Wednesday, March 04, 2009


Reading the first few pages on-line of The Empathy Gap, a book I linked to in a previous comment, and I am going like: this is all so intuitive and axiomatic; be nice, be fair, think from the other person's perspective.

Then I realize it was being raised in Australia, where we once had a "natural sense of fair play", that has made a substantial impact on the me that I am.

When I was growing up, "fair go" was not just an Aussie cliche we had read about, it was a part of our world view. We would actually speak this phrase out loud. It was what we'd cry on the footy field, on the play-ground, in the class-room; wherever, whenever we felt things were going out of kilter due to someone missing out, someone cheating or taking unfair advantage of a weaker participant. Being better than someone was OK, we respected that; but getting cocky about it, showing off, rubbing it in or treating someone else maliciously was "not fair" and required a shout of "fair go, mate".

We were all mates, you see.

This is how we were. This is what we knew. Taking advantage was wrong. We all chipped in to make sure that everyone had a go, that everyone took their turn, and of course that no-one jumped the queue.

Or maybe it was just me.

Anyway, I guess that the introduction to The Empathy Gap has to be so basic because so many readers of American extraction would have grown up with a different world view to mine. Not all, maybe not even most. But many. They might have grown up in the world Kurt Vonnegut excoriated in Breakfast of Champions and other books ("hardly representative", Texan/Singaporean MercerMachine once told me), a world where the catch-phrases were; "Get it while you can," or "There's a sucker born every minute" or "If you're so smart, how come you ain't rich?"

And as if the Protestant Work Ethic weren't enough, along comes Ayn Rand with her selfish fascism that panders totally to the 'Haves', and places blame on the 'Have-Nots' for their Not actually Having anything. Empathy for Randians: it is a sin!

That's why self-evident statements like this have to be made in the book:

We empathize with those that lack the goods that a decent society should provide: effective opportunity for shelter, food, employment, education, and sound health, to name a few... in practice, empathy provides the motive to even things up, at least a little.

Of course that's how it works for people like me, but I sigh for the attitudes of so many other people I know...


By the way, this "fair go" attitude did not mean 'politeness' - we were as rude and rough and tumble as kids can get, and politeness is still not a big thing in Australia. "Have a nice day," was usually greeted with a mock-sneer in Oz, if you were lucky.

Americans, man they are way too polite. I was once standing on a footpath looking for a store, a laundry I believe it was, in New England when a car stopped to let me cross the road in case I decided to move that way! It was weird. Maybe becasue I was well-dressed. If I had been a homeless person, or business threat, maybe he would have jumped the curb to run me down!



Momentary Madness said...

I’m not too fond of people in truth; especially the older I get. Whether it’s getting old and cranky, or getting old and wiser (which I seem to think) I don’t rightly know.
I like to see some get their come-uppance, but not in the conventional way for I also abhor our judicial system (crime and punishment) and mob-rule, even ostracism in our social setting.
None of us are really fit to judge except (that fuck wit David B. Rivkin)
”Do unto others.”

expat@large said...

Strongly re-assured about the positive attitude of many Americans in MOST of the comments in this article about slavery in Florida's tomato-farming industry.

dibabear said...

Sadly many in the generation behind me (Gen X I think) look at Ayn Rand as though she's some sort of demi-god. Her books suck as does her ideology. We're a poorer culture for her.

Re: the car stopping. It's been the law for some time in many/most/all U.S. states that you have to stop for someone standing at a crosswalk. Ask the man who got a warning from a friendly (really) California policeman for not doing so. Hey it wasn't no zebra stripe crossing so how was I to know?

expat@large said...

Dibab: I was in the middle of the footpath, nowhere near the curb. There was no zebra crossing - the nearest zoo was in Boston(?). It was weird.

Ayn Rand, an excellent argument for retrospective abortions.

Free Podcast

Related Posts with Thumbnails