August 11, 2003

What if You Lived There?
Empire and Empathy
by Matthew Barganier

Listen up, all you grassroots conservatives, those whom Grover Norquist calls the "leave us alone" coalition. You don't want D.C.'s taxes, its welfare, its gun control, its schools, its regulations, in short, its endless meddling in your affairs. Why do you think anyone else does? For just a moment, avert your eyes from the flag waving hypnotically before them, and imagine trading circumstances with an Iraqi, Afghan, or Okinawan. This is how empire looks through your new specs: a gang of armed foreigners on your street, cruising for hookers, pawing your daughters, shooting your sons, and generally lording their might over you. You in the NRA shirt – you wouldn't be firing back? Hey, Mr. Christian Coalition – you wouldn't be plotting against the infidels?

Empathy alone should make real conservatives loathe empire and its concomitant, war. It doesn't take a bleeding heart to do the basic calisthenics of moral reasoning, to consider events from another's perspective. You don't need Noam Chomsky to explain how pissed you would be if foreign soldiers stole your wallet or your car, or forced you to disarm during a crime wave. You don't need Michael Moore to paint you the horror of watching your child bleed to death from an invader's bullet. To recognize the humanity in others is natural. Of course, social engineers hate human nature, and war is just social engineering in camouflage. (Hence the bureaucrats' proclivity for metaphorical wars on poverty, drugs, etc.) The Pentagon spurs us on to mass murder by alleging that our gut deceives us. As I wrote back in March,

Doing violence to anonymous foes requires a firm sense of the enemy's otherness. Killing an acquaintance is easy enough, in a sense, because one can catalogue specific grievances against him or her. Killing an unknown schmuck in the same position as oneself is another matter.

Hell, he's got opposable thumbs, seems to speak some sort of language, and he didn't do anything to me. I'm tempted to let him live.

Despite the state's best efforts to stamp it out, human nature persists, which is why our welfare-warfare empire boasts so much counterfeit empathy. Bill Clinton, that geyser of kitsch, won two elections by "feeling our pain," a physiological impossibility. Oddly, his Uri Geller-esque sensitivity did not extend to Branch Davidians, cancer patients, Sudanese, and Serbs. When George W. Bush slobbers on and on about "compassion," he apparently means running record deficits, not sparing innocent lives. How much more of this nonsense can Americans – especially conservatives, who pride themselves on their resistance to flimflam – take? In addition to hardening our hearts, perpetual war must make us stupid, a suspicion backed by new evidence every day.

Do you "leave us aloners" really want to strike a blow against big government? Think of foreigners as human beings. Empire drives empathy out of circulation, but the reverse is also true.

~ Matthew Barganier

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Matthew Barganier works for an educational philanthropy in Baton Rouge, LA. A late bloomer in his mid-twenties, he has only recently joined the ranks of web punditry. He is an alumnus of Louisiana State University and the University of Alabama.

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