Does Empathy Belong in Advanced Democracies?

One of the central tenets of most advanced democracies often appears to be the incubation of civil liberties and human rights. In keeping with the inclusive nature of liberal democracy, empathy is a prerequisite for all participants within society. The question is have liberal democracies lived up to the promise of inclusion, including a universal franchise, equal pay, and the equal treatment of all people regardless of their status within society?

The promise of liberal democracy stretches beyond national borders to encompass populations across the globe. We cannot claim the mantle of ethical and moral supremacy without consideration of the rights of those who have little power or recourse to courts of justice, or to honest law enforcement.

Yet, there is a troubling trend in which Western Democracy is increasingly abrogating its responsibility to advance Human Rights and Civil Liberties everywhere. In the United States for a number of years, conservatives have steadily assailed the People’s rights in a myriad deceptive ways. Using the façade of voter fraud, the right to vote has steadily receded, driven by Voter Id laws, restrictions on felons, fewer polling places, the whittling down of early voting, and restrictions on immigrants who may attain the right to vote.

In much of what was the ante-bellum South, and Midwest, access to reproductive rights has receded dramatically. The almost manic obsession with the putative rights of the fetus has overridden the common sense access to basic medical services. An obsessive hunger to defund Planned Parenthood places the lives of countless women in jeopardy. Such services as cancer screenings are essential to low-income women who cannot afford access to medical insurance. The prevention of unintended pregnancy could potentially allow millions of women a way out of poverty, extended life expectancy, access to better paying jobs, and release from a life of drudgery. The fanatical preoccupation with abortion clouds any good that may come from simple pregnancy prevention.

The reluctance to provide even basic medical services to all sectors of the population is another threat to what should be moral norms. The poor, especially, are vulnerable to the severe lack of health services in the United States. There just is no reasonable alternative to life-saving procedures other than universal health care. Expecting the poor to get health care from emergency rooms is unrealistic, given the high cost of such care. This only serves to drive the poor into bankruptcy, allowing companies to place liens on already sparse earnings and undermining the right to jobs and accommodation.

Another moral failure seen increasingly across the Western World is the total indifference to the plight of refugees. Millions of people around the world are fleeing from wars, economic deprivation, and political violence. The West sees them mostly as a nuisance, or as potential terrorists, rather than people caught in an impossible trap between life-threatening violence on one hand and the reluctance of the West to extend a helping hand on the other.

We fail to comprehend the suffering of vast groups of people. Yet, a mere seventy years ago, Europe had its own refugee crisis during and after WW2. In the 1950’s, Eastern Europe was absorbed into the authoritarian Soviet Union. Sixty years ago, Martin Luther King was struggling for the liberty of African people.

The accession to power of Donald Trump is likely to yet again plunge the developed world into the kind of chaos that we see in other parts of the world. Europe could easily fall prey to the privations of Vladimir Putin, in the form of military invasion. North America, in particular the United States could well devolve into civil strife or civil war or even invasion. These acts could see a refugee crisis unseen anywhere on Earth. Given our treatment of other nations, who is likely to give us safe haven?

Humanity is governed by an immutable set of natural laws. We are most likely to be treated in the manner in which we treat our fellow man. Given our abhorrent treatment of others, can we expect any better treatment if we find ourselves in the same situation?

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