Empathy: Bringing down the walls, one brick at a time

By M. Jefferson Hale*

What would happen if the entire world followed the greatest moral advice of the sages?  What would such a world look like? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is not a concept owned by any religion. One finds it even in the words of secular humanists. It is almost universal:

It is Baha’i: “Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not. . . .Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself.” Baha’u’llah;

It is Buddhism“…a state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that upon another?” Samyutta Nikaya v. 353;

It is Christianity: “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” Luke 6:31, King James Version;

It is Secular HumanismDo unto others as you would have them do unto you;

It is Brahmanism“This is the sum of Dharma (duty): Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.”  Mahabharata, 5:1517;

It is Islam“None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” Number 13 of Imam Al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths;

It is Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary.” Talmud, Shabbat 31a;

It is Confucianism“When one cultivates to the utmost the principles of his nature, and exercises them on the principle of reciprocity, he is not far from the path. What you do not like when done to yourself, do not do to others.” Confucius, Doctrine of the Mean.

Indeed, reciprocity** is a moral concept advocated by these and many more religions, as well as atheists and agnostics the world over. It is possibly the highest moral value ever espoused, and yet most who claim to adhere to this philosophy often ignore it, especially in politics. If this were not so, then there would exist little or no poverty, little or no indifference, and there would be universal, nonprofit healthcare. Why would this not be something to which everyone could agree?

I confess to my own guilt here. I, like everyone, am a product of my environment and my genetic heritage. I am a work in progress. I have profound regrets for inappropriate statements and actions that brought stress to others, and still often have difficulty in controlling my desire for fractious confrontation against those with whom I have grievances in both social situations and politics. Civil debate is always better even if civility isn’t a trait of one’s opponent, and I am a firm believer in debate. Thus, I have to keep reminding myself that anger wins no converts, always troubles the soul, and makes the way difficult. Since I cannot change the past or my genetics, therefore, the best I can do is try my best to recognize my inclinations to self-centeredness, condescension, aggression, and resist.

On this site, I will call on readers to join me in traveling the difficult path of the sages. We are all subject to the same natural impulses and will often fall short, but if everyone were to try, it would be a far better world.

How hard can it be? Consider Matthew 25:32-46. Matthew, or whoever wrote Matthew, in his quest to bring about a more just society, did not suffer from any illusion that empathy is our primary motivating force. Self-interest is far stronger. He knew that without threat of punishment, relatively few would follow his words. Moreover, he knew that mere punishment, such as execution, prison, or flogging would not be enough. He knew the punishment must be far greater than anything dealt by society. It had to be the threat of divine punishment: unrelenting torture, without end, forever.

Yet, even that threat has never been enough. Why has it not? Because we human beings are only slightly less subject to our genetic heritage than other species. By nature, we are aggressive, self-interested, territorial beings. These traits are characteristics honed long ago by the drive for survival—a drive we’ve inherited from a distant past far more dangerous than the present when to lose one’s territory and possessions was to lose one’s life, or at the very least, create hardships.

Still, human territorialism is no longer the instinct it was long ago. An instinct is a drive that impels an individual, without recourse, to certain actions, not the least of which is to protect himself, his family, and his territory in an aggressive manner and to procreate.

We now have the power to override those passions, reducing what used to be instinct to mere impulses. We have become, collectively, more tolerant and less territorial. Even though we, for the most part, have intellectualized our territorialism in the form of property possession and sovereignty by force of law, our ethical concepts are evolving. We, therefore, now have the capacity to follow the path of the sages, difficult as that may be.

I can envision a future—not in my lifetime but long thereafter—humankind will live together as brothers and sisters. I can see a time when our primary motivation will not be self-interest, but universal empathy. The founders of that future are those who listen to the sages and have the courage to venture beyond the walls of their theological and self-centered ideologies, taking with them only the greatest words of wisdom; the words of benevolent reciprocity. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone did this.

* M. Jefferson Hale is the lead character in the novel, The Empathy Imperative, by Max T. Furr

** What was implied by the sages was benevolent reciprocity. Simple reciprocity might allow for returning violence for violence, but benevolent reciprocity is returning kindness for violence. It is, indeed, a most difficult thing to do. Shouldn’t there be a Church of Benevolent Reciprocity?


— Max T. Furr is author of The Empathy Imperative, a philosophical novel exploring the nature Divine Justice. Was Descartes wrong and God was a deceiver, after all? What would the world be like if empathy, not self interest, were our primary motivating force?

Based on biblical literalism, the story opens at the beginning of the Tribulation, but a professor of philosophy and evolutionary biology becomes the focal point for a change that alters Yahweh’s Divine Plan. Jeff knew the answer to a question unspoken.

