Progressive Calendar 10.25.07
From: David Shove (
Date: Thu, 25 Oct 2007 14:25:09 -0700 (PDT)
            P R O G R E S S I V E   C A L E N D A R    10.25.07

1. NWN4P New Hope    10.25 4:30pm
2. Eagan vigil       10.25 4:30pm
3. Northtown vigil   10.25 5pm
4. Tour StP CityHall 10.25 6:30pm
5. Moon color walk   10.25 7pm
6. StP SkoolBd forum 10.25 7pm
7. Rsvl SchBd forum  10.25 7pm
8. Walid Raad        10.25 7pm
9.  Facing the truth 10.25 7pm
10. Peacemaking      10.25 7pm
11. Son in Iraq      10.25 7:30pm

12. Intl health      10.26 10am
13. Indigenous art   10.26 7pm
14. Pod people       10.26 7pm
15. HydroponicGrower 10.26 7pm

16. Meditation       10.27 9am
17. Up yours, king   10.27 10am
18. End the war now  10.27 12noon
19. Celebrate stuff  10.27 5pm

20. Gary Olson - Are humans "wired for empathy"? Neuroscience/justice
21. ed         - Servant's entrance  (poem)

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From: Carole Rydberg <carydberg [at]>
Subject: NWN4P New Hope 10.25 4:30pm

NWN4P-New Hope demonstration every Thursday 4:30 to 6 PM at the corner of
Winnetka and 42nd.  You may park near Walgreens or in the larger lot near
McDonalds; we will be on all four corners.  Bring your own or use our

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From: Greg and Sue Skog <skograce [at]>
Subject: Eagan peace vigil 10.25 4:30pm

CANDLELIGHT PEACE VIGIL EVERY THURSDAY from 4:30-5:30pm on the Northwest
corner of Pilot Knob Road and Yankee Doodle Road in Eagan. We have signs
and candles. Say "NO to war!" The weekly vigil is sponsored by: Friends
south of the river speaking out against war.

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From: EKalamboki [at]
Subject: Northtown vigil 10.25 5pm

NORTHTOWN Peace Vigil every Thursday 5-6pm, at the intersection of Co. Hwy
10 and University Ave NE (SE corner across from Denny's), in Blaine.

Communities situated near the Northtown Mall include: Blaine, Mounds View,
New Brighton, Roseville, Shoreview, Arden Hills, Spring Lake Park,
Fridley, and Coon Rapids.  We'll have extra signs.

For more information people can contact Evangelos Kalambokidis by phone or
email: (763)574-9615, ekalamboki [at]

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From: Charlie Swope <mcswope [at]>
Subject: Tour StP CityHall 10.25 6:30pm

The Ramsey County Historical Society will host a tour of St. Paul City
Hall and Ramsey County Courthouse from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday. The focus
of the tour is the extraordinary woodwork installed at the courthouse in
1930 by the Villaume Box and Lumber Co. (now known as Villaume
Industries), a St. Paul company celebrating its 125th anniversary this
year. The event is free. Call 651-222-0701 to RSVP.

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From: "wamm [at]" <wamm [at]>
Subject: Moon color walk 10.25 7pm

Coldwater Full Moon Tour: Fall Color Walk

Thursday, October 25, 7:00 p.m. (Gather); 7:15 p.m. (Walk) Minnehaha Park,
54th Street South, Minneapolis (South End of the Pay Parking Lot). In the
early evening dusk one should be able to see the last of the fall color on
the Mississippi bluff. As daylight shortens and autumn rains end, plants
stop manufacturing food. Nutrients and water are drawn back into stems and
leaves lose their green (chlorophyll) color showing yellow, orange or, in
oaks, brown (tannic acid). Plus the traditional group howl! FFI: Visit

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From: Anne R. Carroll <carrfran [at]>
Subject: StP SchBd forum 10.25 7pm

School Board Candidates, Thursday, October 25, 7:00-9:00 p.m., Ronald M.
Hubbs Center for Lifelong Learning at 1030 University Avenue West, Saint
Paul (one block east of Lexington Pkwy). Please remember that the School
Board is citywide, so all St. Paul residents are constituents!

