Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Empathy Tango

In the 19 Mar 2012 issue of Newsweek, Jay Michaelson writes, "One of the core assumptions of [various kinds of] civil rights activism is that all of us, no matter how enlightened we are, have prejudice within us."

Exactly. This is an assumption which is biologically supportable. We've found so far that the natural state of human perception is to be wary of what is dark, old, unfit, deviant from the norm, and otherwise unnatural. Yes, there is a 'natural', and it can be defined in terms of how the human brain sees things.

There is too much data to prove otherwise. Humans drop into the 'uncanny valley' easily, feeling subconsciously uneasy when exposed to lifelike simulations that are too lifelike while remaining identifiably non-human. Humans can mask or attempt to control their responses and reasoning, but their visceral cognition can only be conditioned, not controlled.

Which leaves us in a bad place. Activists of all kinds point out we are all prejudiced and lack sufficient empathy to overcome this. We protest that we are sympathetic, that we are reasonable, but fall short of redemption. There is no redemption in the human world of uncomfortable biological and neuropsychological truths.

The tango occasionally brings us closer, but keeps us at arm's length while touching. If empathy is never sufficient, what hell has activism forced us to remain in? Hell, as a wise man once said, is other people. And as Marlowe pointed out, "We are in Hell, nor are we out of it; for where Hell is, there we must ever be."

Which is why the logical conclusion is that if salvation is to be found, it lies outside the brawling mass of humanity.

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