I recently came across an inane (shocking) HuffPo op-ed that I felt like is a common enough, albeit absurd, belief among many people living in Trump-era America that it was worth commenting on in some detail. Here is the link: I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People.
First off, Americans are the most charitable people in the world by a wide margin, so the notion that Americans as a whole lack empathy is utter nonsense. In fact, the hated 1% provide 33% of all donations made and almost all (86%) of donations made upon death. This generosity from the "rich" (adjusted gross income > $250,000) comes on top of providing for over half (52%) of the individual income taxes collected by the Federal government, despite accounting for only 3% of all returns filed. So in addition, the notion that rich Americans are callous and lack empathy is also ridiculous.
Moving onto the HuffPo op-ed, I think the author unintentionally touches on the root of the political disconnect in America when she describes how empathetic she, and people who think like her, are compared to "right wing" people who she says just plain don't care about other people. The fact of the matter is that anyone who champions one side over the other in the right/left political dichotomy is a person who lacks empathy.
The writer goes through several scenarios where she's says she is happy to pay more for a burger, pay more in taxes, etc. so long as her wealth goes to a good cause like a minimum wage worker feeding their family or a child being provided a good education because society would be better for it and only a callous selfish right wing person could disagree with her fundamental view of what it means to live in a society. However, if we buy into her version of society within the right/left political dichotomy, then what she's really saying is, I think these are examples of worthy recipients of my wealth, and you should too and if you don't someone should force you at gunpoint to go along with it. Herein lies the root cause that is splintering American politics in 2017. At it's core, the argument is, "Who should decide what's good for a society?"
While I don't know for sure, I would guess that if team blue were in power and raising taxes on the wealthy and enforcing free college and health care for all that this writer would be applauding all the way. For me, that shows a glaring lack of empathy on her part because while she may agree with those ideas and would gladly volunteer a portion of her wealth toward them, what about all the people who don't agree with her or have different priorities for their own wealth? Should everyone be forced to show their empathy in the same way she does? That would not only be glaringly unempathetic, but it's immoral, yet it's how people on both sides of right/left politics have been programmed to think about every political issue.
The notion that any small group of people in Washington D.C. (or Jefferson City, Springfield, etc.), whether liberal or conservative, have any idea what's best for everyone in America (or Missouri) is pure fantasy. A common glib response to libertarian ideology is that we have a utopic vision of the world that just doesn't exist, yet those same people turn around and advocate for an unelected official in the federal government to decide what's the best curriculum to teach schoolchildren in Wyoming, New York, Kentucky, and Alaska. Who exactly is living in a fantasy world?
What it actually means to live in a society is that individuals work together to solve local issues that affect their daily lives and matter to them, even if they may not matter to anyone else or heck even if they matter a lot to everyone else. Our system of government has aged very poorly and over time, for a myriad of reasons, far too much power has been consolidated at the Federal level and it's starting to drive everyone crazy. No good solution will come from wagging a finger atop your high horse and explaining, "Welp, I can't teach empathy so I don't know what else we have to talk about."
A potential answer is that we should decentralize political power and actually empower individuals to solve their own problems at a local level rather than lamenting about an obstructionist "other side" that's preventing you from forcing the society you think is best onto everyone else at the point of a gun. The fact of the matter is that society and culture should be vastly different in Mississippi vs. California vs. Oregon vs. Nebraska vs. Tennessee and wildly different between cities and towns in each state and even neighborhoods and streets within those communities.
If we could all just agree to disagree about who has the best vision for putting our wealth to good use then there would be nothing left to argue about. Frankly, it's disgusting that anyone thinks it's okay to tell someone else what the best use of their time and money is and then advocate a government use force to make them comply with their worldview. Nobody cares more about you, your family, and your wealth than you do, so why would you want anyone else to decide the outcome of your life? In my libertarian world, the HuffPo author would get everything she wants, but so would everyone else! In her world, at least half the people are miserable all the time. Which sounds more empathetic to you?