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From: John Kysylyczyn <john [at]>
Subject: Rsvl SchBd forum 10.25 7pm

The League of Women Voters will host a forum:
October 25, 7pm, Roseville School Board at Roseville City Hall

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From: Mizna  <mizna-announce [at]>
Subject: Walid Raad 10.25 7pm

Thursday, October 25, 2007
Walid Raad
Walker Arts Center. 1750 Hennepin
Minneapolis MN 55403. 7 pm. Free.

Join artist Walid Raad for a performative lecture on his writing and
visual art, which grapples with the representation of traumatic events of
collective historical dimensions and the ways that film, video, and
photography function as documents of physical and psychological violence.

His recent work includes The Atlas Group (1989-2004), a project composed
of audio, visual, and literary elements dealing with the contemporary
history of Lebanon, particularly the Lebanese wars from 1975 to 1991. Raad
teaches at Cooper Union in New York, and his pieces have been shown at
documenta 11 in Kassel, Germany, the Venice Biennale, and the Whitney
Biennial, among many others. Co-presented with Walker Arts Center.

Mizna is a forum for Arab American art.  Visit our website at

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From: Charles Underwood <charleyunderwood [at] HOTMAIL.COM>
Subject: Facing the truth 10.25 7pm

Thursday, 10/25, 7 pm, documentary "Confronting the Truth" about the truth
and reconciliation process after conflicts in Peru, South Africa, East
Timor and Morocco, Humphrey Institute, Cowles Auditorium, 301 - 19th Ave
S, Mpls. ccfilmseries [at] or

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From: Charles Underwood <charleyunderwood [at] HOTMAIL.COM>
Subject: Peacemaking 10.25 7pm

Thursday, 10/25, religion writer and speaker, as well as education
coordinator for Every Church a Peeace Church, Michael Hardin gives a
presentation on "Mimetic Theory and Peacemaking," at 7pm at St Martins
Table (2001 Riverside Ave, Mpls).  Bill Berneking, 952-473-7839.

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From: Charles Underwood <charleyunderwood [at] HOTMAIL.COM>
Subject: Son in Iraq 10.25 7:30pm

Thursday, 10/25, 7:30 pm author Ann Iverson reads from "Definite Space,"
exploring the tension around her son's deployment to Iraq, Magers & Quinn
Book, 3038 Hennepin, Mpls.

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From: Erin Parrish <erin [at]>
Subject: Intl health 10.26 10am

More on October 26: MNSAFPlan Annual Meeting. 10AM at the Minnesota
International Health Volunteer offices in Assembly Rooms 1 and 2. Agendas
will be available at the meeting.

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From: Theresa Sweetland <theresa [at]>
Subject: Indigenous art 10.26 7pm

Intermedia Arts & We Discovered Us presents
Dimensions of Indigenous
October 11-January 5, 2007
Art from and about indigenous people of the Americas.
Gallery Opening Reception Friday, October 26th from 7-10 PM

Come celebrate the preservation of culture through art! Intermedia Arts
has partnered with the founder of the We Discovered Us Celebration to
provide a space for local and national artists who identify with the
indigenous cultures of the Americas through their art and daily life. This
multi-media exhibition showcases seven indigenous artists from around the
Twin Cities who use their visual voice to empower, raise consciousness and
organize around indigenous peoples' issues. Dimensions of Indigenous will
feature painting, photography, jewelry, textiles and mixed media

Friday, October 26th, 2007 from 7-10 PM. Enjoy food, beverages and a
live performance from a traditional Aztec dance group, Danza Mexica

Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis
Intermedia Arts is a catalyst that builds understanding among people
through art.

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From: Jonathan Barrentine <jonathan [at]>
Subject: Pod people 10.26 7pm

Podcasting: Telling the World
Rondo Library (University and Dale)
Monday, October 26
7:00 - 8:30 pm

As part of our ongoing E-Tools For All series at the Rondo Library, St.
Paul E-Democracy will be offering a workshop on Podcasting Monday, October
29, 7:00 - 8:30 pm. Participants will learn the basics of podcasting and
get hands-on experience recording and publishing audio online.

As always, the workshop is free, all are welcome to attend, and no
registration is required.
Please go to for a
complete schedule.

