Empathy: Original Imperative
Conscience is neither vague nor diverse, but the cognitive-emotive feedback process by which we second guess the emotional impact of our actions upon others. Known also as honour, integrity, reciprocity, understanding, and empathy; conscientiousness defines the Empathic Principle or Golden Rule that allows human beings to live together in equitable liberty and this is what I believe allows us to form communities. Conscience being the mechanism that binds us together socially, satisfies the root definition of religion without complication, and is thus a philosophically sound guide to living in addition to being inductively derived and implemented.
Long before we gain the experience necessary to ponder the basis of "right" and "wrong" and the basis for intellectual "authority" in such matters, we are all bombarded with systems of belief that pretend to the prenatal authority to dictate the meaning of "right" and "wrong" in our own lives. Yet as it happens, we all have the capacity to deduce "right" and "wrong" by our cognitive ability to imagine the feelings that our actions inspire in other human beings, based on the feelings those actions would inspire in us were those actions directed at ourselves by others. Known as empathy, this defines human conscience and is the very foundation of love. Love in all its varieties is most popularly symbolised by the rose. However, the rose has also become the symbol of the inner compass through its usage in terms such as the, "compass rose" subdividing the directions relative to the compass needle, or the "Rose Line", being the original Prime Meridian as it once bisected Paris; a reference by which seafarers could describe their location. Such references exemplify the use of the rose as a symbol for navigation and the tools we use to guide us through through unknown places. In like manner our conscience, in the form of cognitive empathy, is the Rose Line that runs through every human soul. This is the internal guidance system all human beings rely upon when relating to one another. In this sense, the third of Baha'u'llah's Persian Hidden Words can be taken to speak to our heeding of that compass rose in the human heart, saying:
O FRIEND! In the garden of thy heart plant naught but the rose of love, and from the nightingale of affection and desire loosen not thy hold.
(Baha'u'llah: Persian Hidden Words, Page: 3)
The Golden Rule or Empathic Principle, expressed by Matthew 7:12 as, "In all things, do unto others as you would have others do unto you; for this is the Law and the Prophets"; is a sound definition of love in that rather than paying in arrears as exemplified by the restitution of litigious justice systems, the principle exhorts readers to pay forward or give in advance. That we "should" have no expectations of our gifts is only the application of Seneca's warning that unfulfilled expectations are the cause of anger and dissatisfaction. This does not eliminate the fact that executing the Empathic Principle is the only way to initiate a constructive ongoing relationship, symbiotic or otherwise. The idea that "It is in giving that we receive" widely attributed to St Francis of Assisi, finds secondary meaning in this respect. This makes the Empathic Principle the key to socially constructive interaction and it may come as no surprise that the Empathic Principle forms the maxim or most important proposition of many philosophies and most religious teachings. It is for this reason that I believe the Empathic Principle sets the context by which we may better understand the sacred writings of many religious canons.
Implications of Empathy as the Source of Love
Our sense and understanding of the feelings of others is the cement that binds a community together. Without this empathy we cannot love and without love we cannot interact constructively with a community. In this sense it is safe to generalise that all limitations of empathy are necessarily anti-social because all expressions of empathy are socially constructive in outcome. Organised crime may well be raised by way of objection, however, relationships between criminals are based on strictly enforced codes of conduct and not on any sense of empathy. This is possibly because one when lacking self-respect expects others to subject themselves to the same hardships that one considers normal. As a consequence, one lacking self respect cannot offer others the love and respect that that one does not allow oneself. The socialisation of groups of people lacking self respect thus necessitates strict codes of conduct to act as a surrogate conscience. This is a recursive problem because the conscience, by competing with the code of conduct, competes for control and thus becomes a necessary target of opposition and denigration by the code. Organised criminals are famous for their fear of others "going soft" because this threatens the implementation of the ethical system upon which the entire stability of their social network depends. There is no love here, neither is there honour, for what pretends to be an "honour code" is but a code of practice that has nothing to do with the empathic basis of integrity.
This is in stark contrast to compassionate communities where people make an effort to understand and meet each other's needs. This love is impossible without empathy. Imagine, how do you love someone you do not feel for? Unless we put ourselves in the other's shoes, we can neither appreciate the other's circumstances nor feel anything for that other, much less show the other any form of love. However, once we allow ourselves to take an interest in the needs of others and appreciate their point of view, we can begin to contribute meaningfully to their lives in accordance with our own capacity. Walking in another's shoes is an exercise in empathy, and thoughtful giving is an expression of love. I believe that without the exercise in empathy we cannot express our love and this is why I consider empathy to be the source of love.
