Ben Shapiro believes that America has a crisis of empathy because it “is divided over two mutually exclusive definitions of empathy.” He also believes that the American divided cannot be bridged and is “tearing the country down the middle.”
According to Shapiro this crisis has nothing to do with charitable giving, governmental spending, or being tolerant racially and religiously. He admits that an individual American donates about seven times as much as Europeans do, and the United States far outspends all other nations. In addition, “America is one of the most racially and religiously tolerant nations on Earth.” So, what is causing the empathy crisis?
Shapiro describes the two groups as “neutrality-driven empaths” and “emotion-centered empaths.” The first group “defines empathy as treating people as individuals capable of free choice and deserving of equality under the law.”
In this view, empathy manifests in respect for the capacity of other human beings, and in understanding that they make different decisions than you would. This version of empathy doesn’t require that we agree with anyone’s decisions, but that we understand that it is not our job, absent significant externalities, to rule them….
Neutrality-driven empaths believe that politics ought to be about solutions geared toward equality of individuals before the law. Policy and emotional empathy may come into conflict in this view.
The second group, according to Shapiro, “believes that empathy means mirroring solidarity with subject feelings in policy. I
In this view, empathy means expressing agreement with someone else’s specific feelings, refusing to assess whether those feelings re merited or justified, and then shaping policy around assuaging those feelings.
Emotion-centered empaths … believe that politics ought to be bout emotional solidarity rather than finding solutions. Policy must follow emotional empathy in this view.
Shapiro used the question of black student test performance for an example. Neutrality-driven empaths suggest that using meritocratic standards is the “only neutral rule that can be applied to education” and that “such standards have acted as a ladder” for various races. They believe that the underperformance of “a disproportionate number of black students” on such tests merit empathy but not the discarding of the standards.
On the other hand, according to Shapiro, emotion-centered empaths suggest that the underperformance of black students “requires discarding testing regimes. Any other action would “abandon solidarity with those who underperform, to ignore the myriad factors that undoubtedly led to the underperformance in the first place.”
The battle between neutrality-driven empaths and emotion-driven empaths creates a massive political asymmetry. That’s because neutrality-driven empaths acknowledge that while people may disagree over policy, that does not mean they are uncaring or cruel.
But for emotion-driven empaths, the opposite is again true: If policy is directly correlated with empathy, failure to agree represents emotional brutality and cruelty. Not only that: There can be no agreeing to disagree, because to suggest that people bear consequences for their actions is in and of itself uncaring and unempathetic. It lacks solidarity.
There lies Shapiro’s reasoning for claiming that the “empathy gap is a crisis” in America. On one side of the great divide, “empathy means treating people as individuals capable of reasoning and acting under neutral rules.” On the other side of the gulf, “empathy means shaping policy around solidarity with subjective feelings.” This means that “rules become kaleidoscopic, variable, and fluid – and compulsion is generally necessary in order to effectuate such rules.”
A society can survive and prosper when adopting neutrality-driven empathy, but it will shrivel and die using emotion-driven empathy and coercion. Shapiro concluded with this statement:
Empathy for people as full human beings means recognizing their agency, understanding their differences, and holding fast to equality before the law. If we reject those principles in favor of a high-handed and paternalistic approach to power politics, freedom will not survive.
This conclusion takes us right back to the discussion about equality and equity. It is possible to give equal opportunities to achieve success, but the degree of success will depend on the individual. The person’s talents, skills, knowledge, determination, work ethic, etc. will determine if they become a success. This is the same reason why we cannot guarantee equity in results – unless it is equity in poverty and sorrow. I agree with Shapiro: America has an empathy crisis. There are too many people who want success handed to them rather than the opportunity to work for greater success.
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