For a Kinder, Gentler Society
The Battle for Compassion: Ethics in an Apathetic Universe
  • Jonathan Leighton
Reviews Table of Contents Introduction «Back
The Battle for Compassion: Ethics in an Apathetic Universe.
Sound Bite
Reflecting on freedom, identity and morality, this book offers a fresh, sweeping perspective on the human condition and a deep contemplation of the basis for our priorities at this critical moment in our history. What matters, where are we heading, and what would it really take to improve the prospects for our future?

About the Author

Jonathan Leighton is a writer and independent consultant specializing in science, ethics and humanitarian issues. With a BA from Harvard University and a PhD from the University of Basel (Switzerland), he spent several years in industry in research, marketing and training management positions. As a senior consultant at Geneva’s largest PR agency, he handled mandates for diverse clients including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A strong advocate of human rights, he is currently focusing on new, creative approaches to promoting universal humanitarian values.

About the Book
Jonathan Leighton takes a hard look at the challenge of reducing suffering in a world propelled by self-interest and takes a brutally honest approach to answering fundamental questions about our existence. Written in a personal, sometimes...
Jonathan Leighton takes a hard look at the challenge of reducing suffering in a world propelled by self-interest and takes a brutally honest approach to answering fundamental questions about our existence. Written in a personal, sometimes irreverent tone, The Battle for Compassion synthesizes recent thinking from science, philosophy, psychology and  economics with the author's own reflections. The book draws a broad blueprint for the kind of approaches and thinking that may be needed if we are to salvage a gentler future for our species and others with whom we share our planet. A passionate, philosophical book aimed at every thoughtful reader, the book breaks taboos in honestly confronting some of the key existential questions we are faced with in a world of accelerating change: What are the basic forces driving our species’ trajectory, and where are they leading us? What really matters at the most fundamental level? And what, consequently, would it realistically take for us to re-align our world and preserve a future worth living in?
Preface
...Six hundred years after Copernicus presented his revolutionary and heretical heliocentric theory, a sunset can still look unexpectedly new. What if the fate of our world depended on a similar shift in perspective?

...The threats to our...

...Six hundred years after Copernicus presented his revolutionary and heretical heliocentric theory, a sunset can still look unexpectedly new. What if the fate of our world depended on a similar shift in perspective?

...The threats to our existence and the persistence of intense suffering are closely intertwined issues with similar underlying causes. Addressing them honestly requires us to reflect deeply and detachedly on who we are, probe the boundaries of ethical thinking, and ask some really big questions. What are the basic forces driving our species’ trajectory, and where are they leading us? What really matters at the most fundamental level? And what, consequently, would it realistically take for us to align our world with what matters and preserve a future worth living in? These questions recur as we go through life, experience bliss and pain, the passing of time, the kindness and cruelty of our fellow humans, and the monotony of routine and the shock of unanticipated change.

... This book is a reflection on these pivotal questions and an attempt to offer some answers. While our instincts usually serve us well in our daily lives, they have also created a terrible mess of our world. Just as the beauty of a sunset blinds us to the actual mechanics of the phenomenon, our illusions and preconceptions subtly but significantly distort our understanding of the nature of our relationship to the world and hide a larger sense of meaning. These pages look at the human condition and explore the relationship between the subjective and objective aspects of it, i.e. how things actually feel and the physical reality dictating it all. Ideally, by shifting the perspective from which we understand our existence, we may find a way to reconcile our desire to enjoy life in an intuitive way with these existential considerations, and use this understanding to have a positive impact on the world.


