Empaths,  Psychopaths — and Polar Bears?

[Having entered retirement after a long teaching career and with fading vision that steers me away from the books that I would enjoy reading and towards the computer and TV station for basic information, I am constantly struck by the casual and even smiling way that reporters of both genders represent horrendous events terribly afflicting people — those numbers of Iraqis or Palestinians killed this past week or month, the latest discovery of a mutilated body of a woman or young child, the displacement and deaths of hundreds of thousands, the riots of starving people ….

One of the images that has particularly haunted me is the weeping parents of the hundreds of teens that were cruelly crushed by the heavy concrete unleashed by the earthquake — a few had escaped their school by defying their teachers and getting out in time rather than hiding under their desks as instructed. What was eventually reported, which was known by any who have followed events in China, was that the parents weeping had only the one killed with China’s one child only policy of recent decades.

I taught many a course in ethics over the years and more and more began to accept David Hume’s suggestion the human morals are determined by “sentiments” (emotions) rather than rational philosophic or religious principles or moral mandates. Kant in his less well read works seemed to have no compunctions about killing people. Locke justified slavery under the right circumstances. And some of our most deadly types have been guided by “principles” or the alleged demands of their religious faiths.

The bottom line from my perspective is that we humans are divided along a spectrum between those who feel great empathy for others at one extreme and those who actually enjoy killing and torturing at the other.
In between are all too many who can be enlisted either in doing good things or murderous ones — witness Abu Graib and Guantanamo — and, unhappily the American criminal justice apparatus generally.

Sadly again, in a democracy ‘public opinion’ all too often overrides simple human fellow feeling. I am constantly disconcerted by the smiling young women who report the most horrendous events daily on our TV screens. I tend to steer towards npr for this reason where common human decency prevails. I am afraid that the constant barrage of horrible happenings delivered with the ever present smile is doing horrible things to us Americans. Our consciences are being anaesthazized by the repetitions of horrors And the entertainment fare and ads are not much better — a feast of murders mixed with what looks to be a Lolita type obsession with prepubescent young girls. One would almost think we are becoming a nation of murderous rapists and pedophiles?

Where do the polar bears come into this picture? They are one of our notorious predator species. Yet we look to be giving them more empathy than our own human children — denied proper medical care in too many instance as well as adequate nutrition and educational opportunities!!

So where are we Americans going to go now? I hope the coming elections will make a difference for the better. Ed Kent]

………………………

Polar Bear Is Made a Protected Species
By FELICITY BARRINGER
The decision may be less of an impediment to oil and gas
exploration in Alaska than environmental groups had hoped.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/15/us/15polar.html?th&emc=th


“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent 212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]
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