Saturday, November 12, 2016

Empathic Universalism vs. Provincialism

A significant change happened in our society in 1966, according to David Rothman, when “Black Power” took place.  The rhetoric of the Black Power movement was quite different from that of Martin Luther King, Jr.  It didn’t seek brotherhood and community but separatism.  It was premised not on a mutuality of interest shared by all members of society, but upon the basic conflicts in the society.  Black Power admonished blacks to become organized, take control of their community, its economic and political institutions, and  achieve “their own island of life” in a white racist society.

This change from dreams of brotherhood/community to the establishment of separatism has plagued our society ever since. (History tells us that it has always been a factor—and not something suddenly born in 1966).  It is a strategy that every minority group in our society has emulated.  In almost every movement from prisoners’ rights to the rights of children, this attitude has prevailed.  It is the attitude of empathic provincialism.  This provincialism is an attitude of exclusiveness, the desire to achieve one’s own demands and welfare, without concern for those outside the circle.  It is not based on unity but on conflict.  Be exclusive, press your own demands, it is “us” vs. “them.”

This provincialism limits our caring.  It says, I only care about my group, my demands, my welfare, my party, my nation.  The emotion behind provincialism is that if we can make our circle small enough, life will seem safer and neater—our own little island of life.

Empathic universalism, on the other hand,  is an attitude which sees and feels that it is a part of the whole.  It identifies not with some small group or circle but with the totality.  There is no sense that it is us verses them—it is “for everybody.”  We do not have to be for one interest group at the expense of another.   Just because we feel deeply for one faction does not mean that we cannot feel deeply for both—and work for unity instead of conflict.  Love remains at the heart of all things!

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