O'Sullivan, Gerry, Szykowny, Rick, The Humanist
Writing over two decades ago in The Pursuit of Loneliness, Philip Slater identified a social current he dubbed the "Toilet Assumption" According to Slater, this was the seemingly universal belief that "unwanted unwanted difficulties, unwanted complexities and obstacles will disappear if they are removed from our immediate field of vision.... Our approach to social problems is to decrease their visibility; out of sight, out of mind." Slater went on to observe that "the result of our social efforts has been to remove the underlying problems of our society farther and farther from daily experience and daily consciousness, and hence to decrease, in the mass of the population, the knowledge, skill, resources, and motivation necessary to deal with them."
These days, some folks are calling it compassion fatigue. Having spent so much time, energy, and money (the argument goes) on the problems of the homeless, the indigent, the disenfranchised, the malnourished, and others, Americans are now unable to respond with the extravagant charity they displayed in the past. (This is partially true: the amount of its income the economic elite donates to charity--always relatively skimpy--has decreased over the last decade, while the much greater level of charitable contributions from the poor, working class, and middle class has remained about the same.)
After 12 years of trickle-up, boom-and-bust business deals, and private profits with public costs, many affluent Americans have begun to nurse their bulimic and inexplicably hung-over inner children. To assist in this worthy endeavor, there has been a resurgence in the popularity of the "Toilet Assumption." So, for example, homelessness is now a virtual crime in many cities because commuters and theater-goers are just left too despondent by the sight of the poor. (In fact, one of the first edicts to issue from the new Giuliani administration in New York City was a crackdown on the windshield-cleaners who populate numerous intersections in Manhattan.) Rather than commit to any serious program of housing reform, government officials have decided that it is easier to warehouse or jail the homeless--out of sight, out of mind. …