US Indymedia Global Indymedia Publish About us
Printed from Boston IMC : http://boston.indymedia.org/
Boston.Indymedia
IVAW Winter Soldier

Winter Soldier
Testimonies
Brad Presente

Other Local News

Spare Change News
Open Media Boston
Somerville Voices
Cradle of Liberty
The Sword and Shield

Local Radio Shows

WMBR 88.1 FM
What's Left
WEDS at 8:00 pm
Local Edition
FRI (alt) at 5:30 pm

WMFO 91.5 FM
Socialist Alternative
SUN 11:00 am

WZBC 90.3 FM
Sounds of Dissent
SAT at 11:00 am
Truth and Justice Radio
SUN at 6:00 am

Create account Log in
Comment on this article | View comments | Email this article | Printer-friendly version
Commentary :: Environment
Empathy
07 Sep 2004
Here is the text of a few thoughts I put together over the last few weeks. It has not been published on any other media outlet yet, but I did E-mail it to a few select people for comments.
I now feel that my article is refined enough to be shown to a wider audience.

Empathy by Nick Williams.

Political theories are often based in theories of ethics which are, in turn, based on metaphysics and epistemology. For example, Neo-Conservatism is a fascistic political philosophy finding its ethical roots in Judaic ethics. Judaic ethics are based on a theological metaphysics, specifically one where a single omniscient and omnipotent God reigns over the human world and where knowledge of good and bad are based on the authority of this God. Liberalism, in the American sense, is a Neo-Liberal political philosophy finding its ethical roots in Christian ethics. Christian ethics are based on a theological metaphysics, specifically one where a derivative of the Judaic ethics is injected with the concept of a God Who, in addition to being omniscient and omnipotent, is loving, forgiving and compassionate. Socialism is a political philosophy based upon a humanist ethics which views the world scientifically or philosophically (depending upon the variant) and more often than not employs a utilitarian ethics derived from the belief that all knowledge comes from the observation of nature or human reason. The different sources of ethical principles that underlie the various political theories have a strong impact on the character of those possessed by the ideology. Additionally, the kind of society they produce follows strongly from that ethics. For example, Neo-Conservatism leads to a cold authoritarianism, Liberalism leads to an apologist's capitalism and socialism leads to an effort to satisfy human needs.

Each of these ethical systems, in turn, make claims about human nature. The Judaic tradition sees humans as valuable in terms of their relationship to God. That is, one is good if one is obedient to God and one is evil if one is not obedient to God or obedient to Satan. There is no room for empathy in the equation of good or bad. Regardless of your motives or what it is to be you, you are damned if you disobey God's laws.

Christianity makes an attempt to improve on Judaism by introducing the notion that we are all sinners (i.e. disobedient), but that our sins (i.e. disobedience) can be forgiven if our hearts are true, we regret what we have done and we accept Jesus as our savior. Indeed, this does seem to be an improvement as it acknowledges that what it is to be a human plays some role in our behavior and that we can be expected to be disobedient so long as we regret it.

Buddhism, on the other hand, starts with compassion rather than obedience as a primary value and compassion, I would argue, rests primarily in empathy. The need for compassion in Buddhism has nothing to do with God, but rather is a recognition of the Buddhist belief that "to live is to suffer" and that our condition as humans cries out for compassion as a basis for getting through life.

Humanist approaches have taken two paths, one based on reason and the other based on empiricism. While it may be the case (or may not be the case) that no attempts at either path have been entirely successful, the starting point for each is of great importance with regard to the kind of world these attempts would lead to. If one starts with reason, one must begin with various principles that form the assumptions upon which one reasons and then carry forward, constructing a set of rules to guide human behavior and evaluate actions as to their goodness and badness. These principles, in the case of the humanist, arise from human nature. How and what we decide to consider human nature, then, make a great difference in what our rules will be.

If one starts with observation of the natural world (empiricism), one is likely not to arrive at permanent and universal principles since one can never claim with certainty that any observation will hold for all time in all circumstances. The best one can arrive at is an evolving model and the application of utilitarian ethics (each decision should aim at bringing the greatest good to the greatest number) to it.

Since all attempts to prove the existence of a God or gods have failed and since empirical models run the risk of making grave mistakes up until that point where such models are refined to perfection (a state of affairs that will likely require more time than is left in the universe), I believe that any ethical theory with a chance to bring harmony and peace to human kind across all time would, of necessity, be based upon reason in the humanist tradition. Therefore, I have pursued my investigation of Rational Anarchism as a foundational ethics for all forms of anarchism.

The philosopher Emanuel Kant was among the first to put forward a rational basis for ethics.

