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Why So Little Empathy and Compassion Within American Culture?


Why So Little Empathy and Compassion Within American Culture?

Gary Olson
The circle is rapidly closing
Human Sociality


To truly understand the nature of this question one must read Orwells 1984 with a particular emphasis on his teachings of the importance and meanings of words. Empathy and Compassion have been bread out of the American character intentionally by virtually eliminating the very words from the lexicon. When was the last time you heard someone in power preach morality or ethics? What they teach is a morality of the self…of self gratification and consumerism. Most people in America today do not have the first concept of civil duty or service…hell look at American Christians and their embrace of a demon Trump as a savior from God. Up becomes down and wrong becomes right. Again…I refer to Orwell and his lessons on “double speak.” This is a culture of mindless consumerism and willing subjugation to authority. We have met the enemy…and it is us…


The better question to ask is why someone does have empathy and compassion? Why do these people understand the greater good? Are they spiritually advanced, have a higher consciousness, are they not interested in instant gratification, non-violent, see through the dominant paradigm and refuse to take part, are better educated? We know what causes greed, etc. but what makes someone compassionate?
I have my own theories. One of them has to do with xenophobia and just fear in general. Also I think many compassionate people have spent a lot of time examining their own beliefs, they have learned how to think for themselves and are some of the wisest among us.


Thank you; this sort of neo-Marxist, class-based analysis is right on target.


The author is getting at an important idea, but he does it poorly. First, he draws on buzzwords and phrases instead of ideas and behaviors (“neoliberal capitalist culture” “plasticity” “rugged self-reliance” “neoliberalism’s ruling ideas”) He has latched on to words that are associated with other people’s cogent social (and biological) theories, but without any meaning or even attempt at polemic coherence.

Second, his focus seems to be on the ruling class, as if the general population is comprised of robots programmed by people and institutions who have “invented” our culture. If this were true, a better question than “how have elites eliminated our compassionate nature?” is “if these elites are so good at cultural programming and dominance, why is there still so much cultural disagreement and conflict?”

I prefer George Carlin’s and Bill Hicks’s analysis, pointing to America as a sequence of shopping centers and Americans as gluttonous consumers. Shopping, smart phones, facebook, television, beer are so ingrown into what we are that not only do we phase everything else out, but even when we do pay attention to the news, we are only able to perceive the news as a source of entertainment.


Because the wrong segment of society is in the news.

The 50% who don’t vote are never queried.

I was just reading principal investigator Alan Stearn’s article in the Feb Astronomy magazine on New Horizon’s approach to 'classical Kuiper Belt Object MU69, set to occur New Years Eve & New Years Day 2018/2019.

It occured to me that we are letting the side down.

So many are on the front lines doing their jobs - from NASA scientists to the average worker, while command and control (politics & economy) are now run amok and inhabited by the ‘glorified pawnbrokers’ Theodore Roosevelt spoke so disparagingly of a long time ago.

Lincoln’s "patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people’ still puzzles me - but Supreme Court Justice Jackson put it well when he said ‘it was the duty of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error’.

The election of Trump is a wake up call to an empire about to implode, to wit, if the best you can do is a neoliberal Democrat:

F*** you.

Yanis Varoufakis has a plan, outlined in his initiative Diem25 and his recent article “Out of the Trap”, and it is ‘a new internationalism’ - like the Bretton Woods of 1944, but modern.

James Kunstler read it after I sent it to him and said he didn’t think it would work, although it was well intentioned, because the real problem was we have run out of cheap energy.

Me - I remain optimistic.

Why - there is no choice other than despair.


YES!! YES!! YES!!! I love this article. I have often thought about this. That capitalism is not just a bad economic system. It actually rots our brains! I think it does something to us, that we don’t realize. It shapes our psyche on such a fundamental level, that we can’t even perceive it.

Almost a direct quote from Chomsky.

What I’d like to know is, why are Americans so Judgemental??

Empathy Imperiled: Capitalism, Culture, and the Brain


I’ll take the author’s analysis over yours.

Yours apologizes for the very culture the author articulates.

Your last paragraph could have been written by a present day Rip Van Winkle.

What, you missed the last 40 years of the corporate coup?

Have a cup of coffee Rip.


My point is if you give most Americans a shopping mall, an iphone and a 6-pack, they will gladly turn their back on their neighbor’s suffering, even without the prodding of neoliberal political dominance, which in no way defends that said dominance. Look at any social media website, or listen to any conversation in public and you will see people who directly are quite critical of the government’s behavior, but are very quick to drop the subject at the moment to discuss yesterday’s football game, etc. Go ahead and rebut, if you’d like, it would be more to your credit than your typical vapid sarcasm.


Kunstler’s thoughts on energy are correct to a degree, in that the plentiful supplies of dense fossil-fuels (stored solar energy) have entered a steepening curve, and will not power endless economic growth.

But in the long term – and frankly in the not very distant future – we have access to the energy output of a sun. We just need to get a grip on ourselves, and nurture ecology and humanity and peace, rather than ego and greed and war.


Oh go cluck yourself. More vapid sarcasm for you.


Mr. Olsen is from Bethlehem PA. My Grandfather was from there. He was a very wealthy elitist from very old money.

I have no money. I gave it all away and give what I get away, with ease. Because I have none I understand what it is like to have none and give when I see the need. It seems to me the answer to Mr. Olsen’s question is we fail to teach the difference between want and need. When feeding a need you fill someone’s soul and teach. When feeding a want you only feed greed.


Thus I despair, in spades.


nowis…I have my own theory…we who are compassionate listened when we were young and able to learn, I, like many, were taught, it is better to give than receive and learned that it is true. We, most of us, were taught it is in the common good to share before we were taught to read. Can you see what I am saying?

There are 4 legs of the chair I sit on…
mindfulness…discernment…acceptance…compassion, Buddha has taught me to become my own light by doubting everything else.


As is essentially stated in this article, we are born compassionate. It is our natural state, which is, like so much in our corrosive capitalist situation, compromised and eroded.




Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”, Benjamin Franklin


We are now experiencing the coming to the surface of a triple prong sickness … [that] has been lurking within our body politic from its very beginning … the sickness of racism, excessive materialism and militarism. … the plague of western civilization.
—Martin Luther King, Aug. 31, 1967

The sickness is now a full blown plague.


You need to read the article again. Prof. Olson addressed exactly you points:

“…whenever anyone offers a culturistic interpretation of social phenomena we should be skeptical.” Why? Because “cultural explanations are closer to tautologies than explanations.” It’s culture itself that needs to be explained and political analyses that neglect or refuse to account for class will have little explanatory value."

As for me, I’ll trust the rigorous time-proven analyses of Marx, Gramsci, Luxembourg, and Kropotkin anytime over the intellectually vacuous rantings of a stand-up comedian who offered only depressing negativity.


Thank goodness finally someone with a Marxian analysis here on Commondreams!

Spot-on essay, Dr. Olson - even if a bit too brief and condensed to really get the points across - an Kropotkin’s name was misspelled in one place though…


“Identity Through Consumption”