Mark B. Baer, Esq.

Empathy and Relationships

Can a Country Lacking Empathy Toward Others Be Great?

Can a society based upon self-centeredness survive?

Posted Mar 17, 2017

This morning, I attended a breakfast meeting and heard a presentation titled "Virtual Best Practices: Leveraging a Virtual Team."

The presenter spoke about his use of virtual assistants in Nigeria, India, the Philippines, Spain, and other places outside of the United States. He touted the fact that such assistants cost far less than the minimum wage required if the assistants resided in the United States and that there was no need to worry about providing benefits or otherwise complying with regulations that would apply or potentially apply if such labor were performed within the United States. He explained that if a virtual assistant in Nigeria or elsewhere attempted to take advantage of any such U.S. regulations, assuming that doing so were even possible, the person hiring them could essentially destroy their reputation as a virtual assistant. 

The speaker was so boastful of how his use of such virtual assistants has benefited him, that he wanted to evangelize the use of such assistants. At the same time, he spoke negatively about minimum wage laws and all other laws regulating employment and independent contractor relationships in the United States.

Most of those in attendance were busy taking notes and quite a few asked questions to better understand how they might utilize such virtual assistants in their business. 

From the speaker's commentary, it became abundantly clear early in the presentation that he's a "fiscal conservative." 

Carefully listening to him, I was able to understand how his use of a "virtual team" of individuals, all of whom reside outside of the United States, benefits him. I also understood how each individual team member benefited from the relationship.

However, I desperately tried to understand how the use of such virtual assistants helps to bring jobs back to the US or improve the US economy. How exactly does the use of such labor "Make America Great Again"? I ask these questions because the speaker didn't need to mention that he almost certainly voted for and supports the Trump Administration and GOP policies and beliefs.

In all fairness, it's certainly not his responsibility to bring jobs back to the US or to improve the US economy. However, I'm trying to understand how such a worldview "Makes America Great Again." 

We know that factories are increasingly relocating to Third World countries where the cost of labor is lower. "Trump and Bernie Sanders blame China for undercutting American workers with cheap labor (even Trump makes a lot of his suits and ties overseas). 

We also know that technology has reduced and continues "reducing the need for people in many jobs." Whether we like it or not, "robots and machines are replacing workers. The tech trend would have happened regardless of trade."

"Manufacturing remains a key part of the U.S. economy. Over 12.3 million Americans are employed in the industry. But it's not the powerhouse it was.

In 1960, about one in four American workers had a job in manufacturing. Today fewer than one in 10 are employed in the sector, according to government data.

Call it the Great Shift. Workers transitioned from the fields to the factories. Now they are moving from factories to service counters and health care centers. The fastest growing jobs in America now are nurses, personal care aides, cooks, waiters, retail salespersons and operations managers.

'Trump's talk on trade is bluster,' says economist Charles Ballard of Michigan State University. 'Even if you did [what Trump says], you wouldn't reverse the technology, which is a very big part of the picture.'"

As such, even if factories remain in or even return to the United States, the number of jobs maintained or created would be limited when compared to times of pre-automation and this trend will only continue.

While jobs are available for the US labor force to fill, the "Great Shift" to service type jobs shouldn't impact overall employment.  

However, as the cost of labor for service type jobs has increased in comparison with the decreasing cost of automation, many such jobs have been and will continue to be replaced by technology.  

For example, on November 17, 2016, "McDonald's announced changes that could reshape the diner's experience, saying that it would expand its digital self-serve ordering stations and table service to all of its 14,000 American restaurants."

Meanwhile, as the presenter stated at the meeting this morning, he and a great many others visit stores such as Best Buy® to physically see items they are interested in purchasing and then purchase those items online through companies such as Amazon. In fact, he predicts that Best Buy® will no longer exist in ten years and only one person in the audience disagreed with his prediction.

However, "on a typical Amazon order, employees will spend about a minute total—taking an item off the shelf, then boxing and shipping it. The rest of the work is done by robots and automated systems."

In addition, in the future, "Amazon's delivery drones may drop packages via parachute."

Along those same lines, we apparently have a "driverless future" and not just with regard to cars. "The race is on to get driverless trucks on the roads, and experts say the impact on professional drivers ‘is going to be huge.'"

At the same time, we're increasingly utilizing "virtual teams" comprised of individuals outside the United States. Doing so obviously improves the lives of those living in other countries. How's it benefiting the lives of those in the US, other than the lives of people benefiting from such cheap labor?