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From: Monique Askew <monique [at]>
Subject: Hydroponic grower 10.26 7pm

What is Hydroponics?
Meet Michelle Keller, owner of Labore Farms Faribult, MN and grower of our
great lettuce -- all year! Find out how lettuce grown in water can sustain
cold winters and make a spash in small markets. Using her BS in Biology,
Michelle began construction of LaBore Farms in spring 2003. Hear more
about the chemical pesticide free products she grows. Michelle is a Member
of Minnesota Grown.

Friday, October 26 7pm
Common Roots Cafe
2558 Lyndale Ave S
Local  Organic  Fair Trade
2558 Lyndale Ave S  612-871-2360<>

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From: Steve Clemens <steveclemens [at]>
Subject: Meditation 10.27 9am

for your online newsletters:The monthly gathering for prayer and
meditation hosted by Pax Christi will once again be held on the fourth
Saturday of the month (October 27) at the Parish Center of St. Joan of Arc
Church in south Minneapolis from 9-10:30 AM. Please join us. Florence
Steichen CSJ will be our leader this time. Steve Clemens 2912 East 24th
Street Minneapolis, MN 55406-1322 (612) 724-3255 steveclemens [at]

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From: Leslie Reindl <alteravista [at]>
Subject: Up yours, king 10.27 10am

Satuday, Oct. 27, 10 am to l pm:  Walking Away from the King - second
meeting.  Van Cleve Community Center in southeast Minneapolis, close to
the East Bank of the U, 901 15th Ave. SE.  The Center is almost at the
corner of Como Ave., in a park.  Coffee and donuts will be served.

On the agenda is a general, moderated discussion of (1) What does "living
in the king's house" really mean for people?  What aspects of our lives
are in that house?  (2)  What would "living outside the king's house"
really mean?  What would be different? (3)  What are the steps that must
be taken to begin walking away?

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From: Welfare Rights Committee - Alt Email <welfarerights [at]>
Subject: Welfare rights

Join us to Celebrate the Welfare Rights Committee's 2007 VICTORIES!
Saturday, October 27, 2007
11am to 1 pm
At our new home at: Walker Community Church
3104 16th Ave So Minneapolis

Join us for Great Discussions and a Meal!  Childcare and rides provided!
Call WRC and Reserve your spot now:  612-822-8020
Want Grass Roots - Volunteer experience, tell us! WRC provides rides and
childcare (and more) and YOU can help. If you are driving to the celebration
and can pick someone up along the way, let us know.

Welfare Rights Committee (WRC) wins millions of dollars for low-income
families in Minnesota!

In 2007, the politicians at the MN state capitol were in business from
January until late May. From the beginning the Welfare Rights Committee
was there, fighting for poor families' rights. After months of protests,
hearings and dedicated hard work, poor people won big victories! WRC WON
over $15 million dollars that will directly go back into the pockets of
many families receiving welfare! WRC stopped politicians from stealing
over $20 million from welfare for low income families!

Our Wins:

$125 SSI Cut:  We won on getting rid of the $125 monthly cut to the MFIP
grant that we get when we have a family member on SSI. We'll see the $

Child care co-pays:  We won on reducing the child care co-pays to what
they were back in 2003.

MA co-pays:  We won on getting rid co-pays for doctor appointments and
therapies, starting soon.

20-hour rule for education:  We won on undoing the law that forces us to
work 20 hours a week if we want to do post-secondary education as a work

Stopped politicians stealing welfare money: We stopped the governor and
other politicians from stealing millions of dollars of welfare money! We
will use this $ next year to undo more cuts.

Future Fights:

These ALMOST became law, but we were sold out at the end:

Undo the $50 housing cut: This was killed after the Pawlenty veto.

Undo the family cap: The WRC had a bill to get rid of the family cap -
which punishes babies for being born, by not increasing the families'
welfare grant. This was killed after the Pawlenty veto.

Undo health care cuts to immigrant kids: Thousands of children lost health
care in 2003. Restoring health to these kids was removed in conference
committee to give in to Pawlenty's demands.

More extensions to the five year limit: Our bill to give more extension
was removed in conference committee by legislators to give in to Pawlenty.

Raise the grants:  The first grant increase in 21 years passed both the
House and Senate Committees, but politicians did not fund it in the HHS
omnibus bill.

Outlaw workfare:  Workfare forces us to work for no pay to get the welfare
grant. If there is a job to be done, make it into a real job with a real
wage. Workfare is slave labor.  We made it harder for them to force us
into workfare, now we have to kill it for good.

