Columnists / Robin Askew

‘The limits of compassion’

By robin askew, Monday Sep 19, 2016

Some people are blessed with boundless compassion: Guardian readers, for example, and those who take the time and trouble to post little ‘sad face’ emojis on Facebook memorial pages. Alas, I am not among them. I have a theory that for the emotionally disadvantaged such as myself, this is a finite quality and must be rationed carefully.

What’s more, the post-Diana mania for ostentatious expressions of grief for dead celebrities and victims of crimes and natural disasters whom we have never met is not for me. Indeed, listening to eulogies for the deceased, I often wonder why all the cunts manage to escape unscathed. Of course, it’s understandable to want to remember the dead in the best possible light. But wouldn’t it be grand if, just once, somebody popped up on the TV news and said: “Well, Bill was a bit of a dick, and nobody liked him very much, but he didn’t deserve to die so horribly”?

Clearly, I am going to burn in Hell. That’s OK. I’m cool with it. And you’ve yet to read about my brilliant scheme to cash in on this bizarre phenomenon. All you need is a van loaded with flowers, teddy bears and heart-shaped balloons. Then you become an ambulance-chaser, travelling from tragedy to tragedy and parking up a discreet distance from the blubbing hordes to hawk your wares. Now here’s the really clever bit. Under cover of darkness, you sneak out and scoop up all the goodies from the makeshift memorial and reuse them at the next scene of carnage/celebrity death vigil, thus maximising profits. You could probably get at least two uses out of each bouquet, while teddy bears are almost infinitely recyclable.

Anyhoo, if you’re as shamefully emotionally stunted as me, who should we exclude from our circle of compassion? Everyone will have a different list. Here’s a brief extract from mine.

Dangerous sports enthusiasts

You know: people who fall off mountains, plummet to their doom in wingsuits, bungee jump off bridges and the like. They knowingly and deliberately place themselves in peril, often filming themselves as they do so, and expect us to applaud their bravery. Then we’re asked to feel sorry for them when they wind up as piles of broken bones and giblets. What part of the phrase “dangerous sports” is it that you’re having trouble with, pal?


This is where I get into trouble with my hand-wringing lefty/liberal pals. They make a pretty persuasive case that evil multinational corporations target the poor/the underclass/the working classes (confusingly, these terms are often used interchangeably) with their cheap, highly calorific, nutrient-free junk. And yet Ronald McDonald doesn’t personally shovel this shit down the gullets of the supine and lardy. There has to be some measure of personal responsibility here. The inevitable comeback is that the poor have no choice but to become bloaters because crap is all they can afford. I don’t buy this either. It’s perfectly possible to feed yourself nutritious vegan grub for virtually fuck-all. I know this because I do it all the time. Next time you go to one of those discount supermarkets, check out the dirt-cheap pulses and fresh fruit’n’veg rather than heading straight for the pies, fat boy. All those arguments about genes, hormones, physiology and metabolism are something of a smokescreen too. It boils down to a simple matter of physics: the more grub you scarf and the less exercise you do, the fatter you’ll get. This isn’t a message that can be spun out into a lucrative fad diet book, which is perhaps why we hear so much about that other ludicrous guff. Brave and imaginative solutions are required to solve our national blubber problem. For a start, I propose narrowing hospital doors and introducing tapering aisles in supermarkets so that only the svelte can reach fatty foodstuffs and sugary snacks.

The stupid

Some people fret that there’s nobody left to demonise now that all those they used to pick on have organised themselves into lobby groups and are off limits as a consequence of our old friend “political correctness gone mad”. They’re overlooking the stupid, who constitute a vast and apparently growing resource. Once again, this causes my lefty/liberal chums to come over all uneasy because they equate stupidity with lack of education, which is in turn a function of inequality, making any such notion another coded assault on the poor. I beg to differ. Firstly, it seems rather patronising – and, indeed, demonstrably untrue – to suggest that those who are not formally educated are stupid. Secondly, anyone who makes this argument clearly hasn’t spent enough time around toffs. That the stupid are legion is obvious even to me, and I don’t do social media because I can think of better things to do with my time than receive barely literate insults from an angry, bellicose American teenager who masturbates in his mom’s basement – like reading a book, watching a film, going to a gig or picking fluff out of my navel.


An easy target, perhaps, and a big tent. But since it’s a tent packed with the stupid (see above) who bought those lies about heaps of loot for the NHS, alongside bigots of every stripe flying the ‘taking back control’ flag of convenience, it’s farewell to the 52% as we decant all those bullet-headed blokes and their hatchet-faced spouses into papier mâché lifeboats fashioned from old copies of the Mail and Express held together with bile and jettison them from our ship of compassion into the choppy waters of indifference. Beat that for a mixed metaphor.

Those who are cruel to animals

My heart skips a beat with joy each time a bullfighter is gored to death in the ring or a dumb American hunter is shot dead by his own dog. I make not the slightest apology for this.

The religious

One of the more peculiar notions of the modern world is that one must respect the religious beliefs of others. That’s right: those who defer to a Bumper Book of Magic rather than engaging in rational debate are somehow worthy of respect rather than ridicule. Clearly, the world would be a better place without religion, but I’m not one of those stern atheists who would outlaw supernatural fantasies. Everyone has the right to subscribe to any old crap they fancy, from homeopathy to that funny business with loaves and fishes. But they should have no claim to special constitutional status or legal protection from hurt feelings resulting from my mirth. Having embraced the irrational, it also ill behoves them to take pot-shots – or, indeed fire rocket-fuelled grenades – at those who favour different fantasies or no fantasy at all. No matter how silly the fancy dress, there’s no difference between the Anglican, the Scientologist and the old sleaze who dreams up his own sex cult to cop off with gullible teenage girls. Now this isn’t to deny that some religious folks are thoroughly decent coves (and lady equivalents, where permitted). Using selective readings of their holy texts, many are able to demonstrate that their god is a pleasant, liberal fella who wants us all to get along and has no scriptural objection to what certain gentlemen get up to with one another’s bottoms. But given how vague and frequently contradictory these ancient tomes are, they’re on very shaky ground when it comes to claiming that their version is definitive and those whose interpretations are more bloodthirsty and intolerant are somehow perverting the faith. But the clincher here is the one thing that unites the religious. Each and every one of them is convinced they’re going to a better place when they die, whether that be cavorting with hordes of eager virgins or dancing with the baby Jesus on a fluffy cloud. It seems impolite at best and insulting at worst to waste our compassion on them when they’ve got so much to look forward to.

Daily Mail readers

Not the Mail itself. One cannot help but have a sneaking admiration for those who target and reinforce the prejudices of the old, bigoted and fearful with such devastating efficiency. But it’s hard to feel any sympathy for those who swallow the daily poison. Alas, this group includes my dear old mum – and, quite possibly, your dear old mum too. My brother, who lives just down the road, regularly finds her hovering on the doorstep with an anxious expression, whereupon the following Groundhog Day conversation takes place:

“I want you to read something.”

“Is it from the Daily Mail?”

“Yes, but . . .

“Not interested, mum.”


Right, have we covered everyone yet?


Photo from Wikimedia Commons  

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