America has a crisis of empathy.
This crisis is not translating into a lack of charitable giving: Americans give about seven times what Europeans do to charities per capita. And this is not expressed as a reluctance to spend at the government level: the United States currently spends more money than any nation in the history of the world.
The empathy crisis isn’t even about the inability to walk in other people’s shoes: America is one of the most racially and religiously tolerant nations in the world.
America’s crisis of empathy rests on one simple fact: America is now divided on two mutually exclusive definitions of empathy. This ditch is insurmountable, and it tears the country apart in the middle.
One group of Americans – call them neutrality-driven empaths – define empathy as treating people as individuals who are able to choose freely and deserve equality before the law. In this light, empathy manifests itself in respecting the capacities of other human beings and in understanding that they are making decisions that are different from your own. This version of empathy does not require that we agree with anyone’s decisions, but that we understand that it is not our job, in the absence of significant externalities, to rule them. .
The other group of Americans – called the emotion-focused empaths – believe that empathy means reflecting solidarity with subjective feelings in politics. In this light, empathy means expressing agreement with someone else’s specific feelings, refusing to assess whether those feelings are deserved or justified, and then developing a policy to allay those feelings.
Neutral empaths believe that politics should be about solutions that focus on the equality of individuals before the law. Politics and emotional empathy can conflict with this view. Emotion-centered empaths believe the opposite: they believe that politics should be about emotional solidarity rather than finding solutions. Politics must follow emotional empathy from this point of view.
To take a fairly vivid example, consider the question of how black students perform on tests. Empaths focused on neutrality will suggest that meritocratic standards are in fact the only neutral rules that can be applied to education, and that such standards have acted as a ladder for a wide variety of human beings of different races; that if a disproportionate number of black students underperform on such tests, it may deserve empathy, but it does not deserve to reject the standards. Emotion-centric empaths will suggest, in direct opposition, that the mere fact of black college students’ underachievement requires reject testing regimes – to do otherwise would be to abandon solidarity with those who underperform, to ignore the myriad of factors that undoubtedly led to the underperformance in the first place.
The battle between neutrality-driven empaths and emotion-driven empaths creates massive political asymmetry. This is because neutrality-driven empaths recognize that while people may disagree about politics, that doesn’t mean they’re indifferent or cruel. But for emotionally motivated empaths, the opposite is still true: While politics is directly correlated with empathy, disagreement represents emotional brutality and cruelty. Not only that: there can be no agreeing to disagree, for suggesting that people bear the consequences of their actions is in itself indifferent and lacking in empathy. It lacks solidarity.
The empathy gap is a crisis. If you believe that empathy means treating people like people who can reason and act according to neutral rules, we can have a society. If you believe empathy means shaping politics around solidarity with subjective feelings, the rules become kaleidoscopic, variable, and fluid – and coercion is usually needed to enforce such rules.
Empathy for people as full human beings means recognizing their free will, understanding their differences, and standing by equality before the law. If we reject these principles in favor of an authoritarian and paternalistic approach to the politics of power, freedom will not survive.
Ben Shapiro, 37, is a graduate of UCLA and Harvard Law School, host of “The Ben Shapiro Show” and editor of DailyWire.com. He is the author of the New York Times best-selling books “How To Destroy America In Three Easy Steps”, “The Right Side Of History” and “Bullies”. To learn more about Ben Shapiro and read articles from other Creators Syndicate authors and designers, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.