Copied from Immanuel Kant and the Categorical Imperative

In 'Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals' (1785) Kant offers three progressive versions of the Categorical Imperative on which all moral commands are based:

1. 'Act as if the maxim of your action was to become through your will a universal law of nature.'

In Christianity this could be expressed as 'Treat others as you want them to treat you.' (Matthew 7:12)). In other words, would we be happy for others to act in the same way we do?

2. 'Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but at the same time as an end.'

This means that humans are the most important factor in any ethical decision making. Human suffering is never justified as a means to any end.

3. 'So act as if you were through your maxims a law-making member of a kingdom of ends'

We should always keep in mind the rights of others. No-one should ever become a pawn in our 'game of life'.

Starting from his Categorical Imperative and applying his methodology, Kant put forth an ethical system based on reason alone. In his effort to defend his methodology, he sometimes went to absurd lengths and so I suggest that we consider only his Categorical Imperative as a possible starting point (i.e. not his derivations from it), beginning where he began and ending where we may. Specifically, I wish to investigate whether the Categorical Imperative leads to a rational anarchism.

In coming up with his Categorical Imperative, one must ask how it is that of all of the maxims Kant could have invented, how did he end up with this Imperative. While Kant does not state it, I believe that he chose the human emotion "empathy" as his heuristic. Even if he did not, I would argue that in the end whatever imperative he would have chosen would necessarily have been an imperative (perhaps THE imperative) that stood the test of empathy for what he is asking each and every human being to do is to affirm that his maxim is self evident and that could only be accomplished if and only if it met the test of universal human empathy. Any maxim that could not satisfy the question, "would I wish to live in a world ruled by this maxim", across all of humanity (a question based on what it feels like to be a human) would have failed. Thus, Kant's Imperative relies upon its satisfaction of essential human empathy for its success.

Looking at #1, we have "Act as if the maxim of your action was to become through your will a universal law of nature." In other words, in each thing you choose to do, should one derive a universal rule from it, would you wish that that universal rule be applied to all humanity across all time? If you were to reject such a universal rule, what could you base the rejection on other than the belief that if you were in the shoes of some hypothetical human being in some hypothetical situation you would not wish to be that person? It is only through empathy that you could reject the rule as the situations are hypothetical (i.e. you lose nothing real in the thought experiment). It is what you feel about being in the situation that causes you to reject the rule.

Now, let's consider #2: "Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but at the same time as an end." If, in your thought experiment (see previous paragraph) you divorce from the test the feelings of the other person (i.e. you objectify that person), you cannot reject the hypothetical act. It is only by positing that it is something that it is like to be the other person and that that which it is like to be the other person would be to suffer that you must reject an act that uses another as a means to an end other than an end in itself. Once again, empathy is the heuristic guiding the rule.

The final part of the Imperative, #3, is different: "So act as if you were through your maxims a law-making member of a kingdom of ends." It is a call to view yourself as a teacher of others. In meme theory, it is to view yourself as a propagator memes. That is, with each act you become an example that others may copy and in so doing you add to the world the norm of your behavior. We are each creators of ethical rules and we teach these ethical rules by our behavior. If we do not act so as to treat each person as an end in herself or himself, we promulgate an ethics which undermines parts 1 and 2.

If society were guided not by government but by individuals following the Categorical Imperative, what kind of world would result? Stated differently, if we all viewed our individual selves as the source of all societal norms and we excluded acts which did not stand the test of empathy from your personal choices, what kind of society would arise?

Two primary forces would control human behavior: depending upon the uniqueness of the situation individuals would either assess their possible choices at any given time in terms of the Categorical Imperative (e.g. in the case that a situation has not previously been encountered) or individuals would apply the behavior they learned from others (e.g. in the case that others had previously encountered the situation, assessed their choices in terms of the Categorical Imperative, and then acted, thereby teaching others to act in like fashion). Based upon the outcome of these choices made by individuals in society, future choices would be based either an a reapplication of the rules (meme) governing previous behavior or a new derivation of the rule (an evolved derivation whose evolution was guided by assessment of previous outcomes). We should expect, in time, a culture to emerge whose behavior norms were pruned, over time, by the collective decision making of all individuals applying the Categorical Imperative. Such a society would embody behavior motivated primarily by empathy rather than simple individual advantage.

Would such a society need laws? Would such a society need a government? Would such a society need to compel others to part with property when it was necessary to use some of it to assist others in need? I believe the answer to all of these questions is "no." In such a society laws would be redundant, government would be an unnecessary burden that interfered with the natural progression and evolution of culture and economics as we know it would be replaced with a gift economy. This society, as described in the sentence above, is exactly what I mean by "Rational Anarchism."

