Saving democracy is the strategic reason we all need to vote for pro-empathy progressives!
Response to Arthur C. Brooks: Empathy is the soul of our democracy, but it wasn't strong enough in 1789 to abolish slavery in our Constitution.
Eighteenth-century colonial Americans began to recognize their empathy and responsibility through recreation. Some founders recognized empathy by reading romance novels like Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “Julie: The New Heloise” in addition to Enlightenment philosophers of the time. According to historian Lynn Hunt's writing in Inventing Human Rights, empathy and responsibility became new inner colonial convictions of the Enlightenment leading up to America’s break with the late Queen Elizabeth II’s third great-grandfather, King George III. Hunt wrote, “Human rights rest on a set of convictions about what people are like and how they know right and wrong in the secular world.”
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However, in our founding documents, the colonial commitment to empathy for and responsibility to all human beings wasn’t yet strong enoughin colonial America to abolish slavery outright. The James Madison Montpelier Foundation asks, “Why did so many brilliant minds pledge to be champions of individual rights on one hand, then, on another, allow human beings to be reduced to chattel? The answer lies in the idea of compromise: the founders compromised their morals(many were recorded as being opposed to slavery), and power (in some cases, states bowed to slaveholding counterparts in order to ensure the Constitution would be ratified), in the name of economics.”
Nevertheless, Elizabeth Willing Powel, friend to George and Martha Washington, John and Abigail Adams, and French military and diplomatic families hosted lavish monarch-relief events she called “salons”at her Philadelphia home. Thus, America’s first plantation economy think tanks were born. These “Committees of Correspondence” birthed “town halls” as well. Ultimately that empathy, mostly limited to white land owners and their families, fueled cooperation in community service and helped colonists frame the idea of a democratic republic as a human right, free from a monarch. Never mind the Constitution’s now abolished ⅗ Clause.
Consequently, it was strong, empathic, and responsible civil society organizations that emerged from colonial home salons and town halls, as well as a diverse religious community that confronted conservatism’s plantationocracy and demanded a fully diverse republic with protection and empowerment government agencies of, by, and for people that we enjoy today. The PBS Resource Bankdocuments one early 19th-century pro-empathy voice for a caring economy, “In the very first issue of his anti-slavery newspaper, The Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison stated, "I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. I am in earnest. I will not equivocate. I will not excuse. I will not retreat a single inch. AND I WILL BE HEARD." And Garrison closed his newspaper after President Lincoln issued The Emancipation Proclamation.
However, fast forward to today, where the number one concern of pro-empathy American voters is the loss of our democracyto conservative corporate fascists. And in that wake of concern, we heard a full-frontal attack on empathy with no mention of responsibility from Harvard business professor Arthur C. Brooks. In his recent Atlantic article, “What’s missing from empathy?” Brooks feigns concern for our mental health. He suggests that empathy wasn’t even known till 1956. Dr. Lakoff’s Moral Politics warned us in 1996 of this kind of strict father conservative hatred of America’s moral mission of empathy and responsibility. All of Lakoff’s books warned Americans that conservatives would attack progressives for opposing cruel forced birth policies, cruel wealth creator abuse, and cruel mass murder loopholes. Brooks’ attack on empathy - “empathy can also harm others” - includes an attack on mutual responsibility as well that links so-called harm to everyday people to conservatism’s favorite hate object - dreaded “social programs.” Brooks’ unspoken reminiscence of George Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” reminds us that even their strict father compassion is cruel.
Now more than ever, understanding how the human brain is susceptible to partnering in humanity’s own demise is needed for humanity’s survival. And understanding the limited empathy of conservatism’s strict father morality and the full empathy of the progressive nurturant parent morality is the subject of Lakoff’s Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think. Will pro-empathy Americans protect democracy’s soul at the ballot box and vote for progressives up and down the ballot? The jury is still out. Nevertheless, how to talk to potential pro-empathy swing voters should be on every American’s GOTV ToDo List.
Who will be the Jean-Jacques Rousseaus of our time, writing fiction and non-fiction promoting empathy? Who will be the pro-empathy anti-forced pregnancy slavery abolitionists of our time? Who will confront the continued wealth creator abuse of corporate America like William Lloyd Garrison? Who were the unsung, white, male pro-empathy letter writers to Garrison’s paper encouraging his abolitionist stand? We don’t know. But we do know that we need more pro-empathy letter writers of all types who can effectively frame the contrast between cruel conservatism and caring progressivism.
Consider joining our Empathy Surplus Network USA trimester forums on how to talk to potential pro-empathy swing voters. It’s not too late to join our 2022 Fall Forum focused on Lakoff’s Moral Politics. Our 2023 Winter Forum begins the first Wednesday in January. Stay tuned to learn which George Lakoff book we will be studying.
United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1 on empathy, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another ins in a spirit of brotherhood.” 1948
Hunt, Lynn, Inventing Human Rights: A History, 2007, WW Norton & Company, New York and London
James Madison’s Montpelier Foundation, “Slavery, the Constitution, and a Lasting Legacy,” https://bit.ly/3BhQkZm
IBID., “Vermont abolished slavery in 1777, with Pennsylvania following suit in 1780.”
Empathy Surplus Network USA, Lakoff’s Words to Use to Frame Our Solution, p. 14 concerning the moral/cognitive components of policy, https://bit.ly/w2u2FOS
PBS, Africans in America, Judgement Day, William Lloyd Garrison, white abolitionist, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh,aia/part4/4p1561.html
Lakoff, George, Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, Ch. 5, “Strict Father Morality,” p.74, The University of Chicago Press, 1996 and 2002