--------18 of 21--------

From: Lydia Howell <lhowell [at]>
Subject: End the war 10.27 12noon

END the WAR NOW! [or at least by 4007]
Saturday, October 27
Noon to 1:00 p.m.
Hiawatha and Lake Street, Minneapolis

Be part of a national mobilization to end the war on Iraq and to bring
the troops home now.

A MFSO-MN member will be speaking.
yes it will be chilly, but we're Minnesotans - we can take it ;)
See you (and everyone you know) there!

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From: "Susan Hensel Design,LLC" <Susan_Hensel_Design_LLC [at]>
Subject: Celebrate stuff 10.27 5pm

Don't Forget the Party!
Saturday,October 27, 5-9pm

This is the closing event of A CATALOG OF LOVELY THINGS, brought to
you by Alicia Bailey and Melinda Laz.

Bring a dish to pass and celebrate a variety of things:
The third anniversary of the gallery
A great show based largely on the idea of cataloging
The fall Harvest
Kids back in school
Anything else you wish to celebrate
 [eg Bush falls in well; meteor strikes Cheney]
Play the "Bird by Bird" game and win a prize (Everyone is a winner)
Stay for the main event at 8pm

CATALOGING, an interactive event
Participate in the "survival of the fittest" event.  The winner takes
home a prize!

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[Any party that promotes or "works with" (ie collaborates with) capitalism
(as disgnosed below) is not a "lesser evil", but an essential part of
the web of evil itself. -ed]

Neuroscience and Moral Politics: Chomsky's Intellectual Progeny
/Are humans "wired for empathy"? How does this affect what Chomsky calls
the "manufacturing of consent"?/
by Gary Olson
October 24th, 2007

Throughout the world, teachers, sociologists, policymakers and parents are
discovering that empathy may be the single most important quality that
must be nurtured to give peace a fighting chance.
-Arundhati Roy

The official directives needn't be explicit to be well understood: Do not
let too much empathy move in unauthorized directions.
-Norman Solomon

The nonprofit Edge Foundation recently asked some of the world's most
eminent scientists, "What are you optimistic about? Why?" In response, the
prominent neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni cites the proliferating
experimental work into the neural mechanisms that reveal how humans are
"wired for empathy".

Iacoboni's optimism is grounded in his belief that, with the
popularization of scientific insights, these recent findings in
neuroscience will seep into public awareness and .. this explicit level of
understanding our empathic nature will at some point dissolve the massive
belief systems that dominate our societies and that threaten to destroy
"us. (Iacoboni, 2007, p. 14)

While there are reasons to remain skeptical (see below) about the
progressive political implications flowing from this work, a body of
impressive empirical evidence reveals that the roots of prosocial
behavior, including moral sentiments such as empathy, precede the
evolution of culture. This work sustains Noam Chomsky's visionary writing
about a human moral instinct, and his assertion that, while the principles
of our moral nature have been poorly understood, "we can hardly doubt
their existence or their central role in our intellectual and moral
lives". (Chomsky, 1971, n.p., 1988; 2005, p. 263)

In his influential book Mutual Aid (1972, p. 57; 1902), the Russian
revolutionary anarchist, geographer, and naturalist Petr Kropotkin,
maintained that " under any circumstances sociability is the greatest
advantage in the struggle for life. Those species which willingly abandon
it are doomed to decay". Species cooperation provided an evolutionary
advantage, a "natural" strategy for survival.

While Kropotkin readily acknowledged the role of competition, he asserted
that mutual aid was a "moral instinct" and "natural law". Based on his
extensive studies of the animal world, he believed that this
predisposition toward helping one another - human sociality - as of
"prehuman origin". Killen and Cords, in a fittingly titled piece "Prince
Kropotkin's Ghost," suggest that recent research in developmental
psychology and primatology seems to vindicate Kropotkin's century-old
assertions (2002).

