It seems that the calls for “understanding” toward trump supporters comes in waves. (Yes, I refuse to capitalize trump’s name. Yes, I get it’s childish and petty. No, I don’t give a shit.) ANYWAY, I’m seeing people kick around the idea, again, that this country won’t ever heal it’s “divide” unless we try to understand each other.
Here’s the thing: What if there is no healing the divide? What if the divide is present in every society, across the board? What if there’s only a never-ending struggle of fighting back the dark, and the dark can never be conquered? What if humanity is forever locked in a Resistance vs. Empire, Dumbledore vs. Voldemort, Frodo vs. Sauron archetype that’s just never going to stop? Because history seems to indicate this is the case.
What if the people who keep advocating “understanding” do so because they can’t even conceive of being any other way? When you are a person with empathy, it’s hard to even imagine being a person without it. When you’re the type of human being who sees suffering, and then your brain turns that into a physical, aching response in your mind and body, it’s hard to conceive that other people don’t feel that way. What if they prefer to not feel that way?
What if some people without empathy don’t want to learn about empathy? Because learning about empathy necessarily means becoming more empathetic. And what if they see that as weakness?
What if there is no healing the divide? What if the divide is present in every society, across the board? What if there’s only a never-ending struggle of fighting back the dark, and the dark can never be conquered?
I’m not saying people can’t change and aren’t able to become more empathetic. Research shows some amount of empathy, at least, can be taught. But what about the people who can’t be taught empathy? Or can only be taught so much?
And what of those people who are uninterested in learning about empathy, period? Being unempathetic undoubtedly gives a person an advantage in society: When you don’t care about others, it’s easy to justify lying, cheating, stealing, greed, rape, murder or just being a shitty person in general. If you can choose to be unempathetic, it’s got to be far easier to become rich and powerful. And if you’re not rich and powerful, because maybe you’re kinda dumb, but you’re still a person without empathy, then doesn’t it stand to reason the rich and powerful can harness your baser fears and use those to their advantage? What if that dynamic is always there? What if we can’t educate it away?
Niklas Frank is a German journalist, author and the son of Hans Frank, a prominent Nazi who was convicted and executed in 1946 for war crimes. He maintains the Germans learned nothing from WWII. He thinks the German population is naturally lacking in empathy and also kind of narcissistic. He says that as long as Europe as a whole acknowledges the German’s superior industry and the Germans are able to make money from that, everything is okay. But if the money were to disappear, Germans would once again become dangerous.
“Never trust the German.” That’s what this guy says. Literally. I’m not saying he’s right … he’s just one guy. But what if he is?
Frank also says there’s a “silent majority” in Germany that believes they’re superior and are still very much anti-Semitic. This was intriguing to me, because, surprise, surprise, it sounds exactly like modern Americans who have no empathy for the legacy of slavery in the U.S. They don’t care how it’s affected the modern black person’s psyche, or the modern black family. They don’t care how it’s affected white people, for that matter, making us into entitled, spoiled babies. They don’t want to acknowledge the crimes of the past because they want to believe they had nothing to do with it. They for sure don’t want to hear about black peoples’ pain. It’s not that they don’t understand the U.S. is unfair to minorities. They just don’t give a shit.
Here’s the thing: Slavery may not be legal anymore, but that doesn’t mean the slave owners in society went away. It’s not that people “learned” or evolved. I think it’s just that the empathetic pulled together and made it known they wouldn’t tolerate the actions of the unempathetic anymore.
But that didn’t change the bad guys into good guys. It just made it socially unacceptable for the bad guys to keep publicly flaunting their bad actions. People have this idea that slavery can be explained away by old-fashioned ideas. “It was a different time,” they say. Well, bullshit. Flogging the skin off a fellow human being is exactly the same in the year 1600 as it is in the year 2018. Desiring segregation in 1918 is exactly the same as desiring it in 2018. What if people don’t really change all that much, over time?
They for sure don’t want to hear about black peoples’ pain. It’s not that they don’t understand the U.S. is unfair to minorities. They just don’t give a shit.
We know for sure that about four percent of the population are true sociopaths and about one percent are full-blown psychopaths. So that five percent is probably the least empathetic group in society. But empathy exists, like most human emotions, on a spectrum. Besides the hardcore psychopaths and sociopaths, there’s also the narcissists, which range from garden-variety to toxic, but so-called “normal” people are perfectly capable of lacking empathy. Kids raised in strict, authoritarian homes without a lot of physical and emotional affection are naturally more likely to raise their kids that way, because that’s the way they were taught to parent. It’s not that they’re incapable of empathy, it’s just that they may not have had it modeled to them.
There is an evolutionary necessity in part of the population having less empathy. After all, you need people to do the “dirty work.” You need people who are able to go out and fight in wars without falling apart. If your tribe is trying to outrun a prairie fire, you need that voice of reason who can say, “We can’t carry Gramma. If we try, we’ll all perish. Leave Gramma behind.” It’s grizzly, but sometimes necessary.
Maybe the danger is simply in letting the unempathetic acquire too much power, in any society. When I engage with trump supporters, the diehards, politeness and understanding doesn’t go two ways with them. They want their experience to be understood. They have zero desire to understand others’ experience. How does one even reasonably engage with a person like that, let alone teach them anything?
What if the solution to keeping the racists and misogynists and anti-LGBTQ+ and the tribalists at bay is just to keep outvoting them?