As more and more jobs are replaced by technology and as we increasingly leverage the use of "virtual teams", how are the increasing number of individuals in the United States whose jobs have become obsolete going to support themselves and their families? How is this going to impact income and wealth inequality, which is already a huge problem? What happens to those individuals who have goods and services to offer, but fewer and fewer people in the United States are able to afford such goods and services?

These are very serious questions, which require very serious consideration, and there are no simple solutions. Is cutting or eliminating "entitlements" such as unemployment compensation, public welfare programs, social services, Social Security, and Medicare the answer? As "fiscal conservatism" is currently defined, it means just that

How is the United States economy sustainable with such a self-centered and individualistic worldview? Are we setting up a situation in which the United States moves from a First World country to a Second and eventually a Third World country? Will the other nations we're enriching as a result of our self-centered and individualistic worldview ultimately be moving their factories to the United States and hiring our workforce as a source of cheap labor for their "virtual teams" because of a "Great Shift" in world economies? 

As defined today, "fiscal conservatism" is very much a self-centered and individualistic worldview. The proverb "every man for himself" comes to mind. That proverb means "everyone should (or does) look after their own interests rather than considering those of others." 

Of course, there are also those who consider themselves socially liberal and fiscally conservative. 

"This statement of belief rests on a false dichotomy that offers refuge from the full implications of fiscal conservatism.

The term 'socially liberal' indicates that someone is pro-choice and pro-gay marriage; 'fiscally conservative', on the other hand, indicates an unwillingness to spend public money. (While fiscal conservatism may have once meant that tax revenues and expenditures should be in balance, that meaning has since changed; in today's parlance, it indicates opposition to tax or revenue increases.) By declaring oneself a combination of the two, a person is attempting to both claim the moral high ground and demonstrate political savvy. It's a statement that tries to reconcile do-gooder inclinations and the economic theory learned in an intro class.

Unfortunately, this claim of fiscal conservatism fails to acknowledge the accompanying social implications. To be fiscally conservative implies support of limited government spending on welfare, healthcare, social security, and other necessary human services.

Thus the 'socially liberal, fiscally conservative' catchphrase indicates commitment to liberalism only when it does not cost money. It is easy and convenient to support changing laws that don’t require funding—sure, let gay people get married; let women have the right to an abortion....

The idea that these policies are fiscal rather than social is absurd. Supporting them while claiming 'fiscal conservatism' is also absurd. The truth is that social justice requires funding. Government investment matters.... 

Vice President Hubert Humphrey famously said, 'The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.'"

It bears mentioning that "according to psychologist and social scientist Dacher Keltner the rich are usually self-obsessed and only worried about their own well being." Also, Keltner is by no means alone in that belief.

Selfishness and being self centered are inconsistent with empathy toward others, which is a key component of compassion.

Interestingly enough, the "White House says cutting Meals on Wheels is ‘compassionate.’" Unfortunately, when you lack empathy toward others, you can't possibly have compassion toward them and therefore any belief that you're acting in a compassionate way toward them is false.

Absent empathy, critical thinking is impaired because not all perspectives are considered, which precludes a deeper understanding of problems. Empathy toward others also happens to be a precondition to an ethical and moral life. It is also the key to conflict resolution or management.

What's occurring at this point in time is the culmination of the election to public office of many people who are members of the dominant culture and lack empathy toward anyone who looks different from them, believes differently, has different values, or is different. These people, in turn, select people similar to themselves for appointed positions, including judicial office.

This is how you destroy a democracy.

"Both majority rule and minority rights must be safeguarded to sustain justice in a constitutional democracy." 

Harvard University’s Making Caring Common Project’s report"The Children We Mean to Raise: The Real Messages Adults Are Sending About Values"stated in pertinent part as follows:

"Selfishness and indifference to others among both children and adults are commonplace. Too often, students who are different are mocked or bullied, too many children are disrespectful to both other children and adults, and too few children and adults feel responsibility for their communities ... Our findings suggest that youth’s fundamental values are awry ... Youth appear to value caring for others less as they age ... When children don’t prioritize caring, they’re also less motivated to develop the social and emotional skills, such as empathy, needed to treat people well day to day ... [Instead,] they are at greater risk of many forms of harmful behavior, including being cruel, disrespectful, and dishonest. These forms of harm are far too commonplace...

Any healthy society depends not only on developing in youth the urge and ability to care for others but also on instilling in them other ethical values. Perhaps especially, a civil and just society depends on developing in youth a strong commitment to fairness ... Our research suggests that we are not preparing children to create this kind of society."

As Joseph de Maistre said, "Every country has the government it deserves," and, "In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve."

Solving problems facing our nation requires empathy and emotional intelligence.

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