The emerging field of the neuroscience of empathy parallels investigations
being undertaken in cognate fields. Some forty years ago the celebrated
primatologist Jane Goodall observed and wrote about chimpanzee emotions,
social relationships, and "chimp culture," but experts remained skeptical.
A decade ago, the famed primate scientist Frans B.M. de Waal (1996) wrote
about the antecedents to morality in Good Natured: The Origins of Right
and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals, but scientific consensus remained

All that's changed. As a recent editorial in the journal Nature (2007) put
it, it's now "unassailable fact" that human minds, including aspects of
moral thought, are the product of evolution from earlier primates.
According to de Waal, "You don't hear any debate now". In his more recent
work, de Waal plausibly argues that human morality - including our
capacity to empathize - is a natural outgrowth or inheritance of behavior
from our closest evolutionary relatives.

Following Darwin, highly sophisticated studies by biologists Robert Boyd
and Peter Richerson posit that large-scale cooperation within the human
species - including with genetically unrelated individuals within a group
- was favored by selection. (Hauser, 2006, p. 416) Evolution selected for
the trait of empathy because there were survival benefits in coming to
grips with others. In his book, People of the Lake (1978) the
world-renowned paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey unequivocally declares,
"We are human because our ancestors learned to share their food and their
skills in an honored network of obligation".

Studies have shown that empathy is present in very young children, even at
eighteen months of age and possibly younger. In the primate world,
Warneken and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute at Leipzig, Germany,
recently found that chimps extend help to unrelated chimps and unfamiliar
humans, even when inconvenienced and regardless of any expectation of
reward. This suggests that empathy may lie behind this natural tendency to
help and that it was a factor in the social life of the common ancestor to
chimpanzees and humans at the split some six million years ago (New
Scientist, 2007; Warneken and Tomasello, 2006). It's now indisputable that
we share moral faculties with other species (de Waal, 2006; Trivers, 1971;
Katz, 2000; Gintis, 2005; Hauser, 2006; Bekoff, 2007; Pierce, 2007).
Pierce notes that there are "countless anecdotal accounts of elephants
showing empathy toward sick and dying animals, both kin and non-kin"
(2007, p. 6). And recent research in Kenya has conclusively documented
elephant's open grieving/empathy for other dead elephants.

Mogil and his team at McGill University recently demonstrated that mice
feel distress when they observe other mice experiencing pain. They
tentatively concluded that the mice engaged visual cues to bring about
this empathic response (Mogil, 2006; Ganguli, 2006). De Waal's response to
this study: "This is a highly significant finding and should open the eyes
of people who think empathy is limited to our species". (Carey, 2006)

Further, Grufman and other scientists at the National Institutes of Health
have offered persuasive evidence that altruistic acts activate a primitive
part of the brain, producing a pleasurable response (2007). And recent
research by Koenigs and colleagues (2007) indicates that within the
brain's prefrontal cortex, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex or VMPC is
required for emotions and moral judgment. Damage to the VMPC has been
linked to psychopathic behavior. This led to the belief that as a rule,
psychopaths do not experience empathy or remorse.

A study by Miller (2001) and colleagues of the brain disorder
frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is also instructive. FTD attacks the frontal
lobes and anterior temporal lobes, the site of one's sense of self. One
early symptom of FTD is the loss of empathy.

We know from neuroscientific empathy experiments that the same affective
brain circuits are automatically mobilized upon feeling one's own pain and
the pain of others. Through brain imaging, we also know that separate
neural processing regions then free up the capacity to take action. As
Decety notes, empathy then allows us to "forge connections with people
whose lives seem utterly alien from us" (Decety, 2006, p. 2). Where
comparable experience is lacking, this "cognitive empathy" builds on the
neural basis and allows one to "actively project oneself into the shoes of
another person" by trying to imagine the other person's situation
(Preston, in press), Preston and de Waal (2002). Empathy is "other
directed," the recognition of the other's humanity.


So where does this leave us? If morality is rooted in biology, in the raw
material or building blocks for the evolution of its expression, we now
have a pending fortuitous marriage of hard science and secular morality in
the most profound sense. The technical details of the social
neuroscientific analysis supporting these assertions lie outside this
paper, but suffice it to say that progress is proceeding at an exponential
pace and the new discoveries are persuasive (Decety and Lamm, 2006; Lamm,
2007; Jackson, 2004 and 2006).

