DEAR DR. FOX: Your recent column discussing the empathy deficit is so timely and appropriate to the present situation in the U.S. Of course the tip of that iceberg would be the former president, as well as his family.
I’m reminded of one of his sons that went someplace abroad to shoot a rare animal for its head. I read about it in an article that was really about the money it cost for Secret Service agents to accompany him on the hunt. And then you mentioned how the disorder is evident in the corporate world. Well, since when does capitalism have a conscience? -- J.P.T., Ashland, Oregon
DEAR J.P.T.: The empathy deficit disorder, as I see it, is of a pandemic scale that makes the COVID-19 pandemic pale in comparison. COVID-19, of course, is associated with our inhumane treatment and consumption of animals -- but to speak for animal rights and environmental protection is to be marginalized as a “liberal socialist elite” under the newspeak of Trumpian “America First” triumphalism.
Every student, as a prerequisite for graduation from high school, should read George Orwell’s book “1984” and realize that what Orwell envisioned in a future society is happening now with what he called “doublethink” and “newspeak.” Newspeak includes demonization and suppression of the free press (“fake news”), book censorship and burning (“cancel culture”) and the silencing of truth speaking to power.
The Orwellian content of Donald J. Trump’s widely televised speech on Feb. 28 should go down in history as he demonized the free press and spread the fear of socialism and communism taking away individual liberties and the right to bear arms. The ultimate doublethink was Trump’s declaration that “liberal elitists” are not only stopping America from being “great again,” they are also anti-science.
The truth is that his own administration was blatantly anti-science: rife with environmental transgressions, denial of climate change and the rolling back of clean water and air regulations. It embodied an anti-science, pro-pillage, pro-pollute and pro-profit form of industrial capitalism.
America can be great again, but not until the individual liberties Donald Trump repeatedly alluded to in his speech are coupled with individual and corporate responsibility for environmental protection, conservation, restoration, animal rights and related public health: in sum, the common good.
This means unification of two visions: capitalism and socialism. Communitarianism or socialism, rather than totalitarian communism, might be better terms to describe such sustainable natural law and order politically. This is the antithesis of the Darwinian view of hierarchy and competition, which some historians contend supported colonialism, empire and capitalism.
In my opinion, both views are half-right and together make one whole. This is a challenge to every democracy to maintain integration, equalitarianism and balance.
DEAR DR. FOX: Thank you for adding to my lexicon the term “empathy deficit disorder” (EDD)! This line in your recent column was spot-on: “Where is the feeling and responsibility for harmful consequences beyond profit margins and investor satisfaction?”
Unfortunately, that train left the station before trains were invented! Profit is always the motive for commerce. However, personal responsibility to fellow man is the dream of philosophy.
A friend once told me he had an obligation, due to his wealth, to helping the less fortunate. He put his efforts and resources where he could. He was one of those unseen and unheard-of corporate captains who did not behave with EDD. Therefore, my question is: Is EDD learned or is it genetic? -- P.D.C., Asbury Park, Pennsylvania
DEAR P.D.C.: I appreciate your thoughtful question and comments. In my opinion, the EDD is epigenetic, determined by the interactions of genes and environment, the latter being cultural-parental-educational, the former still part of our gene pool. Natural selection for competitiveness and exceptionalism through eons of wars and insurrections may have assured continuance of such genetic propensities which most of us possess.
The collective human desire to live in peace and harmony will never be realized so long as some cannot even abide in peace and harmony with a few wolves, coyotes and other wildlife where they live. They evidently enjoy killing them, even turning the slaughter, which state wildlife managers refer to as sustainable “harvesting,” into a recreational and competitive sport.
To kill to live, as per the wolf and native hunter, is the ethical antithesis of living to kill, as per the sporting trophy hunter. There is no moral equivalence in Nature to justifying killing for sport, recreation or pleasure. The only justification can come from an anthropocentric and increasingly harmful, depraved existence, culturally inherited and even religiously sanctioned.
So we can and must train ourselves to control those impulses that may harm others and ourselves. See the book “Programming the Human Biocomputer” by fellow ethologist and dolphin researcher Dr. John C. Lilly. We can change our minds, but first we must see to our hearts.
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