I can imagine various arguments against this assessment of what a society led by the Categorical Imperative would develop into. For example, a quick argument against it might be that emotions such as empathy have no place in philosophical arguments concerning universal principles. However, I disagree. We are looking for universal principles that apply to all humans - not universal principles that apply to all object in nature. Since there is something that it is like to be a human being and that something is largely determined biologically, and since we share nearly all of the biology with one another, it would follow that empathy would be a universal value.

Clearly, however, there are human being without empathy. To this I answer that there are human beings without arms, without legs and with other features normally expected missing. Universal principles, however, need not take into account such exceptions beyond the question of how do we adjust to making their experience as human beings such that we would choose to be treated likewise should we fall upon such misfortune. We would not derive from the fact that someone is missing a left arm that left arms must not be used by society when considering an infrastructure. We would also not conclude that empathy should be left out of the equation just because some people lack it. In fact, we would ask ourselves what would it be like for those capable of empathy to be subjected to the unregulated acts of those without empathy. I believe we would choose to keep such people in line by pointing out their violations of the well being of others and resisting them whenever necessary.

As an American living in a society that has emerged from a belief system where empathy plays a minor role, I know that many individuals capable of empathy have been taught to rationalize away their empathy in favor of immediate self interest. Such individuals will argue against empathy (or altruism as Objectivists call it), but their arguments are of no greater importance in the area of ethics than the arguments of someone who has been forced to wear blinders from birth in the area of visual aesthetics.

Finally, we will always have the argument that some individuals are simply selfish, arrogant and violent. How will we control them? I believe we must ask ourselves how many of these common violators of the peace are the product of a system that denies empathy. If empathy is the foundation of ethical human behavior and if it is discouraged or disparaged by a society, would we not expect there to arise a number of individuals that are disruptive? I think so. And if a change in ethics would reduce the number of such individuals, leaving us with a smaller set, how would we handle that smaller set? Let's turn this question back on its proponents. Since rape, murder, theft, stalking, harassment and other criminal activities exist under government and laws, how can they argue that their continued existence without government supports the notion of government in any way? Humanity will always need to contend with disruptors. The question is not whether we can always stop disruptors, it is, instead, how do we minimize the number of them and how do we minimize their impact on others. It is unclear to me that the current system minimizes their number or their impact on others. After all, after departing jail most go on to do the same acts again. Our prisons are little more than universities to teach better techniques of criminal behavior. The proponent of the current system has no basis to make arguments against other systems, given the highest crime rate in the industrialized world simultaneous with the highest prison population.

This work is in the public domain
Add a quick comment
Title
Your name Your email

Comment

Text Format
Anti-spam Enter the following number into the box:
To add more detailed comments, or to upload files, see the full comment form.

Comments

Re: Empathy
07 Sep 2004
Reader,

Thank you for that link. It appears I must, in future, be more "selective" in selecting the group of like minded individuals I allow to proof read my work.


I think you may find that article of mine was uploaded to the site you quoted just a few short hours ago. Monday, September 06, 2004 5:02:43 PM to be exact........

As you may have noticed I posted the article here with CC No Rights Reserved so I suppose it is in the public domain now, although I would appreciate it if all references to authorship were honest and truthful.

Dissapointed, but undaunted in my work.

Nick.
Great article.
07 Sep 2004
Reads like a DeVoy article. Same topic too. Never heard of this Nick before.
Well, Nick, show us more of your work.
07 Sep 2004
How long have you been writing about rational anarchism. Where is your reference to DeVoy's earlier derivations of rational anarchism from Kant's Categorical Imperative? Tell me much more about Kant (and do it within about, let's say, one minute (it's currently 9:56). Explain all you know about the Critique of Pure Reason. While you're at it, within a minute, define utilitarianism. You should be able to do it.

I'm waiting.
OMG. Its so blatantly verbose, difficult reading.
07 Sep 2004
I think this Nick guy writes the User Manuals for Toyota transmission maintenance! Why does he use like twenty words to say something he could say in five? And what is this?

"How long have you been writing about rational anarchism. Where is your reference to DeVoy's earlier derivations of rational anarchism from Kant's Categorical Imperative? Tell me much more about Kant (and do it within about, let's say, one minute (it's currently 9:56). "

So, you are giving orders around here? Sounds like somebody's on an ego trip. I hope it takes you far away from this newswire!
Re: Empathy
07 Sep 2004
Hey reader.....

You said " Here's another that I saw just after 9/11."

