It must have been in the second year of the three -year existence of this blogpost, that we published one of our usual mini-essays, on the subject of “empathy.” This word may well be our favorite, in the entire language; we carefully distinguished it, from “sympathy.” Our post reminded the reader that the word “sympathy” is the level of feeling, in which one responds with appropriate feelings of sorrow, for the plight of another; “apathy,” goes deeper, and enables the individual to vicariously, feel the other person’s pain. We entitled the writing, “Love Without Words,” drawing our inspiration from the beautiful title and musical composition, “Songs Without Words,” by Felix Mendelsohn.
We have also written on the negative subject of “tribalism,” a socio-political phenomenon, in which the desire for needed acceptance, and conformity to a group, results in the dysfunction of one’s decisional freedom, and leads to irrational outcomes. This syndrome, apparently, results from the profound insecurity of individuals, such that they lack the confidence to put to the test, their personal freedom of thought and expression. Such temerity and reactive devaluation of individual thought, results in a more comfortable, neurotic loyalty to a social group, and a pathetic participation in its “groupthink,” so that the participant’s position regarding an issue, is based upon the group’s point of view, rather than his own.
Loyalty in such instance, is total, unwavering, absolute and irrespective of personal disagreement. The salient principle, is the preservation of absolute unity, by the acceptance of the adopted group’s official position. If the “group” opposes welfare, the individual opposes it as well (despite, perhaps a previous support of the program) on the basis of fear of rejection, by the all-important group. In addition, proposed new ideas are evaluated by the group, based upon its evaluation of its source, rather than upon its merits. Logical and equitable solutions to confounding problems, may be adopted and applauded, or rejected and excoriated, based on their identified source, traditionally, deemed acceptable by the group, or not. This irrational phenomenon is non-productive, and could, actually, be dangerous. It appears that the pathological phenomenon of the continued existence, and devastating impact, of tribalism, has proven to have little limit to its invading metastasis.
Emotional reactions, such as empathy and sympathy, are well within the innate capability and potential inclination of every normally socialized human being. They are reflex-like responses, instantly set off at the mere sight, or realization, of a compelling situation. Such spontaneous reactions are initiated by the causative stimulus, and are natural (viz., non- political, universal) phenomena. Yet, it would appear that tribalism is (frighteningly) capable, in addition, of overcoming emotional volition and personal feelings, for many people, in order to concur with those expressed by the group.
We, at long last, have arrived at the troubling explanations for (1) the “Right to Life” organization’s inconsistent protection of the fetus, but its lack of support for the welfare of the baby, following birth, and as well, their general opposition to gun regulation, (2) the support by Evangelical Christianity, of Donald J. Trump, despite his sexual and criminal misconduct, and (3) the failure of the entire cohort of the Republican party, to support redress for the shameful and Nazi-like treatment of Hispanic immigrants, particularly at the border, as well as their refusal to recognize, unanimous scientific warnings, on climate change.
The explanation resides in the willingness of too many Americans to abdicate their own identity and worth, in exchange for a neurotically-needy, ersatz, sense of security, perceived from being part of a group, which is seen to be of greater status, than they are, as individuals. It may be noted that among the many generous gifts of evolution, an advanced brain, capable of reason and perspective, was awarded to individual homo sapiens, not to groups. We are greatly troubled, that so many Americans are willing to barter their capacity for reason and perspective, and even, to the extent of their innate, natural inclinations and empathic reactions, for the doubtful value of a perceived, secure feeling of commonality with groups of others.
This is no less than alarmingly repugnant, to the successful and moral existence of a Democratic Republic. The Founders created a nation, foreseen as composed of individual citizens with independent, and often, with divergent ideas. These were to be civilly debated, and the results, acted upon by a responsive government, resulting in a government, by and for the people. In our past essay, “The Death of Civic Amity,” we decried the tribal conglomerations of people with identical views, at virtual war, with other like groups of divergent opinion, and the practical impossibility of friendly and constructive debate. The evident divisiveness and tribalism of our Nation, was never anticipated, by our philosophical and optimistic Founders.
We are greatly disappointed, but, we are not without faith in a curative remedy, for this presenting tribal pathology. It may take some time, but the very initiation of our process of cure, will by its earliest dynamics, accomplish much, in the way of restoring the insecure citizen, to a proper sense of individual self-respect and independent reliance. The restorative remedy, seeks the renewed creation of his personal self- image, one confidently grounded, in a personal sense of capable self-determination. Our needy citizenry, possess the ability to return to a normal, instinctive sense of assured, individual capability, and confident self- determination.
As we have written many times, the private pursuit of personal wisdom and assurance, is through the awareness and realization of the independent capability of one’s own mind. This realization may be encouraged, by a dedicated (and enjoyable) reading of good literature, or the independent pursuit of a nuanced area of interest, such as music, art, nature, social work, or anything else of choice. The independent pursuit of an elective interest, is a valuable use of time, and an assured route to an enhanced life, satisfaction and personal growth; it is an effective elixir for the discontented, and to our point, an opportunity for the development of independent, personal initiative. The resulting sense of accomplishment, and experienced personal insight, is the best route to self-esteem and confidence. The exercise of independent choices, may well be transferrable, from the elective activity, to other areas. There is nothing, in this context, more essentially impactful, and important, than “citizen building.”
Where neighborly encouragement or assistance is required, it should be generously supplied. We need to recognize that we are truly dealing with an existential problem, the very survival of our Republic.