"You Do You," The War on Compassion
Humans don't like feeling empathy.
Psychologists at Princeton did a little experiment on empathy and compassion back in the 1970s.
They told their students to give a lecture on the good samaritan, but they had to give it across campus. They told one group to take their time. They told the other to hurry.
On their way, the students encountered a man slumped in a doorway coughing and groaning. When students thought they had time, about 60 percent of them stopped to help.
When they were rushed, less than 10 percent even slowed down. They walked right past the suffering stranger.
Of course, the stranger was a plant.
He was recording their responses.
A psychologist in Canada did a different kind of study. He found that students go physically out of their way to avoid situations where they might feel empathy. Time and again, psychology demonstrates a troubling human characteristic. We only help each other when we have the bandwidth. The very sight of sickness or poverty triggers a flight response in many people. Their brain tells them to avoid.
That's a problem.
Jamil Zaki talks about the psychology of empathy and compassion in The War for Kindness, ironically published in 2019 right before the beginning of the pandemic and the red skies over San Francisco.
Zaki's book makes a compelling case for being kind to others. It's not just good for society. It's good for you. People who engage in acts of empathy report better physical and mental health overall. And yet, the majority of the public avoids empathy when they're stressed.
They consider it a burden.
Our brains aren't wired to care for millions of total strangers. We evolved to cooperate in smaller groups. That doesn't mean we're destined to let each other die for the sake of brunch. We have a frontal cortex. It's capable of reason. It's capable of handling long term, complicated problems.
We should be listening to that part.
The super rich are exploiting the evolutionary hangups in our brains, just like they do with our susceptibility to conditioning and repetition.
They're leveraging it.
They probably don't sit around reading psychology, but they know our weaknesses. Every year, they meet up at the World Economic Forum in Davos to trade ideas on how to take advantage of us. It's no surprise that they've been conducting a direct assault on empathy and kindness for three years running. In 2020, they saw just how much a little kindness could cost them in terms of profits.
They've been working extra hard to make us sociopaths.
Here's the disturbing part:
The painfully obtuse slogan "you do you" has become ubiquitous. It's everywhere now. It perfectly sums up the ideology of toxic individualism: You don't owe anyone anything. You don't have to help anyone. It makes you entitled, even rude if you expect anyone to care about you or anyone else. It's inappropriate to ask anyone to take on the slightest inconvenience for the greater good.
Every day, a growing portion of the mainstream media encourages us to disregard any notion of a social contract. Instead, they promote the most reckless forms of consumerism.
It's really something to watch companies continue flying tourists to areas in the middle of climate disasters. It's really something to hear fans of this or that music sensation brag about going to concerts with Covid infections. "I wasn't going to miss this for anything." Everyone seems invested in trying to cram in as much entertainment as they can before things get really bad. They don't seem to grasp that they're expediting the collapse and making it that much harder to save anything.
That's where we are.
As we speak, our governments are working overtime to undermine public health. They're cutting funding to agencies like the CDC. They're rolling back vaccine initiatives, for several diseases. In some states, they're even rolling out curricula that justify slavery.
This is warfare.
The super rich have every reason to instill this ideology into us. It guarantees endless profits. More concerts. More vacations. More cars. More cheap plastic on the shelves. They want nothing more than a society of selfish, narcissistic brats who do nothing but consume in the pursuit of their own fleeting pleasure. To seal the deal, they also make sure that even the affluent are secretly overworked, sleep-deprived, and absolutely terrified of socialism.
It's what made them rich in the first place.
We've been heading in this direction for a while now. Corporations gave us reality television. They gave us the most addictive forms of social media. Now they're putting the icing on the cake:
"You do you."
You don't owe anyone anything. Don't worry about the sick and homeless. Don't worry about the vulnerable.
It's their fault.
Every day, we see a slew of articles and podcasts bemoaning our collective loneliness and despair. Well, obviously.
When the public divorces themselves from any sense of collective care or belonging, they're going to feel awful about it, even if they never acknowledge it. They know what's waiting for them if they ever fall on hard times, not help, just an endless avalanche of judgment and condescending advice. In lieu of any true sense of community, we're told to go out and socialize. We're told to have small talk with strangers. The corporate media and the wellness industry offer the most vapid substitutes and proxies for what we really need: a society that cares. We're told to hang out at restaurants and theaters. Even that's not working out so well, as more and more people abandon the most basic manners, talking on their phones during movies and abusing servers.
In all honesty, why would you want to sit down and chat with someone when you know they won't even wear a little piece of electrostatic fabric to save you from a life of chronic illness? Even if tens of millions of people don't openly admit this, they're all thinking it. That's why everything feels so strange now. That's why nothing feels normal, despite every effort to pretend. Nothing will ever feel normal again until we start caring about each other.
We don't have to live like this.
Yes, it's exhausting to go around feeling all the time. Some psychologists say emotional empathy isn't the way to go.
It doesn't work.
Instead, we should be practicing rational compassion. We don't have to feel everyone's pain as if it were our own. It's better if we don't. We just have to acknowledge it on an intellectual level. We have to admit that it's unacceptable to allow poverty and homelessness to exist alongside egregious wealth. Only a tiny handful of people benefit from this setup.
Even they're lonely and miserable.
Have you noticed?
We could have affordable housing. We could have affordable healthcare. We could have safe public transit. We could save what's left of the planet and make something of a future for our children.
We just have to care.