Original Imperative: An exploration of the Obligation Implicit in Being
There is no evidence for any innate or otherwise absolute imperative or obligation. Claims that the privileges of nobility are a God-given right are argued ex nihilo and have no more substance than the extortionists' claim over the victims of extortion.
A very common assertion of obligation ex nihilo is that one is obliged to find the right doctrine and accept it eschewing all further modifications of belief, however well supported. From the perspective of integrity, it is true that we rely on the conscientiousness of our own individual belief system, and those of us curious about new information seek to improve our individual belief systems. However, the assertion I mention is usually made with respect to institutionalised belief systems pre-packaged as dogmas, creeds, and doctrines. If worldview is shaped by experience, how can one conscientiously accept a pre-packaged belief system without possessing to the exclusion of all other knowledge and experience, the unique experience that generated the system? The imperative to seek assumed in the assertion, is perhaps a mischaracterisation of the passionate curiosity some of us have about the world around us. Examining this imperative in search of obligation, one can find no supportive evidence such as a prenatal contract with God to which, we were a conscious party since birth. As such, all one can honestly assert about the subject, is that seeking the answers that resolve cognitive dissonance makes us feel better about our particular worldview.
Conscience via human empathy, offers an emotional payoff when we act with consideration for others. We feel better when we behave with social equity and the emotional payoff is both ongoing and sustainable, unlike the short term emotional payoff derived from solipsistic and egoistic behaviours. The obligation to heed our empathy is not in the form of divine edict or right, nor is it the theoretical ethic for ethic's sake so typical of deductive perfectionist rationalisation. Instead, for the same kind of reasons that we must wash, or eat properly, or sleep; we have an obligation to take care of ourselves, to become part of wider social networks simply because it is healthy for us and others around us if we do so. Moreover, this speaks to taking an interest in and learning about the world around us so that we can make for ourselves and others a better life. This does not mean we must turn on our friends if we can get away with it because our reliance on others depends on the stability of our relationships, which dictates trustworthiness in our interactions with others.
This approach may be viewed by some as hedonistic, but it is no different from the deistic idea that we as created beings are obliged to operate within our design parameters and by following the dictates of our conscience find the greatest happiness. For those who insist on an ethic for ethic's sake approach, self respect is obligatory out of respect for others whose concern for us gives them a stake in our well-being. However, hedonism finds circumstantial support in evidence offered by natural selection parameters whereas ethics for ethic's sake has no evidence stronger than coincidence. Ethics did nothing to prevent the first two world wars, and it was only the invention of a technological terror called the nuclear bomb that prevented World War III from ever starting. From these facts it is not unreasonable to conclude that other more "hedonistic" causes such as technological advancement, drive social evolution.
What makes the Empathic Principle and derivatives thereof, the only legitimate ethical expressions is that these principles are the only ones that can be proven by induction. I think that all other principles form a premise of deduction, which premise, however valid the deduction, cannot withstand questioning beyond the purely conceptual.
Human Rights as the Product of Empathic Socialisation
What is a human right? Some people are inclined to proselytise the belief that there is no such thing as a "human right" and this is certainly true, if not diagnostic, of the reality of human life outside society. Every dictator will deny the existence of human rights only because they are inconvenient to the agenda of tyranny. The same dictators when faced with retribution are prone to claim that their human rights (although non-existent for others) are being violated! Towards the end the end of World War II, Mussolini attempted to flee Italy, cowering in the boot of a motor car lest his human rights be abused as he'd had the rights of others abused. Sadam Hussein was found cowering in a hole in the ground. Likewise, Sadam Hussein thought that he too was entitled to the right to life and liberty, such that he struggled to preserve as much for himself as soon as there existed the prospect that it might be taken from him. This reality stands in stark contrasts to the words such people use to deceive the rest of us of our rights.
From a social perspective, I think that the human right is the building block of a community's foundation in that it defines a minimum expectation of membership in that community. In this sense, the human right becomes any universal expectation which renders community membership redundant if unmet. Needless to say, such expectations do exist and are actively pursued by voluntary, non-profit organisations such as Amnesty International.
