Why we cannot bear to look upon suffering

In James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, he wrote: “White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this—which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never—the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.”

This is a startling diagnosis of how racism betrays a person’s own existential insecurity.

Extending beyond the issue of racism, there is this fascinating insight that another’s suffering can actually intimidate us because, in some ultimate sense, we know that it could just as well be us.

This brings to my mind particularly those living with illnesses or disabilities who consistently rate their quality of life much higher than outside observers.

Anyone who thinks that someone else would be “better off dead” is actually intimidated by how such a person is just as much alive as they are — maybe even more.

What, then, is the solution? Baldwin offers, “The white man’s unadmitted—and apparently, to him, unspeakable—private fears and longings are projected onto the Negro. The only way he can be released from the Negro’s tyrannical power over him is to consent, in effect, to become black himself, to become a part of that suffering and dancing country that he now watches wistfully from the heights of his lonely power and, armed with spiritual traveller’s checks, visits surreptitiously after dark.”

When people in our country learn how to accept the precariousness and vulnerability of life—when they learn that persons are valuable for who they are and not only for what they can do—then euthanasia will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.

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