Thinking through solidarity organizing, with an eye to how we can better live the change, as well as how we often slip in to colonial patterns when working together across distance and difference.
Feb 22, 2011
empathy is crucial for democracy
I've posted many times about the relationship between empathy and solidarity, but was reminded of its importance to democracy by George Lakoff in an article analyzing what's behind the attack on workers, being so beautiful held off in Wisconsin. Here he argues
"In the 2008 campaign, candidate Obama accurately described the basis of American democracy: Empathy — citizens caring for each other, both social and personal responsibility—acting on that care, and an ethic of excellence. From these, our freedoms and our way of life follow, as does the role of government: to protect and empower everyone equally. Protection includes safety, health, the environment, pensions and empowerment starts with education and infrastructure. No one can be free without these, and without a commitment to care and act on that care by one’s fellow citizens. The conservative worldview rejects all of that.
Conservatives believe in individual responsibility alone, not social responsibility. They don’t think government should help its citizens. That is, they don’t think citizens should help each other. The part of government they want to cut is not the military (we have 174 bases around the world), not government subsidies to corporations, not the aspect of government that fits their worldview. They want to cut the part that helps people. Why? Because that violates individual responsibility.
But where does that view of individual responsibility alone come from? ..." read on
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This piece by Lakoff, though valid, I think, in many respects, reminds me too much of the Right's endlessly repeated refrain, "They don't care about our values." It's the progressive version of othering: "We are empathetic, they aren't; we care about people, they don't." If we believe the following figures, which I think I do, conservatives give considerably more to charity (which requires a certain amount of empathy) than liberals: "Although liberal families' incomes average 6 percent higher than those of conservative families, conservative-headed households give, on average, 30 percent more to charity than the average liberal-headed household ($1,600 per year vs. $1,227)." What Conservatives don't like is for government to do the giving; problematically, they'd like to make the decisions themselves about who is worthy of their cconcern. But since empathy is about personal feeling, one might make the argument that people in a caretaker state don't need to be empathetic since the system takes care of everyone. I'm no conservative, but I think the issue is quite a bit more complicated than Lakoff makes it.
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