We all expect our communities to protect us from being robbed of our possessions, murdered in our beds, or otherwise gratuitously separated from our loved ones. We all expect our community to shelter us from hardships such as starvation and homelessness. Although many people are so fabulously wealthy that they feel immune to the risk of hardship and so disclaim this expectation, like dictators facing retribution, these same people inevitably voice such expectations if nonetheless subject to hardship by unforeseen economic calamities. When a community fails to deliver an environment in which we feel secure in the reasonable belief that we are indeed better off than we would be were we protecting our own interests in the wilds, we are betrayed by our community, and feelings of extreme hostility towards the community are most certainly not unreasonable.
Individual members of communities in violation of such universal expectations of community life, find themselves at war with the community to which they "belong". In this respect, sedition is not an act of "organised civil disobedience" or even "treason" but the sole product of communal dysfunction. Democracy as applied by Universal Suffrage, uses sedition as the vehicle for change, whether by vote, by lobbying, by public campaign, by peaceful protest, or by peaceful mass disobedience (which ultimately disproves the democratic institution of the applicable law). To repeat the last example in different words, the most important aspect of peaceful mass disobedience is the proof this phenomena supplies as to the lack of social consent in the institution of the law that is being disobeyed. I believe that the right to organise without fear of reprisal, a test of the degree of consent by which a law is instituted through the assembly of a mass of people willing to break that law, is diagnostic of democracy and lack thereof is diagnostic of tyranny. However, tyranny often masquerades via argumentum ad baculum, as "democracy".
Why is this idea of democracy so important? Perhaps it is because when living our lives in an alternative to the wilderness, we all have the reasonable expectation of being consulted on every matter that affects us as individuals in return for the same consideration expected of ourselves with respect to those of our actions that may impact the community. After all, if this expectation is not met, it only confirms that we are not part of the community to which we contribute - and such circumstances have proven by pogrom and holocaust, to be far more hazardous than fending for ourselves in the wilderness. In this sense it can be argued that the opportunity for democratic participation by members of society is indeed a universal expectation whose betrayal renders membership redundant. Democracy is an example of a "human right" whose ultimate test falls to the purely empathic realisation that "If I were in the place of that social victim, I would feel betrayed by society too. Therefore, victimisation however socially acceptable is a violation of human rights."
Empathy and conscience are verifiable cognitive functions dedicated to the understanding of others and the accounting of deeds with respect to the Empathic Principle (or Golden Rule as it is more commonly known). This alone shows that the individual is the equal of state and religion in matters of spiritual and moral authority.
Communities lacking in empathy are in practice less satisfying places to live than those communities rich in empathy. Imagine, the difference between living amongst friends who try to understand one another's needs and living among associates concerned only with their own needs. I believe that this defines the difference between the hard times and the prosperous times. Australia was once one of the most prosperous places to live when the Australian culture was defined by the willingness to "give 'em a go" (IE to do what you can to ensure others had the opportunity to live just like you) enshrined in the famous colloquialism, the "fair go". I believe that the ebb and flow of empathic behaviour governed in part by cycles of systematic suppression and expression of empathy guarantees the changes in national fortunes, particularly as they manifest themselves in the lives of individual citizens.
It is a matter of simple empathic logic that if you want others to make room for you to live, you likewise have to make room for them to live. There are so many ways to thusly confirm the validity of empathy as the ultimate authority that it is easy to assume it should suffer no opposition. The opportunity to control and manipulate people depends on debasing the authority of empathy or conscience, such that people and institutions will occasionally try to stifle or otherwise subvert the empathy of others for the sake of gaining unjust advantage. Thus I believe that the absolute authority of empathy must be defended from time to time lest it be lost.
If God is love, then it is my conclusion that empathy is the Holy Spirit; the veritable voice of God that speaks with all the power and authority of "prophetic revelation" to every living human being. In this sense, every human being without exception is "Friend of God", "Prophet of God", "Messenger of God", "Son/Daughter of God", "Apostle of God", and "Manifestation of God". Thus I believe that the test of prophesy is not whether it comes to pass in any historical sense, but whether the prophesy comes to pass the empathically definitive test of being conscionable in every detail. As such the study of empathy is, in my estimation, the single most important field of philosophy. This may sound unconventional, even eccentric, but I ask you; Does not every rose thorn have a point?