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It's the Empathy Crisis, Stupid

Brian Moench

I'm sure everyone reading this already knows that our "debt crisis" is a mirage, a canard manipulated by the radical right wing who are theologically devoted to allowing society's rich to become even more so. Our supposed spending problem is nothing more than a "We won't tax the rich no matter what" problem. The media has played along; Pres. Obama and many of the Democrats are also playing along. And the political barometer has taken yet another sharp lurch to the right. But while we don't really have a debt crisis, we do have an empathy crisis and it's the empathy ceiling that has come crashing down on us and desperately needs to be raised.

Recall that in campaigning for the presidency in 2000, George W. Bush actually advertised himself as a different breed of conservative, a "compassionate conservative". I'm under no illusion that this was anything other than Karl Rove branding "W" solely for the purpose of electability. (I went to high school with Karl Rove. There's never been a stray, compassionate bone in the man's entire marshmellow, conniving body). But the fact that compassion was touted as a desirable trait in a politician in 2000 illustrates how far we have degenerated into a truly brutal society, a modern day Mordor. The only difference I can see is the Orcs in Lord of the Rings had better costumes than the Tea Partiers.

Our empathy deficit had its origins in the "tough guy" recipe concocted after 9/11 in the White House kitchen by Bush, Cheney and Rove and has since been served up with a vengeance by rest of the Republican Party and society in general. It has blossomed into a full blown malignant disease of epidemic proportions.

America hasn't given a second thought, or even a first thought to the hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis and Afghanis who were needless victims of George and Dick proving their manhood to the world. Abu Ghraib didn't even register as an issue with voters in 2004. In fact that election turned on Rove's swift boat strategy of convincing enough people that John Kerry's heroic war record, i.e. his masculinity, was fabricated. America no longer even pretends to be a country that doesn't torture. The nation that used to lead the prosecution of international war criminals allows its own torturers to justify their actions on national TV without the slightest hint of shame or reprisal. American exceptionalism--we get to torture people we don't like because we're special. And let's not suggest that God, Jesus, or the Bible doesn't approve, or that our beloved and divinely inspired Constitution prohibits this brutality.

The hideous sport of ultimate fighting has captured the mainstream and its own TV channel, becoming our version of Roman gladiators. Pornography has evolved from a display of sex and eroticism to one of disgusting, degrading violence against women who are depicted with less humanity than a corpse. Video games played for hours by teenage boys show women torn in half, drawn and quartered with blood spurting from the remaining body parts. Conservatives are now encouraged by their leaders to "lock and load" when they don't get their way, and no matter how much carnage, any curtailing of our precious guns remains sacrilege.

Sen. Orrin Hatch from my state, a devout Mormon and follower of Christ, couldn't vote for either of Pres. Obama's nominees for the Supreme Court because he couldn't abide justices delivering "empathy" from the country's highest bench. My other Senator, Tea Party general Mike Lee, a supposed Constitutional scholar, recently stated that the Constitution doesn't support child labor laws.  With a few more Mike Lees in the Senate we may be able to return to the good old days of Charles Dickens. The torches and pitch forks being amassed against illegal immigrants is nothing if not a war on empathy.

Climate disruption is already causing loss of livelihoods, disease, famine and death for millions throughout the world. Even much of the US is currently suffering from the very climate extremes predicated by virtually all the world's main stream scientists. Yet half of this country, and the entire Republican Party, swallow the denier Kool-Aid held to their lips by Rush Limbaugh and the blonde dumbos at Fox News even while they pass out from the heat. But it is easy to deny a climate crisis if one has also been purged of empathy.

The all out Republican/corporate assault on the “job killing” EPA, Clean Air and Clean Water Acts has nothing to do with jobs. At its core is a lack of empathy. The health and well being of your family will be sacrificed for corporate profit, hastening the return to a truly medieval gap between rich and poor. The modern version of “Let them eat cake” in 2011 is “Let them breathe pollution.”

The real flag of the Tea Party is not "Don't tread on me", but rather "It is my God given right to tread on you." A chilling lack of compassion for the poor, the sick, the homeless, and the unemployed, now dominate the Republican Party's legislative agenda, and the Democrats and Pres. Obama, seem to be increasingly comfortable holding their coats while they throw them all under the bus.

The most nightmarish video I have ever seen was taken outside a townhall meeting two years ago where a disabled person in a wheel chair was trying to explain to a small crowd why health care reform might mean to him, the difference between life and death. The crowd circled around him menacingly, taunting him, humiliating him in a scene right out of Lord of the Flies. It was not an isolated incident. I was not only ashamed to be of the same species, I was ashamed to be in the same phylum as these Tea Party animals.

Charles Darwin had a theory about human nature that seldom gets any attention. He said we are a sympathetic species, we take care of others, and we are inherently cooperative. I can see why, after looking in the mirror, Tea Partiers don't believe in evolution. On this, I finally agree with them.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Brian Moench

Dr. Brian Moench is President of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and a practicing anesthesiologist in Salt Lake City. He is a former adjunct faculty member at the University of Utah.

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