Sympathy V. Empathy and Why We’ve Become a Society of Sociopaths

First watch this video…

Now that you’ve watched that let me explain the rest of the title. I once told a friend during a debate on gun control that the U.S. was in the middle of a psychotic break. With all the violence we’ve experienced lately, it seemed as good an explanation as any. But I’ve since revised my opinion. I think instead the U.S. has become a society full of and ruled by sociopaths.

What?! You’re comparing the United States of America to “a person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience”?

Yes. I am.

Think about it for a moment, the United States has never had a completely fixed personality. From its beginnings (as a part of the “known world” that is) it was a wilderness country filled with mysterious and unknown peoples whose identity was both foreign and frightening to the Europeans who came here. And what do human societies historically do with that which is foreign and frightening? Destroy, suppress, erase. Done. The first European explorers to this country tried and succeeded to impose their own personality on the landscape. Thus the fledgling United States became something like a pseudo-Europe/England. But, that personality was not genuine. And its fakery began to show as the years pressed on and the United States began to grow . Thus the Revolutionary War when we tried, desperately, to take control or our own destiny/identity.

In the aftermath of the Revolutionary War we managed to form some sort of identity that still hung on to European/British sensibilities but had a certain flair label “American” ever since.

I think the closest we’ve ever come to having our very own  unique and  strong personality/identity, was the period between 1930 and the end of the 1960s. That identity, though, came with the psychotic strain of extreme racism and a paternal but smothering sexism. The fight against these two destructive forces ended that period in our history when we could fully claim a national identity (or at least, the white majority could).

Now, we are seeing the results of not having replaced that lost identity with anything more inclusive and healthy. Rather than the races being closer and working towards common goals, there seems to be MORE division and more distrust (in my opinion, this distance and resentment seems to be fueled by a few individual, albeit destructive, agencies, who shall remain nameless). Women continue to fight for equal rights, but the opponents have taken on a nasty, sneaking quality. In fact, some of our greatest opponents are other women. Women who denigrate our worth – the so-called “Mommy-wars” is a good example of that. Women who cheapen womanhood and our ability to contribute to the world. And, most sneaky of all is the  pseudo-feminists, who cry wolf and rape for every possible gesture while ignoring the huge strain men themselves are now under in this sociopathic society.

Empathy is a quality of higher thought that often gets confused with sympathy, as evidenced by the video above. It is my belief that we, as a society, have drifted so far from each other and from our own selves, that we no longer know how to show/feel empathy. And that is the basis for the crazy violence we are seeing now. If the perpetrators of those mass shootings (I refuse to name them here) had been able to feel empathy, do you think they would have gunned down all of those innocent people? My god, witless teen girls made a Facebook page for one of these criminals because he’s just “oh so dreamy.” Our politicians sit in state houses and our nation’s capitol playing with OUR lives but have completely lost the ability to think and act with genuine regard for our struggles and needs. Countless movies, video games, even books celebrate the sickness in society. Not examine it, CELEBRATE it. And all these “role models” influence us, our young most of all. Teenagers, who already are struggling to claim their own personality and deal with confusing and chaotic thoughts, when not taught empathy become perfect vessels for sociopathic monsters.

If our country as a whole was able to feel empathy anymore, would we not have more responsible laws governing us? And I don’t mean just guns. I mean EVERYTHING! From owning a pet to drilling for oil.

On the other hand, it is easy to SHOW sympathy. When confronted with a grieving/hurting person, a pat on the back and some reasonable advice and our duty is done. We can walk away with a grim look on our face and think, “Well, I did my best.” All the while, that other person’s troubles get lighter and lighter, more unreal, the further we get from him/her. After every mass shooting, we as a society have gasped in horror, put comments on line saying we are praying for the victims and their families etc. But if we really empathized with the victims of these tragedies, we would have changed our society after Columbine and made sure this NEVER happened again. We would have looked at our own children and realized with stomach-sickening certainty that it’s only a matter of time before a sociopathic cretin enters MY child’s school and brings mayhem and death. The America of long ago, the one that still had SOME sense of identity would have struck out and defended. Would have fought to end this madness.

People saw the horror of slavery and rose up to end it (for whatever reasons you want to claim, but we don’t have legal slavery anymore, do we?). People saw the unjust and viciousness of Jim Crow laws and ritualized racism. Brave souls stood up to that awful system and brought it down. Women, tired of being overlooked, down-graded, and misunderstood, stood in ranks and said, “NO MORE!”

Do you think these people did all that just for themselves? No. The leaders of these fights looked into the future and saw the hundreds of thousands of generations, who would be forced to live in misery, and empathized. They acted against injustice so we could have better lives.

Nowadays, rather than fight these evil forces, we simply CHANGE ourselves in order to fit into the aftermath of what we endure. We become a little more paranoid and frightened when we send our children out the door. We subsume our rage when faced with a GENUINELY race-fueled crime, either because we don’t want to be seen as racists ourselves or we don’t want to be led astray again by those who declared EVERY crime race-fueled. Women become exactly what we’ve fought so long against – objectified nobodies, who depend on men’s sexuality to make a living. Men become ashamed of their masculinity, believing it makes them appear sexist apes, and so deny it.

All of this identity shifting and discarding, coupled with our inability to feel empathy anymore, has led to the disastrous times in which we find ourselves. Touching someone, in real life, has become an uncomfortable and distasteful thing to do. Saying, “I don’t have any answers, but tell me your grief,” is seen as weak and ineffectual. Instead, we shovel “professional” advice down each other’s throats and thus make the grief-stricken person feel even more alone. FEELING another person’s pain seems beyond us. We’ve distanced ourselves from each other, via the internet, to the point where no one seems real anymore and suffering is just a meme to click our tongue over and pass along.

I’ll end here with another Startling Poem:

Destruction by Charles Baudelaire

At my side the Demon writhes forever,
Swimming around me like impalpable air;
As I breathe, he burns my lungs like fever
And fills me with an eternal guilty desire.
Knowing my love of Art, he snares my senses,
Appearing in woman’s most seductive forms,
And, under the sneak’s plausible pretenses,
Lips grow accustomed to his lewd love-charms.
He leads me thus, far from the sight of God,
Panting and broken with fatigue into
The wilderness of Ennui, deserted and broad,
And into my bewildered eyes he throws
Visions of festering wounds and filthy clothes,
And all Destruction’s bloody retinue.

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