Well, it just got posted there at Monday, September 06, 2004 10:16:30 PM

What is an even bigger lie from you is the fact YOU SAW THAT ARTICLE ON A WEBSITE THAT DID NOT EXIST until July 03, 2004.

Who is disinforming who here?
Re: Empathy
07 Sep 2004
Just makes me like him more?

You in bed next to him or something? Are you reader?

Are you FTPing things to his site on his behalf or what?

This is getting unreal..........
If things seem unreal, it might be your medication.
07 Sep 2004
That article has been there for at least a few days. It was previously published on Rational Anarchism. It was one of his earliest articles on the Rational Anarchism website. Now, if you were just "curious", why would it's appearance shock you? Do you think it was written in the past 1/2 hour? I doubt it could have been.
We're all still waiting for proof.
07 Sep 2004
And while you're at it, explain where "Nick Williams" went off to and where the original subject hid? Fact is a fact. You bogus liars published DeVoy's article in someone else's name in yet another effort to discredit.

Scum.
Re: Empathy
07 Sep 2004
Posting of personal info is Wrong, wrong, wrong...

Especially if it is about the wrong person.....

Remember what caused this????

Your Friend did.

Sunday 2 March, 2003

I feel sick. I feel hurt and attacked. It seems that because I do the right and honest thing some person with a sick and twisted mind is using that to decide that I’m also guilty of doing the wrong thing. Maybe the person who is doing the wrong thing is taking steps to look like me?
As geeky as I am, I’ve never done anything like hacking, or whatever, ip blocking, ip spoofing… I wouldn’t even know how to. I suppose I could google for it, undoubtedly I’d find how to do that sort of stuff then.

But that’s not me! All of my life I’ve been the goodie goodie. I don’t want to do the wrong thing! I don’t want to hurt people. I don’t want to lie. I don’t want to cheat. I don’t want to kill bugs!
Life is sacred. And so are people! I would no more attack and harass someone than I would ... I dunno… I can’t think of anything bad enough.

And yet someone has decided that I am.
That I’m harassing him.
So now he’s harassing me.

People are posing as me, and my family on obscene message boards.
It’s sickening.

I understand why people want to take down their sites now.
But I will not do that.
This is my site!
And I will keep it!

This is my life, and nobody is going to take it from me. I will live it as I choose. As I see fit. I have done nothing wrong, and I will not hide.

The law is on the side of the wronged. That’s me, not him. And maybe he’s been wronged too, but maybe he’s just some crazy guy, who’s made this all up as an excuse to harass someone.
Who knows? Who even cares?

I’m not going anywhere.
I know I’ve done no wrong. I’m sure my friends know that.
I know my family does.

I know that many people can use the same ip as me. That’s the way Aussie ISPs work.

But all that doesn’t stop me from feeling sick.
Here is a little about my background.
07 Sep 2004
For the last three years I've been sharing my political views online. I am a rational anarchist and I am a true believer in this political philosophy. Rational Anarchism is a philosophical approach to anarchism. It differs from standard political anarchist forms in that it deals with the ethical basis of anarchism rather than the political basis for anarchism. Most successful political philosophies have a strong philosophical basis and Rational Anarchism is an attempt to provide such a basis to anarchism in general. Rational Anarchism is not incompatible with Anarcho-Communism and is not incompatible with Anarcho-Capitalism. It is an attempt to describe the essence of anarchism and does not attempt to propose an implementation. The details of how anarchism is to be applied is left to the political realm.


My own background is not at all ordinary for an anarchist - at least not for a contemporary anarchist. Contemporary anarchists start with the proposition that class conflict is the source of all political formulations. This position was not as ubiquitous in the past as it is now. Many earlier anarchists came from all levels of society. Anarchism itself is a stand on hierarchy and organizations - not politics. Political manifestations of anarchism start with the anti-hierarchicalist position of anarchist philosophy and apply that position to real political forms. Therefore, there is no particular reason why an anarchist would more likely emerge from the working class, the ruling class or the middle class. My own family is middle class and this has had some effect on my analysis of class conflict. While I align with the working class, my desire has always been to eliminate classes altogether. I believe a world where class conflict is ended by the elimination of classes is possible. Unless political anarchists recognize that the goal is a classless society they will one day find their own rhetoric in conflict with the reality they wish to achieve. Of what use would a movement based on class warfare be when classes no longer exist?