CHILD’S PLAY: All Girl-Child Band – The Warning

I just now came across this video on a wonderful friend’s blog post, which I am posting here. Victoria, owner of the blog, is deeply interested and well read on the subject of behavioral neuroscience, especially early childhood development. Give her a “like” and a “follow,” and read her posts.


Max T. Furr is author of The Empathy Imperative, a philosophical/spiritual novel.

Let’s Get Past The Ancient Chauvinism

Max T. Furr:

As a matter of understanding and a blow for universal empathy between the genders, I reblog this video.

Originally posted on Victoria N℮ür☼N☮☂℮ṧ:

Ten types of women Christian men should not marry.  This video/article was just brought to my attention.  Thanks Tim.

View original 154 more words

THE GUANTANAMO DIARY: A Profile of Courage Under a Depraved U.S. Administration

Learn of the man with far more courage, honor, and empathy than the collective soul of a conservative nation:

Should there be Empathy for Terrorism?

 

Being an advocate of universal empathy and benevolent reciprocity, acts of sheer terror such as the Charlie Hebdo attack place me squarely on the horns of a dilemma, especially since I am opposed to the death penalty as well. So, since I do not shy away from cognitive dissonance, as I write this piece, I will attempt reconcile my seemingly opposing concepts. I turn to philosophy.

On one horn, I am a devotee of the John Stuart Mill School of Free Speech—a school of empathic thought that says, in Mill’s words:

If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.  –John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, Chapter 2 – Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion.

Side note: It is clear to me that this mode of thought, in no small measure, influenced Jefferson and Madison when they crafted the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the intent of which is laid out in Jefferson’s Virginia Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom. And that intent is the very heart of a constitutionally limited, representative democracy (a republic). I no longer see our nation as such, however, but that is an argument for another time.

Indeed, as Mill wrote concerning the “tyranny of the majority”:

John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill

Like other tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority was at first, and is still vulgarly, held in dread, chiefly as operating through the acts of the public authorities. But reflecting persons perceived that when society is itself the tyrant—society collectively, over the separate individuals who compose it—its means of tyrannizing (sic) are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practices (sic) a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough: there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development, and, if possible, prevent the formation, of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence: and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of  human affairs, as protection against political despotism. —John Stuart Mill, On liberty, chapter 1

Thus I have to say that Charlie Hebdo has, in my opinion, every right to lampoon fundamentalist Islam, bearing in mind that their parodies of Mohammad is not the root cause of the terrorist attack, but was a contributing factor.

On the other horn of my dilemma is the root cause of the Charlie Hebdo attack—that of the right of fundamentalist religions to preach and believe as they do—a religious teaching that encourages murder as revenge for perceived insults to Islam. Too, it is for the most part a mindset with which one cannot reason. This last point, of course, is the same for peaceful but still dangerous fundamentalist, religious beliefs of Western nations. If one is convinced that he will burn in an everlasting Hell if he does not abide by the doctrines he was taught to believe, how can anyone change his mind? Cannonballs of logic and reason will not dent his walls of dogma. But, has he the right to teach and build those walls for others?

This brings me back to Mill, who wrote:

First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.

Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions, that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.

Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience. —John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, Chapter 2 – Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion.

Therefore, fundamentalist Islam does, indeed, have a right to teach its opinions, although Mill would not condone—nor would any person possessing even a molecule of humanity and reason—allowing it to act out its nefarious teachings.

The solution? By allowing radical and harmful ideas to be spoken, society, perceiving the danger, knows who to watch and to whom contrary opinions, especially those of empathy, must be conveyed. Still, there must be constraints, especially in fundamentalist Islam, to prevent harmful acts. If the individuals of the group are beyond reason, then society must protect itself, by any means necessary—although capture should be our primary concern.

However, terrorists who are captured should not be put to death, but imprisoned and detoxed, if possible, of their harmful concepts. If they cannot be detoxed, then they must remain in prison and be treated humanly.

This episode highlights why I promote the view that every individual should rid himself of all religious dogma, saving only the single concept of benevolent reciprocity: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This goes for Western nations as well. Our primary goal, above all, should be the elimination of poverty and corporate/government greed–the ultimate medium for radicalism to grow.

I welcome your arguments and corrections if you find any.

Let’s Have Empathy for Teachers, but Let’s Rejoice for Parents

Here is a slight deviation from seriousness (well, I reckon it’s serious for some).

I can add nothing to this hilarious clip!

Posted to YouTube by cheyenne Felicia.

Why I Think This World Should End – a video message by Prince Ea

I ran across this video just now and found that the message fit perfectly the theme of my blog. I invite all to listen closely all the way through. Comments will be appreciated.

I would only add that Prince Ea’s use of the word “love” in the video is synonymous with the word, “empathy.”

Empathy is the act of mentally projecting oneself into the mind of another and trying, as much as possible, to experience his life and environment as he sees and feels it. To understand his emotions, his hopes, and his constraints.

