NYC litmus test

The New York City mayoral race continues to deliver interesting insights on a number of levels.  Not only has it provided prime circus-like entertainment through the unfortunate campaign antics of Anthony Weiner, but there has just been a surprising turning of the tide toward Bill deBlasio.  I have contended all along that this is an important race, not only for the City of New York, which has almost become the poster child for an Apple Republic two-class society, but also for the Democratic Party nationwide.  A win for deBlasio is an early bellweather for the future success of the progressive agenda.

But wait, there’s more!

Last Thursday, two kittens were stranded on subway tracks while Metropolitan Transit Authority technicians and police worked together to suspend the trains on the B and Q Brooklyn line and coax  the kittens, who were found under the potential deadly third rail,  to safety.–Joe-Lhota-SLAMS-decision-stop-trains-them.html

It may have gone relatively unnoticed outside of NYC, but this is an interesting little story that may indicate several things all at once. I don’t want turn this into a theater of the absurd but I think it is a metaphor of sorts for bigger issues with which this country is contending.

For one thing, I believe it gives us an insight into the political personalities of NYC as well as the hearts and minds of New Yorkers, of which I am one. For another, how we treat the least among us is a window into our psyches, if not our souls.  Psychologists tell us that mistreatment of small creatures by a child is a disturbing sign.  I would also argue that this reveals something about capacity for empathy and depth of character well into adulthood.


These were the two rescued kittens last week.

Of course, it is one thing to carry out acts of cruelty personally or to witness them taking place at close range and quite another to make decisions about the fate of animals in absentia or from a remote and “safe” distance — as could have been the case here — where one might at least invoke plausible deniability of the suffering involved, but even so, this story and our reactions to it might be a type of litmus test. I wonder if this is a fair analogy or whether am I unreasonably stretching the concept of a simple gauge or moral compass.

And, if I take this one step further, can we think about the Syria dilemma this country now faces, along the same dichotomous lines? That is, interfering or sitting back and doing nothing.  Is this stretching the duality of compassionate intervention vs self-interested inaction too far?

I do not think I am imagining it when I point out how much this seemingly trivial kitten-on-the-tracks story has resonated with the public. People seem genuinely conflicted about this because it also meant interrupting full service on a major train line intermittently over a period of a few days, with all the implications for lost productivity and revenues and significant numbers of people being unable to get to their destinations on time.

But I wonder if it isn’t also a type of displacement or what some psychoanalysts refer to as the “dead bird effect”.  Instead of dealing with a serious underlying pathology, one transfers emotions that are too difficult to deal with onto another seemingly safe object.  A person who has been through a terrible trauma, for example, shows no affect, but in coming across the body of a dead bird on the street becomes hysterical out of all proportion.  The amount of attention this kitten/subway story has received reminds me of this phenomenon.

I can understand the pure objective and subjective reasoning on both sides, but I come down instinctively on one.

All of the Democratic candidates for Mayor said they too would have stopped the trains. Lhota said he would not. Bloomberg

I am curious about whether anyone has any ideas or comments on this.

And, to tell the truth, I wonder about and fear a split along party lines!


4 Comments on “NYC litmus test”

  1. That iS something for those kittens and totally agree it just may be transference. Now you have my attention «dead bird effect»…must check that out. I love it when the first post I check it teaches me something, the kitten thing makes me smile and I have a new visitor on my blog. Thank you;) Namaste


    • Thank you for stopping by and for commenting. For those kittens it made all the difference to have the NYC MTA act in such a humane manner. I wish the city would take a poll and see who agreed with this and who disagreed. I am glad you found something worth reading here, as I know everyone is so busy! 🙂 and Namaste as well.


  2. I really don’t see how personally I could have approved running over kittens on a subway line, or approve of/vote for anyone who would. And it reminds me of a story my FIL told me about being sent to Camp Desert Rock for atomic bomb testing before being sent to Korea: he killed loads of people during the war without feeling much remorse, but when he saw what the military did to animals during those atomic bomb drops, it made him cry. I wrote a poem about it that is on my blog somewhere – my take from it was that there is unspoken “law” between humans and animals that doesn’t apply when it’s human to human – we can be OK with cruelty against each other but we’re just not supposed to be cruel to animals. Of course we are in so many ways, but when confronted with it, we generally feel this outrage and compassion that we don’t feel for each other. Or something. Not sure that makes sense. And it isn’t even really true.


    • I agree. Most people react viscerally to the thought of inflicting knowing suffering on animals and thank god they do. My immediate reaction was, whatever it takes, save the kittens and I know I have lots of company, you among them. What surprised me was how many comments I saw on the articles about this incident that said, ‘cats are just like rats, let them fend for themselves’. Our building super in NY told me that pigeons were just flying rats and so he had no qualms about poisoning them. I am just not built that way, so I am trying to comprehend those who are! Your FIL seems like a good hearted soul. Animals rely on us utterly to look out for them, any and all animals deserve it, imho.


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