Empathy is for Suckers

This is an essay exploring the disconnect between Champagne Socialists and some of the mob their grand vision leaves behind…

You can see it here.

Best turn your sound system up.

Me and Mick.

So why the video?

This took about 9 hours… Why bother?

Mick and I go back a long way. Just to be clear, he doesn’t represent the working class, not by a long shot, he’s a sub-set of a sub-set …a dangerous Antisocial man. I’ve sat and joked with him, I’ve looked after him… and  I’ve lived in morbid terror of him. That is when he has seen me as the Threat and directed everything he had in his arsenal against me.

Real fear has made it hard for me to empathize with Mick in an authentic and gritty way. Using images and music is a device, a way of broadening the frame. I could have turned out a paper on how the Left has lost touch with the working class, I could have sanitized Mick a bit, run a Pollyanna narrative for me, and sent him on a hero journey of his own.


But it ain’t like that. Why waste your time and mine?

I didn’t know what I thought at the outset. Words themselves anchor a dialogue -to an era, point of view or concept. I wanted to go before that, to see if I could find out something new, that hadn’t been born into language. So I went and asked Mick directly. I created a space where I could hear some of his angry voice, let him shout down my dearest ideas, and get close enough to understand him a little more. It’s a flight simulator if you like, where the pilot can step out shaking his head at the hurricane level conditions he had to land the simulated plane in, “Gee, you really gotta bring ’em in fast don’t you!?”.

I spared you the hateful gaze, red angry face and the threatening stance in the video, as he delivered his vitriol.

Dance with your fear?” a lot of my personal development books say that. I did, we put on AC DC, for all 9 hours of the dance. He felt more at home and I felt emboldened by the strong beat and emphatic guitar riffs.

It’s no-bullsh*t o’clock and Mick and I are figuring stuff out.

So what did we figure out?

He’s scared -sh*t scared. His livelihood, his independence is evaporating. He’s been left behind, and it’ll only get harder. He’ll have to rely on the kindness of strangers, and that’s never worked before. The idea of being vulnerable, beholden unto others is intolerable. It’s like being a child again, and he had a childhood that needed to end ASAP. Why do you think he got so big and mean in the first place? It’s the same terror that I feel with him, the kind where you can barely think straight.

I now get why he sees environmentalism as the enemy, competing groups that take his work, hateful. Why he tunes into to the rant of the Shock-Jocks who ply his arguments for him. At least THEY help him survive.

Political correctness and sensitivity is the enemy. It doesn’t acknowledge his lot -in the slightest.

Mick believes empathy is dangerous. You can’t trust people -they’ll rip you off. (He might be right)

I believe empathy will save us. I believe it is how we connect, is how we make stuff. It’s how we find solutions. (I’m losing my faith so…with people you can trust)

By the end of the video I really get where he’s coming from. I can give him a respectful nod of acknowledgment from a distance. Yep, you should be scared. You’re going down, and no one’s given you a good reason to listen to our vision of a better future. It doesn’t have you in it. It don’t help you survive. And you can’t think straight.

We get to see an angry man, a hater.

And you get dismissed as nothing more.

This is what I learned.

I also learned that he wants to provide, not just for himself, but for his family. Even if it’s in an angry and shouty way. The dinner conversation with his partner will not be reflective and heartfelt. It will be an angry rant against all the bastards making things worse -politicians, immigrants, women…Mick’s not articulate. He talks with his fists and his raised voice.

If things were going well, he wouldn’t wake up a Renaissance Man. But he’d soften, be able to show some care to his kids -make up for lost years. He might give away the intimidation -because he’s seen, again and again and again -it always ends in shit.

But this has been all about Mick. I’ve changed too…

I’m really worried for him. I feel ashamed I dismissed him as discardable for the greater good. I want to sit with him and say, stop all your shouting mate, let’s get to the bottom of this. This is not right. How can we help, keep you working, help you adapt. You’re a survivor, what can we do to mobilize that. I’m treating him like a fellow human being, with capacity -not a monster.

-Sorry Mick, I’m really sorry.

(But you threaten me, I’m calling the cops -just so you know where I stand).

He’d be fine with that, he respects straight talkers -and my taste in music.

Echo Chambers in Echo Chambers

So why put myself through it? I guess I see Antisocial Mick as a prototype of Haters -or terrorists, for that matter. I wanted to get past the conflict and get to the key fear for which they invoking Hating? I discovered it through Mick. He’s white knuckled scared, doesn’t know what to do, beyond hit out. Anger is galvanizing, it gives us a kind of super power -to mitigate against the sense of powerlessness. It gives him a sense of safety. Any lovey-dovey rhetoric about working together or having empathy is shot down as The Enemy.

I’m feeling really uneasy at the moment. The world is pivoting on a pin head, newspapers can’t predict a thing. They spout all these points of view, from analytical argument to moral arguments (Revival narrative), bay in disgust and shame at the alternative view (a Tribal narrative), not understanding it as a Survival narrative that resonates, not a logical one.

What rhetoric will Mick listen to? One that helps him.

If it helps him survive -he might start listening. Talk about the jobs environmental work will bring and he’ll demand Environmentalism. If not, he’s off to the haters to tear it all down.

The disconnect is deeply unsettling to me. There’s a deep mistrust of “educated opinion” or so-called-experts. Are we all in a huddle preaching to our tribe?

It’s such a treat to come to a forum of like minded people. We can be a diverse group on many fronts, but we have a common language, a shared fiction. We talk about The Resistance when struggling with our creativity, and everybody knows what we’re referring to. We jibe at our Lizard Brain when we’re avoiding work, talk about work that matters, and have a certain sense that we’re with our people.

But eventually, what we talk about has to connect beyond our tribe, be mindful of where other tribes are at -be inclusive. To do that we have to understand their experience deeply, not make assumptions that “we know best”.  A bit of “Maslow Bullsh*t” can help us understand -that’s all.

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