Presence of Panempathy

Classic bearers of panempathy are the Jains, who light no lamps in the dark so that small insects are not burned by them, or the bodhisattvas as they are portrayed in Mahayana Buddhism: enlightened individuals who choose to delay their own entry into nirvana until every suffering being on earth has been redeemed.


Eich, Günter (1907–1972)

A rare example, and advertisement, for panempathy is the following poem by Günter Eich, “Consider, that Man is an enemy to Man”:

“Consider, that Man is an enemy to Man / And that he thinks constantly of annihilation. / Consider this constantly, consider it now / During a moment in April / Under this overcast sky / When you believe you hear growth as a fine rustling / And the maidens cut thistles / amidst the songs of the larks / In this moment too consider this! / Consider that, after the hours of great destruction / Everyone will prove that he was not among the guilty ones. / Consider that Korea and Bikini lie nowhere upon the map / But rather in your heart. / Consider that you yourself are guilty of all the terrible things / That happen far away from you.” (Günter Eich, GW, Bd. 1: Die Gedichte – Die Maulwürfe, p. 220f)

If the Categorical Imperative, at least from the moment of Auschwitz onward, has to run: “Every one of your actions must be such as to be able to be accompanied by the thought of Auschwitz”, Eich’s poem can be read as a “postlapsarian” exegesis of this imperative and the question be asked: ‘How can, where what is evoked in this poem is borne in mind, new human beings be begotten?’


Wells, H. G. (1866–1946)

A presence of panempathy directed toward the past is to be found in H. G. Wells. In his novel Mr Britling Sees It Through, first published in 1916 in the middle of the First World War, Wells has the eponymous protagonist, drifting off into recollections of his readings in Gnostic literature, articulate the idea:

“Life had a wrangling birth. On the head of every one of us rests the ancestral curse of fifty million murders.” (Mr. Britling Sees It Through, p. 290)[1]. Was the beginning of our existence really worth this price? Would each of us not rather have to exclaim: “Looking backward, I symbolically renounce the beginning of my existence – and each human being ought to do the same if it is really the case that millions of murders might have been prevented had everyone done so – our raison d’être is a folie d’être; looking forward, this can only mean to take one’s distance from it and to beget new human beings on the backs of an unknown number of future victims of murder.”  


[1] The number proposed may be a little high, if one takes into account that some 100 billion human beings have existed up to this point.

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