That said, one of the most vexing problems that remains to be explained is
why so little progress has been made in extending this empathic
orientation to distant lives, to those outside certain in-group moral
circles. Given a world rife with overt and structural violence, one is
forced to explain why our deep-seated moral intuition doesn't produce a
more ameliorating effect, a more peaceful world. Iacoboni suggests this
disjuncture is explained by massive belief systems, including political
and religious ones, operating on the reflective and deliberate level.
These tend to override the automatic, pre-reflective, neurobiological
traits that should bring people together.

Here a few cautionary notes are warranted. The first is that social
context and triggering conditions are critical because, where there is
conscious and massive elite manipulation, it becomes exceedingly difficult
to get in touch with our moral faculties. Ervin Staub, a pioneering
investigator in the field, acknowledges that even if empathy is rooted in
nature, people will not act on it .. unless they have certain kinds of
life experiences that shape their orientation toward other human beings
and toward themselves (Staub, 2002, p. 222). As Jensen puts it, "The way
we are educated and entertained keep us from knowing about or
understanding the pain of others" (2002). Circumstances may preclude and
overwhelm our perceptions, rendering us incapable of recognizing and
giving expression to moral sentiments (Albert, n.d.; and also, Pinker,
2002). For example, the fear-mongering of artificially created scarcity
may attenuate the empathic response. The limitation placed on exposure is
another. As reported recently in the New York Times, the Pentagon imposes
tight embedding restrictions on journalist's ability to run photographs
and other images of casualties in Iraq. Photographs of coffins returning
to Dover Air Base in Delaware are simply forbidden. Memorial services for
the fallen are also now prohibited even if the unit gives its approval.

The second cautionary note is Hauser's (2006) observation that proximity
was undoubtedly a factor in the expression of empathy. In our evolutionary
past an attachment to the larger human family was virtually
incomprehensible and, therefore, the emotional connection was lacking.
Joshua Greene, a philosopher and neuroscientist, adds that "We evolved in
a world where people in trouble right in front of you existed, so our
emotions were tuned to them, whereas we didn't face the other kind of
situation". He suggests that to extend this immediate emotion-linked
morality - one based on fundamental brain circuits - to unseen victims
requires paying less attention to intuition and more to the cognitive
dimension. If this boundary isn't contrived, it would seem, at a minimum,
circumstantial and thus worthy of reassessing morality (Greene, 2007,
n.p.). Given some of the positive dimensions of globalization, the
potential for identifying with the "stranger" has never been more robust.

Finally, as Preston (2006-2007; and also, in press) suggests, risk and
stress tend to suppress empathy whereas familiarity and similarity
encourage the experience of natural, reflexive empathy. This formidable
but not insurmountable challenge warrants further research into how this
"out-group" identity is created and reinforced.

It may be helpful, as Halpern (1993, p. 169) suggests, to think of empathy
as a sort of spark of natural curiosity, prompting a need for further
understanding and deeper questioning. However, our understanding of how or
whether political engagement follows remains in its infancy and demands
further investigation.


Almost a century ago, Stein (1917) wrote about empathy as "the experience
of foreign consciousness in general". Salles' film The Motorcycle Diaries
addresses empathy, albeit indirectly. The film follows Ernesto Guevara de
la Serna and his friend Alberto Granada on an eight-month trek across
Argentina, Peru, Columbia, Chile and Venezuela.

When leaving his leafy, upper middle-class suburb (his father is an
architect) in Buenos Aires in 1952, Guevara is 23 and a semester away from
earning his medical degree. The young men embark on an adventure, a last
fling before settling down to careers and lives of privilege. They are
preoccupied with women, fun and adventure and certainly not seeking or
expecting a life-transforming odyssey.

The film's power is in its depiction of Guevara's emerging political
awareness that occurs as a consequence of unfiltered cumulative
experiences. During their 8,000-mile journey, they encounter massive
poverty, exploitation, and brutal working conditions, all consequences of
an unjust international economic order. By the end, Guevara has turned
away from being a doctor because medicine is limited to treating the
symptoms of poverty. For him, revolution becomes the expression of
empathy, the only effective way to address suffering's root causes. This
requires melding the cognitive component of empathy with engagement, with
resistance against asymmetrical power, always an inherently political act.
Otherwise, empathy has no meaning. (This roughly parallels the political
practice of brahma-viharas by engaged Buddhists.) In his own oft-quoted
words (not included in the film), Guevara stated that, "The true
revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love".

