Empathy is that strong emotional motivator, built into all of us. It is a wonderful hard wiring that is instrumental for caring and cooperation between pack members. I’m a fan. However, empathy gets in the way when one pack collides or wars with another pack. In those situations, there is a powerful need to completely turn off the mechanism that prevents one human from doing harm to another. Unfortunately, the mechanism for turning off empathy seems to also be well ingrained, hard wired. We are prone to demonize the whole group as one evil unit, ‘they’re all the same’, each member is guilty of all sins ever committed. Don’t give them an inch in any thought that they might have legitimate beefs, that there is a “their side of the story”, that they also have baggage from the past. Differing races requires the least amount of mental effort in constructing ‘evil them’. National pride allows for groups to draw their own boundaries of ‘in’ and ‘out’, to a limited sense. Sometimes, I feel that this process of turning empathy off starts with a desire to be rid of somebody, or group, then, all that is needed is to come up with something they did wrong. There is always something. Now, the problem is solved. They deserve what they get, no need to keep thinking about it. Now, as that ‘other’ person or group starts to fight back, all of those new deeds serve as reinforcement to the idea that ‘yes, we were right, they are evil’. One must be wary of all the inoculations we use to tamp down the feelings of empathy. There are quite a few. As I mentioned in a recent post, these tendencies can be beneficial to the evolutionary survival of the group. but I’m not a fan of every tool that is useful for the advancement of a group, however. I would like to be better. Major political movements around the world are blowing the other direction.
The Present situation, perhaps political:
There are a few reasons why I am thinking about this now. One important reason is the thought of how humans go to war. Though nothing has happened yet, and probably will not happen, consider the present ramp up of armies between the nations of Iran and the United States at this time. Now sure, Iran has done and stood for many bad things in their struggle against us. They still are attempting to counter much of, if not all of what we are trying to do in the middle east. I am no particular fan of what Iran does. However, I invite people to investigate the history between our two nations. They have done terrible things, but when you realize all the terrible things we have done to them, going way back, you can see how their population could have a legitimate beef with us.
Very small, outboard motor boats have recently harassed a few oil tankers with little to no damage, annoying. A Washington Post journalist hacked to pieces in an embassy, that’s annoying raised to a new level. Hijackers flying our planes full of our people into the world Trade Center and Pentagon, that’s terribly annoying, to a hideous level. Yet, we are talking war because of the motorboats and want to give our best weapons to the country responsible for the latter two things, along with thousands bombed to death in Yemen recently. The point is not at all about which is worse, Iran or Saudi Arabia, the point is to push us to consider how arbitrarily we can pick sides, judge good and evil, and then keep the freight train rolling down the tracks. Perhaps all this really has more to do with power and control. The labeling of evil is just the necessary step needed to let us feel good and okay about putting the hurt to a group, turn empathy off. This can lead to evil.