As I write this, I am 41 years old and I belong to three families. One family is the family of my birth, another is my wife's family and the most important to me is my own family - that of my daughter, my wife and myself. The family of my birth comes from working class roots but currently finds itself to be middle class. They have arrived where they are by a desire to be members of the ruling class. Therefore, with few exceptions, their loyalty lies with the rightwing. More specifically, nearly every member of my birth family is a rightwing Republican. One member of my family is a Democrat and I am the lone anarchist. My wife is completely apolitical. I am intentionally not interfering with the intellectual development of my daughter, focusing instead on giving her the tools to decide for herself what she believes.


My younger brother is completely in line with his leader, George Bush. My wife has overheard my younger brother telling other family members that I am a criminal specifically because I speak out against George Bush. Indeed, it is my brother who telephoned me to tell me that Bill O'Reilly had read "my email" on the air (an email I did not write and which the individuals cyber stalking me had sent to Bill O'Reilly in my name). Despite this obvious breach of truth by Bill O'Reilly and his refusal to retract his defamatory and libelous reading of an email I did not write (yet he attributed to me), my father and mother cheerfully watch Bill O'Reilly every evening.


My father has obsessed over my online writings for years. In fact, many years ago he found some message I had posted about my preference for Latin culture over Anglo culture and confronted me with it. When I put up my Stop Fascism! website, my father was very angry about my depiction of George Bush as a Nazi. While I agree that George Bush is not exactly a Nazi, I do believe he absolutely is a fascist and that for most Americans the terms Nazi and fascist are interchangeable. My father claimed that my depiction of Bush was libelous, but I stand by the position that such depictions of political figures is not only fair political expression, but are protected by the Constitution. Indeed, even the Supreme Court agrees with my position.


Evidently, whoever targeted me with the KOBE website, believed that it was fair game to depict me as a Nazi in retaliation. Unlike "President" Bush, I am not a political leader. I am not even a politician. Hell, I'm not even a public figure. Additionally, I am an anti-hierarchicalist. Nothing is more contrary to fascism than anti-hierarchicalism. I am completely anti-racist. To depict me as a Nazi is, in fact, libelous and defamatory. Furthermore, unlike George Bush, I do not have the Secret Service, the FBI, the CIA, the DIA and countless other agencies to protect me. Depicting me as a Nazi and encouraging people to do violence against me, a private citizens with zero protection from harm, is an outrageous perversion of the political intent I expressed by depicting Bush as a Nazi. Unlike President Bush, I have been physically attacked as a direct consequence of the harassment against me. Unlike President Bush, I have been cyber stalked and physically stalked. Unlike President Bush, I have been denied employment because of these attacks.


My family offered to help me when I was sacked because of my online political activism. They were willing to help me with everything except one thing and one thing only - the harassment. Indeed, their "solution" to the harassment was to express the same attitudes, beliefs and goals as the harassers. Only my wife and daughter have stood by me through all I have suffered.


My younger brother ripped the upside down American flag sticker off of my car. [My older brother put a pro-Bush sticker on my car. The previous sentence has been determined to be untrue. Once again, my younger brother appears to be up to something. He stated to me that he called my older brother on the telephone and confirmed that my older brother put the sticker on my car. It turns out that it was not my older brother but another relative and that my younger brother lied. He never telephoned my older brother about it.] Someone with intimate knowledge of my movements posted information about me online. The lead harasser even claims that forged articles written in my name came from the same IP address as that which I use. Supporting this claim is the confusion we have seen on Boston, New York and LA IndyMedia where there is a general belief that I am one and the same as the harassers.


What most people do not realize is that until I left my home in Massachusetts, I was using a home DSL based network. There were four machines on that network and all of them shared the same IP address. Two of those machines were mine and one of them was my wife's. The only remaining machine outside of my own family's control was (and still is) used by a rightwing Republican opposed to my political beliefs, opposed to my writings, opposed to my production of bumper stickers, and who obsesses about my websites. He supports the US Government, opposes gay marriage, opposes open immigration and hates anarchism. I leave the reader to make any inferences from this information. However, what I would like to propose is that Boston IndyMedia, NYC IndyMedia and LA IndyMedia had a very good reason to suspect that the harassers and I were one and the same. Despite that very good reason, they were wrong.


While I now know much of what is to be known about the harassment program, I am intentionally not sharing the details and the specifics at this moment. There are a few more threads to all of this that need to be investigated. However, when the full story is finally told, I guarantee it will never be forgotten.
Re: Empathy
07 Sep 2004
Boy did I pick the wrong time to eat supper!

Anyway thanks for the feedback to the one person that actually commented on my article. yes I suppose it is very verbose but it is a very complicated subject. So is maintenance of Toyota transmissions!

As to my work being stolen, the important point is the message gets out there. I do not write or create for personal gain or profit. I write for the good of humanity.