Excerpt
Selected quotes from The Battle for Compassion

Please reference any quotes: Jonathan Leighton, The Battle for Compassion: Ethics in an Apathetic Universe (New York: Algora Publishing, 2011)

There is a great paradox in the duality of wanting to understand the big picture and simultaneously continue to enjoy playing the game. (Chapter 3, "A Step Back")

Others’ consciousness is the best kept secret...
Selected quotes from The Battle for Compassion

Please reference any quotes: Jonathan Leighton, The Battle for Compassion: Ethics in an Apathetic Universe (New York: Algora Publishing, 2011)

There is a great paradox in the duality of wanting to understand the big picture and simultaneously continue to enjoy playing the game. (Chapter 3, "A Step Back")

Others’ consciousness is the best kept secret in the universe, masquerading in the form of physical gestures and sounds. (Chapter 5, "Subjective Experience: The Hidden Side of Reality")

Suffering is one of the things that the universe does, an effective solution happened upon by Mother Nature who, as rightly affirmed in one of Murphy’s Laws, is a bitch. (Chapter 5, "Subjective Experience: The Hidden Side of Reality")

The use of animals as objects is so entrenched in human cultural practices around the world that to step aside and see things objectively requires almost a Copernican paradigm shift. (Chapter 9, "Avoiding the Abyss")

It seems that many scientists and philosophers feel guilty about confronting the truth and revealing it too loudly, perhaps unsure about how their readers will react or concerned about expressing ideas that are too at odds with conventional wisdom. (Chapter 6, "Determinism: The Universe’s Marionette Show")

Philosophical enquiry is often constricted by an implicit need for arguments that are consistent with life being intrinsically worthwhile—a conclusion that we obviously want to arrive at but, if we are to be honest, is not foregone. This is one of our greatest taboos. But ironically, it is also one that prevents us from drawing further conclusions that would force us to take more seriously the priority of working towards a kinder, gentler world. To gain a more complete perspective, we need to be prepared to touch the void. (Chapter 11, "Preserving Life")

It is not at all contradictory to espouse moral relativism—the position that judgments about “right” and “wrong” have no absolute validity—as an accurate description of the world, and yet to have a strongly compassionate perspective for which one is willing to fight. (Chapter 12, "In Search of an Ethical Anchor")

Ethics has no higher level significance than as an attempt to institutionalize compassion and provide limits to brutal human nature. This understanding of ethics is more relevant than ever to today's post-modern world of rapidly growing scientific knowledge and existential threats than the framing of ethics by classical philosophers and their idealistic, absolute notions of virtue. (Chapter 12, "In Search of an Ethical Anchor")

In the end, understanding ourselves as repositories of genetic information trumps any other interpretation of identity in explaining our actual instinctive behavior, even if we consciously decide to attribute the greatest importance to subjective experience. The drivers of our behavior thus conflict with much of what matters upon broader reflection. (Chapter 7, "The Illusion of Distinct Individual Identity")

There is no logical requirement to treat negative utilitarianism as a simplistic dogma and extend it to its most absolute limit, where it requires the destruction of life. Value systems are grounded partly in emotions, and even a compassionate humanist or humanitarian activist can have a deep desire to see life continue. To clarify this position and distinguish it from absolutist variations, we could call the principle “negative utilitarianism plus”. (Chapter 9, "Avoiding the Abyss")

The fact that meaning and emotions actually come into existence at all in this vast universe of quarks, leptons and bosons somehow implies “something”. The distinction between many religious and non-religious people, equally awed by the outcome, is simply whether they label this something with a name or can understand it as a long series of equations. (Chapter 10, "Satisfaction")

The use of physical coercion and violence for supposedly compassionate motives not only can lead to great psychological dilemmas but can undermine the empathy that serves as the driver of it all. As a practical means of leading to a world where less and less suffering occurs, we may sometimes feel obligated to navigate an ethical no-man’s-land and play a dispassionate numbers game, but we should not be surprised when the victims and survivors of this strategy resist—using all means available. (Chapter 12, "In Search of an Ethical Anchor")

Our self-destruction would, indeed, also make us seem rather clumsy as a species, a possibly rare vanguard of life existing 14 billion years after the universe’s creation, armed with intelligence, wisdom and technology, and nonetheless subject to a major “oops” moment. (Chapter 11, "Preserving Life")
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Pages 260
Year: 2011
LC Classification: BJ1475.L46 2011
Dewey code: 177'.7--dc22
BISAC: PHI005000 PHILOSOPHY / Ethics & Moral Philosophy
Soft Cover
ISBN: 978-0-87586-870-7
Price: USD 22.95
Hard Cover
ISBN: 978-0-87586-871-4
Price: USD 32.95
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ISBN: 978-0-87586-872-1
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