Empathy is much more than mere sympathy. It is brother/sisterhood with family, friends, and strangers. It is feeling for others as you would feel for your own young child. It is understanding the devastation that poverty, neglect, and indifference have on the world view of an impoverished child. What you would not want for your child, you would not want for all others. This is the concept to which Prince Ea points.

Does Life Have Meaning?

Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life.
It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.
― Joseph Campbell

This post might seem to be something of a deviation from my theme of universal empathy and benevolent reciprocity, but it is not. It is a revision to the response I gave, concerning Campbell’s quote, at Kendall F. Person’s blog recently and it reminded me that, although I have held the same concept for many years, I had never thought to reconcile it with my philosophy of causal determinism (all events in the universe, including our actions and thoughts, are determined, not from any deity, but from nature). But if causal determinism is true and we have no free will, then how do we “give” meaning to life?

The meaning I try to give is unconditional empathy and benevolent reciprocity. Looking back at the horrors of history, I think humanity is evolving ever so slowly toward a world of brotherhood and sisterhood, and I desire to help the process, yet it may be coming about involuntarily–despite my meager and often flawed efforts, or the efforts of anyone else.

Involuntarily? How so?

Campbell’s quote suggests that the meaning of life is entirely existential (from within each individual)–that there isn’t a meaning other than what we give it. I think this is necessarily so. Plato recognized the existentiality of true social justice somewhere around 400 BCE. Indeed, looking back at my own intellectual evolution, I can see the causal factors that brought me to the world view I hold today, and I am virtually convinced that I had no choice but to evolve as I have.

So, if causal determinism is true, then the meaning each of us give to our lives was determined from an incalculable number of intertwining causes and effects going back to the beginning of the universe, and possibly back into infinity past.

To make my point more lucid, I offer you another excerpt from The Empathy Imperative:

* * *

[Scene: Jeff Hale, professor of evolutionary biology, is trying desperately to suppress an onslaught of grief caused by news of the death of his estranged, fundamentalist father. He stands at his office window, staring out in search for distractions.]

His attention was drawn to a wind-blown sheet of paper, loosely crumpled, trapped in the hedge by the sidewalk. He mused at how it seemed to struggle to free itself.

It might be a page from a philosophy paper, a rough draft, or even a graded paper, possibly from one of my own students. Discarded thoughts, once regarded by their perpetrator as brilliantly original arguments, but found on deeper reflection to be groundless assertions—conjecture without foundation—a desecration of sound logic.

Jeff smiled and nodded approval. Even if it were so, failure is often a good thing. From every attempt to elucidate an argument, fail or not, a student learns and progresses.

The paper freed itself from its prickly captor. Jeff watched as it joined the swirling leaves tumbling off across the quad, its unwilled course set by the capricious wind.

Capricious? No, even the direction of the wind has a cause, as does the wind itself. And was there not a cause that impelled the student to crumple and toss the paper? Anger? Disinterest?—an attempt to cast away his regret for not having studied sufficiently?

The paper was going to bounce across the quad long before the student crumpled it, long before he adorned it with his thoughts, long before the paper itself was made, and even long before the student was born. From the beginning of the universe, an unbroken chain of countless, intertwining events merged to cause that crumpled sheet of paper to tumble across the quad.

It reminded Jeff of Laplace’s Demon. Pierre-Simon Laplace penned the most cogent explanation of causal determinism, a concept that suggests the current state of the universe and everything therein is “the effect of its past and the cause of its future.”

He supposed that if there could be an intellect so immense as to know all forces of nature in the universe at a single instant, know the positions and trajectories of all particles, and could analyze that data, to such an intellect there would be no difference between the future and the past.

My standing here gazing out this window, every whip and whirl of wind, every deflected motion of the tumbling paper, indeed, every thought in my head and in everyone else’s head would be known to such an intellect from eternity past.

It’s the very definition of unqualified omniscience. But what an eternally boring state of existence such a being would have. What an unending, intellectual hell it would be.

Jeff grinned. How could such a being possess humor? It would know the punch line of all jokes in the universe for all time. No humor there. It also would be devoid of curiosity. It would be indifferent to all things.

The net effect on such a being would amount to eternal, intellectual paralysis. Is that why the god of the Old Testament was so angry and devoid of humor? He spent all of his prior existence trying to do something he would not know he would do before he did it? But, then, were the stories of the Old Testament even remotely true, he didn’t act as though he were omniscient.

Still, there is no need of a god or a demon. Take them out of the mix—remove the intelligence factor altogether—and you have determinism: cause and effect.

Thoughts of omniscience brought Jeff back to his father, who zealously believed that his god was omniscient and knew the thoughts of every soul on earth at every moment, even before the thinkers thought them, and even before the earth came into existence.

* * *

I welcome all points of view on this.

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