IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AS IN EVERYDAY LIFE:
“Empathy Works, Obedience Doesn’t”
August 23, 2009
“Empathy Works, Obedience Doesn’t” is the title of an article cum chapter (search pepinsky at critcrim.org ) I wrote in the late nineties. There I conclude in personal relations that while remorse is unreliable as an indicator of future safety (as in domestic violence), empathy is reliable. Empathy is displayed by talking more about the feelings of the other than one talks about what one oneself, as by remorse. In that piece, I recount how concern for my feelings and well-being even of guest lecturers of mine who have killed have taught me when relations are safe. Empathy works for me.
I have come to believe in the idea chaos theorists call scaling. What works and doesn’t in building trust and security in our personal and professional relations is precisely what works and doesn’t out to the boundaries of human relations. I postulate that. I start from that premise.
From the McCarthy period when I grew to political consciousness on, I have been focused for whatever childhood reason on international affairs. The sanctimony and hypocrisy of predominant public and private messages in tandem, the historically ignorant cultural sense of cultural superiority, in North America’s case in the grand British colonial tradition, remains deeply troubling, if no longer personally guilt inducing.
I have recently had occasions to be reminded of something I was taught to say to every childhood taunt: Everything you say to me comes back and sticks on you. So it is with Freud’s projection and displacement. It happens all the time. One way or another, our enemies, our terrorists, our criminals, our parasites, are “them” or “those people,” never ourselves. Let’s face it, so goes the world.
Apology helps. Whether it becomes a part of empathy or remorse is optional. For myself for now, I’d like to devote this blog post to apologizing to US victims of U.S. imperialism and attendant cultural imperialism sincerely and without remorse, by imagining what victims of my own people might be feeling.
To offer an example or two, if I were living in Iraq or Afghanistan and bombs and missiles from foreigners were descending on my community at night, I imagine that I would seek local advice and protection from those who were being shot at.
If you disrespected, let alone vilified me and I had thousands of nuclear bombs, isn’t it rational for me to feel safer against whatever plans I have for you if you believed I could at least get one good shot off if you used nuclear weapons (of which you have thousands) against me?
I hope you get the point. Oh the games we play against interest. May our ears turn from blame-gaming to how we ourselves come across. Love and peace--hal