Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Justice and Empathy

Earlier on in life you had already begun to grapple with some basic problems that seemed so imponderable. Among these problems are questions like ‘why is it that the people who obtain power are the very ones who should never have it? And, ‘why is it so difficult to find justice in the world.’ But then these problems seem to roll themselves into a ball and you realized that behind all these questions lurks a bigger, over-arching one. ‘Why is it that so many people are hell-bent on the destruction of the human soul?’ And so you begin to scour the lines of great philosophers and poets in the hope of finding some plausible story that explains this basic problem. It is a frustrating problem. At some time you realize that there are simply some people who actually seek the destruction of most of the other people around them. Some of these people pursue this goal openly through murder or a career in the military. But most of these people hide their destructive impulses behind a veil of legitimacy and power. These people practice their destruction by seeking positions of power wherein they can push people down and undermine their basic humanity. Some become Prime Ministers and others are found in more humble positions, but all of them abuse their power and oppress those around them. Unfortunately some of these sad souls even pretend to be left-wing, they become ‘progressive’ politicians or union activists, and then proceed to practice in their professional and personal lives the very opposite of what they claim to believe.

No, it is not necessarily politics that distinguish these people, it is something much more fundamental. I believe that what is behind this basic destructive behavior is the absence of empathy. These folks are simply incapable of comprehending, at a basic gut level, the real effects that their actions have on others. And because they are, at heart, empty human beings who cannot connect to their fellow humans, they get some kind of basic thrill from undermining others. And to hide their emptiness and the wonton destruction that they continually commit on others, they hide behind the claim that they are really actively pursuing good. It is particularly frustrating when you meet one of these people in a left-wing organization which is supposed to be established for the cause of social justice. I have met union activists, for example, that are supposed to be employed full-time in the pursuit of justice who continually undermine the autonomy, self-respect, happiness, professional competence, and well-being of those over which they are able to wield power. I think that these people have often convinced themselves that they are actually ‘good’ people, but the rest of us know better.

I believe that this lack of empathy is at the root of all the other seemingly complicated problems of social injustice. The problem is that it is not at all clear to me that human beings can overcome this problem and when you meet these people there seems to be absolutely nothing you can do, it is like trying to convince a schizophrenic that they are not seeing things. You need empathy to understand empathy and thus you can explain nothing to such people. Even if this problem is rooted in some basic mental disorder (like some form of Alexithymia), we will probably never be able to do anything about it because those in positions of power would be most likely to be suffering from it so they would prevent us from addressing the issue. So it goes.



Anonymous said...

Kirby, Truer words have not been said. I remain disheartened by this realization. So how do we go about living our lives when these people lord so much evil over us? Also what is Alexithymia? talk soon C

kirbycairo said...

liAlexithymia is a condition or personality type in which people have difficutly identifying feelings or distinguishing between bodily sensations and of emotional arousal. Although this is not exactly what I was describing, I was thinking along those lines and that we need a word to describe people who lack a fundamental level of empathy. Maybe we should just call it disempathy disorder.

Anonymous said...

I like dis-empathy disorder, that seems to hit the mark. take care C