I listened today to a lecture by Simon Critchley, not by any means a dharma talk (and in fact he mocks—in his ignorance—European or American Buddhism as being overly nihilistic and withdrawn into the self) but he was talking about the beginning of ethics, of compassion as it is recognized in the “other”.
Critchley said that ethics was born, and I think he was quoting the Hebrew bible (perhaps someone can correct me on this) in the “face of the widow, the orphan and the cripple” and what he meant is that in the face of the other, in the face of the person ‘not-me’, the one who is less fortunate, or even wholly unfortunate, I recognize my face, I see myself. And when I see myself I can no longer act as I would towards “not-myself” but instead must act in the way of the good, however situationally or relationally or temporally that good might play out. Of course there is in this a form of the do-unto-your-neighbor, but removing it from theology, making it in essence “atheologistic” is what makes it interesting. It universalizes the singularities of experience into multiples; rather than creating a single credo, a single law it allows me to always recognize myself in the other, that the other makes me as I make it, allowing for a purely subjective universal which is in the end, endlessly liberating.
As Arizona busies themselves criminalizing the “other”, recognizing in the face of the “other” not themselves, but something juridically mandated and categorized as “other” (a form of Agamben’s Homo Sacer) it is all the more important that we see no man, no “other”, as illegal. The other is us. It is in that mere glimmer of recognition that compassion is born, that a window onto the ethical good is opened. Like satori, that recognition, that demand towards the good might be brief, might even always be, after Levinas, unfulfillable, but it is in this philosophical exercising, in always investigating further, with an almost religious fervor, that a liberating freedom is also born.