, is estranged from the all-encompassing society. Every patriot is harsh to foreigners. They are only men. They are nothing in his eyes. This is a drawback, inevitable but not compelling. The essential thing is to be good to the people with whom one lives. . . . Distrust those cosmopolitans who go to great length in their books to discover duties they do not deign to fulfill around them. A philosopher loves the Tartars so as to be spared having to love his neighbors.”
Should we strive to extend the boundaries of our circle of concern? Absolutely. But is it really all that smart to point out the obvious: namely, that people tend to love what’s near more than what’s far, and that people tend to love what’s familiar more than what’s foreign. And is it all that brave to mock people for caring? Love is far too rare in this broken and burning world. We should celebrate it wherever we find it. When we see someone listening to the better angels of their nature, and going out of their way for a stranger, any stranger, we should “we take our burned hands out of our pockets, and clap.”¹
—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2018)
1. Tony Hoagland, “Grammar,” Donkey Gospel (1998).