There has always been an empathy gap in American culture. A lack of compassion and a degree of institutional sociopathy was baked right in. There had to be.
Property rights have always been more important that human rights. That starts with the assertion that the land you’ve settled on belongs to you, and not the people that were already living there. You can’t have empathy for the peoples you’re encroaching on. It extends to the humans you looted from another continent to build the agricultural base of the national economy. If you feel too much for them, then you can’t force them to perform the labor you need.
Consumerism tells us we deserve things, and we deserve them right now, and we deserve them at low, low prices. We can’t have empathy for the sweat shop workers, for the animals being exploited or displaced, to the ecosystems being decimated. If the people that provide the goods and services aren’t making a living wage, suffer food insecurity, and lack health care or affordable housing, well tell ourselves that it’s not our problem, it’s theirs.
The right to own guns is more important than thousands of gun deaths. If the body count doesn’t prove that, the mental gymnastics to justify the lack of common sense gun control does. We care more about keeping our property than saving lives.
Wearing a mask to prevent the spread of disease is somehow an issue of personal freedom. The minimal effort to consider the health and well-being of other people is simply too much of a burden to bear. You don’t reach that point if a widespread empathy gap didn’t already exist.
The Empathy Gap in American Culture
Where the culture has lacked empathy, the people have not. The litany of the fallen can only be so long. The number of injustices that take place on camera, for the world to see, can only be so high. People act out. But where do you turn when the people appointed to uphold the law are the ones breaking it? Protest doesn’t work. Peaceful measures haven’t solved the problem. So out of frustration, people act up.
Rioting is an expression of anguish. There is no cultural language available that allows us to express what we’re feeling. We have no functional mechanism with which to bring about change. As people are starving for basic human rights, their violations of property rights are being held up as a greater sin and used as a blunt instrument against them.
The empathy gap in America says that it’s okay to kneel on a man’s neck for 9 minutes until he’s dead. That’s it’s acceptable to blind a journalist. It excuses using pepper spray on a 10-year-old child. Only a lack of empathy can explain arresting journalists attempting to show the truth of the situation. But burn down a Target? That’s over the fucking line. Those people need to be punished.
This is going to continue until people feel that their basic humanity is being recognized.