Minimally Empathetic

People will only be as empathetic as they need to be. I'm reminded of this by an Atlantic article I'm reading:

But most of these women say their thinking evolved over time as they weighed the foibles of the president against sins of the elites, whom they viscerally distrust. For instance, during the focus groups I convened throughout Trump’s impeachment, few of the women had anything nice to say about Trump’s actions. But their real contempt was reserved for Democrats and “the media,” whom they viewed as unnecessarily adversarial to Trump. And the plain fact is that they were unwilling to give much weight to an argument about the rule of law and abuse of power, because it didn’t have a visible impact on their lives.

That last phrase, which I emphasized, stood out to me. Many of us humans contain a seemingly bottomless reservoir of empathy for others — we're the ones who see a hurt or struggling animal or person, and forget the rest of the world as we feel a bit of the pain they're feeling. We leave our ego for a second to think about someone who's not us, and we feel some kind of foundational bond in that nameless void that connects all living creatures.

For the rest of us humans, we (I assume) merely lack the tastebuds, eardrums or photoreceptors that can perceive distant anguish in others. We feel no empathy because we can't even detect anyone in need of some empathy; so why expend the energy looking? We're literally blind to it, as the pain has never come close enough to us to enter our sensory field and thought processes.

This is why these people find Trump palatable — they don't perceive the pain and humiliation he inflicts on others, because they aren't close to any of the people his actions affects. They don't think about any abuses of power because they're generally on the “happy” side of those abuses. They don't really care about how the law is enforced or not because they're never on the receiving end of law enforcement. They don't care about inhumane immigration policies because they've never had to flee their home and migrate to another country. They don't care about a concentration of wealth by the elites they claim to distrust because, hey, enough of that wealth has also accumulated in their pockets. They don't care about healthcare for others because they don't have any chronic health conditions; they can afford the medications they need; they've never had to worry about access to health professionals. The list goes on.

We lose the plot when we talk about the ignorance and moral failings of Trump and his supporters. It's elementary and only the first step to changing anyone's mind. If they're ever going to change their minds, they'll need to experience these pains first-hand — otherwise they're simply too far from it. They need to care up close, like the rest of us already can from afar.