by Ana Bazac
A reassuring image/idea common people – and philosophers too – cherish is that if humans do not receive what they reasonably expect or need or if humans cannot be and act as they can (therefore, not according to some absurd desires), nevertheless they would receive something or would be something: the substituting fact or position or fate are what people deserve, au fond, by their predestination – the arrangement of things by the transcendent force – and/or by their own behaviour.
The present remarks do not concern, however, the ideology that legitimates injustice and the tragic waste of human lives and creativity, but the concept acting as a methodological pattern to treat all the problems covered by this ideology. This concept is compensation.
Within the logic of domination-submission, the human relations as such take place according to the pattern of compensation: someone – born through the same love all the other humans were born – is constrained to forced labour or prostitution, “but he/she has at least what to eat”; another one is free and modern, and works in a hated job, but he/she cannot move to another job he/she is competent for because simply there are not enough jobs for people: “yes, but he/she should thank for the workplace he/she has”; another one has a wage not allowing at all a decent life: “but at least he/she is not unemployed”; we live in a crazy world, insecure and unjust, without future and hope: : ”well, we’re healthy”; we are critical towards the waste of energy, and at the same time we admire the military exercises deploying n aircraft, navy and weapons in absurd war games: but we turn out the lights an hour on Earth Day and we do save energy, do we?; etc.
The concept of compensation reflects both the relational character of the human life and the necessity and permanence of motivation in the human behaviour, arising from the constitutive conatus and its intertwining with the principle of minimum effort. If we cannot do this or this, if we cannot be what our mind, and not only our aspirations, certifies, if we cannot have a decent abode and decent conditions of living, we try to live on our wits by substituting the inexistent with the existing data and more, to be satisfied with what we have: “others have a worse situation”.
Therefore, it seems that compensation as a thinking pattern is first of all individual, pertains to the human individual and only thus was it transposed in the social relationships. Actually, it seems that the reverse is truer: the meanings of the concept as such prove the social construction of the habit to think by substitution about social facts. As usually, etymology helps us. Compensātĭo, īonis is compensation, or balance/equilibrium. But balance does not refer only to strict individual feelings about the biology of the individual, as the one’s balanced metabolism, let say, when is very difficult to compare different states and when, for the individual, a bad state of a part of organism is not compensated by a good state of another part; or as qualia, when it is even difficult to conceive their comparison and compensation. On the contrary, balance involves social states, resulted from and within the social relationships: and obviously, these social states generate the human thinking as such, hence its efficient and harmonious thoughts and their manifestations as behaviours.
Anyway, just in these social states and relationships people learn to compare and more than simply to appreciate, to treasure the equilibrium of things. And: to act toward this equilibrium and, if necessary, to think that things may be compensated, i.e. adjusted so as their imbalance not to be too disturbing.
Consequently, the verb designating this thinking and act is compenso, āre, to compensate, therefore, to put things in a pair of scales – so to compare them – and to decide the best way to realise the best state; it’s significant that the Latin verb means also to shorten a road: after the rapid review of variants and the understanding of consequences they may have, one “shorten the road”, chooses the best/at least, the lesser evil. This means “to compensate”.
However, the thinking about compensation is not a simple individual one. The other original verb of compensation is compendo, ĕndere, to weight together. Therefore, the humans have not only learnt from each other – so, through the imitation of comparison, measurement and balancing – but foremost have understood that only together can they create stable environments where their interdependence would have the least negative consequences.
But what does it mean to weight together? It simply means that the criteria of evaluation of the human relationships and actions are only the result of the collective endeavour. And concretely, that people think that they could compensate some aspects and states generated by the social relations only according to the collective “measurement”, namely to the socially created criteria and values.
To have criteria connotes the previous process of comparing. In this process, one puts in a pair of scales the state one wants to assess, to understand and to adjust, and the model. If so, we can think that the model in the process of comparing in order to compensate and install a balance in things would be a perfect state, an ideal. Actually, the model is not the ideal but the general situation, the “normal” state in that temporal moment and concrete community. One compares with the fellow humans, and not with Plato’s ideas. If one would compare with the ideal, one would come to accept one’s own state: because the ideal is so far, man would say “that’s it” and would become resigned, and perhaps he would not suffer too much.
But when the criterion is the existing state and considered normal for that society by the dominant ideology, those whose state deviates for the worse from this criterion – even though they are diligent and hope to attain the normal state and never stop to hope and be sedulous – suffer.
So, after their comparison, do they think that their state would be compensated without its real betterment? Do they think that the average situation would compensate their own bad state? Of course, they do not. Certainly, they may trump themselves, they may “think positive” and become anesthetised, but the compensation mantra is not played by them. They want not to be digits in the comfortable statistics of the average and want not to be fooled with the pattern of compensation. Indeed, they want to change their state though they do not know, and do not know how.
Nevertheless, society is based on n compensations. Then the suggestion of the above approach seems to be a rebel incitation. In fact, it is not: the Christian theology is based just upon the theory of atonement, when the sins in the real life are “compensated” with the divine justice after death. And though this theory seems a conformist application of the pattern of compensation, one may tackle it in a different way/more carefully. Because although the individual sins are punished or remitted in the divine justice, only the observance of Christian rules and the keeping of commandments is not enough: the rich must “sell (your) possessions and give to the poor, and (you) will have treasure in heaven”; we translate, there is no other way to be “compensated” at the level of morals/of one’s own conscience and of other fellow humans’ conscience ; and since the rich do not follow this teaching, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19: 23-26). Therefore, at least unconsciously, the old wisdom has contained the message that some things are not and must not be compensated. The lack of dignity because of the social relations of domination-submission is not compensated with anything.
The last aspect pointed here is the false idea of the dominant ideology of the private profit that the dirt the private units put in their natural and social environment – by externalising the costs, or drily, privatising the gains and socialising the losses – would be absorbed, annihilated and thus “compensated” by the whole, the environment in its entirety. As we all saw, it is not. We all are dirty because of this irrational treatment of both society and nature. And if, technically, the present state of things warns that not everything that can be done must be done, passionately we must act against the obsolete cliché of compensation of destruction and waste of the conditions of life and of untimely death of the human beings.