Every belief system is premised upon a single foundational belief or claim. For the theistic religions, this is that a God exists that is concerned about human welfare. Similarly, all left-wing ideologies are established and founded upon the claim that each of us, as a human, has an overriding moral obligation to assist those in society who are significantly less well-off than we are.
This moral obligation is held to be so powerful that it actually overrides the individual self-interest that evolution has selected as the dominant determinant of behaviour in humans. Accordingly, the left-wing ideologies, both communism and socialism, hold that that the interests of the poor must be given precedence over those of everybody else, and all human society must accordingly be organised in such a way as to bring this about. Socialist and communist states, in radical contrast to the liberal-democratic Western states which are appointed to serve the interests of all citizens as equals, are each organised accordingly.
The claim is one supposedly derived from the human emotion of empathy, felt by every normal human being, in varying degree. This emotion plays a vital role in all human socialisation, by reconciling the inherent biological self-interest of the individual with the collective needs of the community. From empathy flows also the associated action of altruism – the selfless assistance of others.
It is common knowledge that while humans will frequently sacrifice a great deal for members of their own family, or for close friends, there is a severe limit as to what they are generally prepared to do or sacrifice on a regular basis for complete strangers. Empathy is almost certainly genetically related. While the normal degree of empathy and altruism that evolution has inculcated in humans cannot yet be scientifically determined, the empirical evidence available indicates that there is very little, if any of it where no close genetic relationship exists.
For example, while religion urges its congregants to tithe – to regularly donate 10% of their earnings to the poor –it is not unreasonable to assume that it is unlikely that the average human being regularly and voluntarily donates even 5% of their income and/or time to assisting strangers less fortunate than they. A few certainly do so, but many more donate nothing, or very little. Let the reader arrive at his or her own conclusion on this point by evaluating their own life’s experience of human charity – and also by contemplating what percentage of their own income they personally donate, not just occasionally, but regularly every month, to strangers.
Let’s be frank. The normal human is prepared to do virtually nothing for those who are not family or friends. The progressive claim that society should be organised to give precedence to the interests of the collective over those of the individual and his or her family is certainly not consistent with actual normal human behaviour – nor is there any sound reason why it should be.
Frankly, given the important but nevertheless secondary role that empathy and altruism have clearly played in human evolution, relative to inherent individual self-interest, it is utterly absurd to base an ideology and the entire organisation of society upon the fantastical and sentimental assumption that empathy should play the primary role in human behavioural motivation, rather than self-interest. In doing this, the progressive ideologies are consciously exploiting the limited human understanding of empathy in order to be able to claim moral authority for themselves.
The objectives of the progressive socialist ideologies are political – to win power. Their chosen method of gaining the public support needed to obtain power, however, far from being secular, is to play on people’s fundamental emotional needs in a way very similar to that used by religions to gain moral authority and power for themselves.
Claiming to be scientific in a putatively secular age, however, the progressive ideologies are careful to eschew all concepts that might be regarded as religious. They are fully aware, nevertheless, of the abiding and powerful attraction that spiritual, idealistic, and Utopian concepts that appear to give meaning to life have always held for humanity, and which form the basis of all religious belief systems. The progressive ideologies accordingly employ essentially the same method, and similarly offer people the path to meaning – not through the old transcendent hope of an afterlife – but by offering them the idealised vision of a socially just and fraternal society here on earth. In order to be able to speak with the necessary moral authority, however, the progressive ideologies had first to mould the modern conception of what empathy is understood to be.
Programmed by our social natures to feel empathy strongly for our family members and friends, we are also conscious within ourselves of a lesser, generalised moral obligation to assist other members of our society who are in need. We can calculate fairly readily how much we should do for family altruistically, should they ever be in need. The weakness or absence of our genetic, and so emotional ties to complete strangers, however, denies us in their case the means for making this moral calculation. There is, in fact, no compelling biological reason for any significant moral obligation to be felt in regard to anyone not firmly bound to us by genes or by emotion. This is not to say that empathy and altruism towards strangers cannot be beneficial: only that these emotions form far too insignificant a part of actual human behavioural motivation to serve rationally as the organising principle of society.
The progressive ideologies exploit this ambiguity by deliberately ignoring the biological fact that empathy is essentially genetic, diminishing in intensity the further its object is from the individual’s ego, like the ripples from a pebble dropped in water. Instead, they make the completely unwarranted and sentimental claim that each of us has an equal inherent moral obligation towards everybody else. When this moral sleight of hand is not questioned, as is invariably the case, given the general public’s credulity, they are free to take the moral high ground by making the further claim that as empathy and altruism are due equally to every individual, society must be organised so as to give precedence to the interests of the collective over those of the individual.
On acceptance of this moral casuistry, the members of society thereby automatically incur an unspecified, but overriding moral obligation – the precise extent and nature of which is known only to the party leadership. They unthinkingly surrender their personal moral authority to the collectivist ideology; just as earlier believers did to the various religion organisations.
As their alternative to what they claim to be capitalism’s selfish and corrupt present social order, the progressive ideologies duly offer the idealised fantasy of future universal welfare and benevolence here on earth, to be attained through the State’s coercive enforcement of empathy and altruism. This Utopia, like all Utopias, will of course be conceptualised and controlled by society’s self-appointed, humanity-loving intellectual and moral elite. The moral concept of empathy, in short, is being exploited politically to manipulate and control people.