Given all that’s happening in the world (wars, social injustice, brainwashing via mass-media and entertainment) it’s tempting to say we need a revolution. The heritage of this word is a bloody one. It is clear we need change. But let us embrace the concept of evolution.
The very idea of revolution implies a return to a previous state. It is circular and repetitive in nature, just like our violent history. Evolution means breaking this vicious circle. Due to the upcoming technological advances, which will make nuclear weapons look like wet firecrackers, we are forced to evolve rather than revolve. I believe one of the keys of the next evolutionary step (if not the key) is generalized empathy.
Social entities are people too
Humans are social creatures. We’re organized in various groups that, naturally, tend to behave just like humans do. Humans compete. At least partially, the urge to compete is powered by the survival instinct.
A corporation, for example, is a social entity that competes economically within the market ecosystem. It has a survival instinct that expresses itself through the decisions of the people leading it. And the people leading it must act in the interest of the organization, otherwise it will perish. Due to the high stakes involved, these individuals often end up disconnecting from their humanity in order to become the brain of this abstract creature – the often-ruthless corporation.
This is only one of the empathic explanations for the reckless and sometimes outright criminal behavior of corporate leaders. Not only does this explanation make sense (if you are empathic), but is also one that relieves us from the debilitating pressure that builds up while being in a state of permanent anger and dissatisfaction. Blame is how we hide from solving problems within our society and relationships.
The survival instinct factor can’t be stressed enough. In all people – some less than others – there is a very deeply rooted instinct to gather more of everything (thus ensuring one’s future). Even though we know right from wrong (depending on education), maintaining an ethically-correct behavior – while having this biological need to accumulate always throbbing in the back of one’s mind – requires a great deal of free will discipline.
An empathic case can also be made for corrupt governments. Lord Acton once said that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. The greater the power, the greater the disconnect from one’s roots as an innocent human being. And isn’t corruption really just a symptom of this unfortunate disconnection? Just like corporate leaders, corrupt government officials separate themselves from the people they should have in their care. So, it is not surprising to see many of them fall prey to the “gather more of everything” impulse.
Crime as flexible concept
As ethics often shows, whether an act is a crime or not can be highly debatable. Law establishes certain boundaries, but law is almost always one step behind social change. If we apply what I’d call future-law (as opposed to the current judicial system which will probably be deemed as barbaric in some time from now), the greatest criminals often go unpunished. This is part due to human cunning, and part due to a judicial branch that doesn’t yet factor in some of the most serious crimes such as social irresponsibility.
For example, those that knowingly set up and contribute to an educational system that produces broken individuals will eventually be seen just as bad (if not worse) as the individuals who were advertising tobacco and other poisonous substances in the past. Allowing the existence of an educational system that is damaging minds is a serious mistake. I can agree that most of the participants to this are victims of the same perpetuating system, but this educational cycle needs to be broken as well.
By building an improper foundation for society, it is not surprising that we often end up voting in tyrants and sociopaths. Easily manipulatable citizens become facilitators for human disasters.
Of course, some would argue that the entire point of this lack of education is to allow crooked governments to stay in power. But that was never a good long-term solution. The history book shows how many times this way of abusing citizens blew up in the face of the oppressors. Democracy without healthy education leads to dangerous, unpredictable situations.
Often, that’s when armies come in. Finding justifications for the existence of the military is ethically challenging. The unfortunate soldiers become murderers while those that escape killing their own kind are facilitators and accomplices. Sure, the murder becomes “following orders” and even the orders have all sorts of geo-political motivations.
It is exactly these motivations which make crime a highly relative term. More often than not, it’s not even naturally relative but rather a human-manipulated relativity. “History is written by the winners” and so are the rules that later decide what was crime and what was not.
In this jungle of complexity, there is one behavior that can simplify and clarify the way forward towards a healthier, happier society.
Generalized empathy and the science of empathy
Humans are capable of great empathy. Through conscious action, empathy can be extended to complex human social structures (cultures, ethnic groups, social entities), to different species, towards the planet itself and the list goes on. This is generalized empathy, a wise and constructive conscious behavior. When (not if) this will predominate in our society, we will enter an age of amazing social transformation.
This breakthrough can be accelerated through guidance. An education in empathy is necessary not only from the immediate family, but also throughout one’s journey as a student. Empathy should be a mandatory subject, a must-know science. An empathic population does not find it acceptable to commit crimes and will almost certainly not tolerate primitive manifestations of tribalism such as war.
The upcoming educational paradigm shift will have to dispose of the disastrous mentality of “an eye for an eye”. Generalized empathy will lead to generalized forgiveness, which in turn will ease the psychological burden of our bloody history. I believe there is only a matter of time before this happens because I believe in the evolution of our collective intelligence. Given the weapons we wield and the upcoming technological advances, generalized empathy is our insurance policy for the future.
“An eye for an eye will only make this world go blind
Another lie for a lie, we’ll be wiping out mankind”