If I were to start my own political party in the UK today, I would call it the Empathy Party. And it would do terribly in every poll and election.
I’ve begun to notice that empathy is a quality which is severely lacking . Sometimes, it’s just small things which tip me off. I’ve noticed a number of times recently that people, both drivers and pedestrians, are reluctant, in a way I’ve never observed before, to move out of the path of an oncoming ambulance. Often, it’s bigger things. People’s attitudes towards welfare, for example, seem to me particularly lacking in compassion. Welfare is something we need to be ‘tough’ on, so everyone seems to think. This approach is precisely the opposite of what is needed in a system which is supposed to function as a safety net for society’s unluckiest members. Attitudes towards immigration are similarly dispassionate. That we deserve the wealthy country we were born into is assumed. That others were unlucky enough to be born into less wealthy countries with poorer prospects is not our problem.
Empathy is one trait in which I personally have always felt particularly well-endowed. Considering the perspectives of others is a fundamental and inescapable part of how I view the world. I’ve come to realise that one of the things that I absolutely abhor is putting another person in an impossible situation. Sometimes, an impossible situation will take the form of a Catch 22, in which a person is left between a rock and a hard place with no viable options. Sometimes, it will simply take the form of a person being left to fall into poverty with little prospect of climbing back up. Bringing such a situation about is unthinkable if you have empathy, and so it’s unthinkable to me. Sadly, though, the not-my-problem attitude (a fundamental lack of empathy) which allows such circumstances to come about is seemingly all too common in the UK at the moment. Since people are happy to ignore the question: “What would you do in that situation?” they are happy to leave others in impossible situations. And this leads to the existence and acceptance of a great many such situations in our country. As mentioned above, the areas of welfare and immigration are particularly strong examples. That is unacceptable.
Therefore, the primary philosophy of the Empathy Party is that, to the extent that it is possible, no-one should be put into or left in an impossible situation.
So what would the Empathy Party’s manifesto look like? Over the next few posts I’ll take you through how the Party’s philosophy would interpret the current state of play in the UK on a number of key issues, and how the party itself would handle those issues. This will include:
- a radical change in the Government’s approach to welfare, ensuring that no-one is put in an impossible situation by being denied benefits or by having their benefits removed.
- The disabled in particular would be treated with far more compassion, as vulnerable people who need our help rather than as potential benefit cheats or, worse, as ‘customers’.
- But the unemployed would also be treated more leniently in view of the fact that, in a country with more potential workers than available work, the inability to find gainful employment cannot be blamed on the unemployed.
- Of course, those in employment would be considered too, particularly those who have no choice but to work for below the living wage, and so sell the valuable hours of their life for the privilege of living in poverty. Zero hour contracts are a particularly obvious example of an impossible situation.
- I imagine it would also cast a more sympathetic eye on immigration; a empathetic approach here would lead us to look at the reasons people move to our country, from poorer countries with poorer prospects for themselves and their families.
- Crime and punishment would be viewed very differently, too; empathy for a criminal would lead us to abandon punishment in favour of rehabilitation, or, in a worst case scenario, pragmatic detention.
Over the course of the next few posts, I’ll work through these issues individually, and perhaps then move on to explain more of what underlies the Empathy Party’s philosophy.