Paul Farmer, the contemporary medical anthropologist, infectious-disease
specialist and international public health activist, has adopted different
tactics, but his diagnosis of the "pathologies of power" is remarkably
similar to Guevara. He also writes approvingly of Cuba's health programs,
comparing them with his long work experience in Haiti. Both individuals
were motivated early on by the belief that artificial epidemics have their
origin in unjust socioeconomic structures, hence the need for social
medicine, a "politics as medicine on a grand scale". Both exemplify
exceptional social outliers of engaged empathy and the interplay of
affective, cognitive and moral components. For Farmer's radical critique
of structural violence and the connections between disease and social
inequality, see (Farmer, 2003; Kidder, 2003). Again, it remains to be
explained why there is such a paucity of real world examples of empathic
behavior? Why is U.S. culture characterized by a massive empathy deficit
of almost pathological proportions? And what might be reasonably expected
from a wider public understanding of the nature of empathy?

Hauser posits a "universal moral grammar," hard-wired into our neural
circuits via evolution. This neural machinery precedes conscious decisions
in life-and-death situations, however, we observe "nurture entering the
picture to set the parameters and guide us toward the acquisition of
particular moral systems". At other points, he suggests that environmental
factors can push individuals toward defective moral reasoning, and the
various outcomes for a given local culture are seemingly limitless.
(Hauser, 2006) For me, this discussion of cultural variation fails to give
sufficient attention to the socioeconomic variables responsible for
shaping the culture.

"It all has to do with the quality of justice and the availability of
opportunity". (2006, p. 151). Earlier, Goldschmidt (1999, n.p.) argued
that, "Culturally derived motives may replace, supplement or override
genetically programmed behavior".

Cultures are rarely neutral, innocent phenomena but are consciously set up
to reward some people and penalize others. As Parenti (2006) forcefully
asserts, certain aspects of culture can function as instruments of social
power and social domination through ideological indoctrination. Culture is
part and parcel of political struggle, and studying culture can reveal how
power is exercised and on whose behalf.

Cohen and Rogers, in parsing Chomsky's critique of elites, note that "Once
an unjust order exists, those benefiting from it have both an interest in
maintaining it and, by virtue of their social advantages, the power to do
so". (Cohen, 1991, p. 17) (For a concise but not uncritical treatment of
Chomsky's social and ethical views, see Cohen, 1991.) Clearly, the vaunted
human capacity for verbal communication cuts both ways. In the wrong
hands, this capacity is often abused by consciously quelling the empathic
response. When de Waal writes, "Animals are no moral philosophers," I'm
left to wonder if he isn't favoring the former in this comparison. (de
Waal, 1996b, n.p.)

One of the methods employed within capitalist democracies is Chomsky's and
Herman"s "manufacture of consent," a form of highly sophisticated thought
control. Potentially active citizens must be "distracted from their real
interests and deliberately confused about the way the world works".
(Cohen, 1991, p. 7; Chomsky, 1988)

For this essay, and following Chomsky, I'm arguing that the human mind is
the primary target of this perverse "nurture" or propaganda, in part
because exposure to certain new truths about empathy - hard evidence about
our innate moral nature - poses a direct threat to elite interests.
There's no ghost in the machine, but the capitalist machine attempts to
keep people in line with an ideological ghost, the notion of a self
constructed on market values. But ". . . if no one saw himself or herself
as capitalism needs them to do, their own self-respect would bar the
system from exploiting and manipulating them". (Kelleher, 2007) That is,
given the apparent universality of this biological predisposition toward
empathy, we have a potent scientific baseline upon which to launch further
critiques of elite manipulation, this cultivation of callousness.

First, the evolutionary and biological origins of empathy contribute hard
empirical evidence - not wishful thinking or even logical inference - on
behalf of a case for organizing vastly better societies.

In that vein, this new research is entirely consistent with work on the
nature of authentic love and the concrete expression of that love in the
form of care, effort, responsibility, courage and respect. As Eagleton
reminds us, if others are also engaging in this behavior, ". . . the
result is a form of reciprocal service which provides the context for each
self to flourish. The traditional name for this reciprocity is love".
Because reciprocity mandates equality and an end to exploitation and
oppression, it follows that "a just, compassionate treatment of other
people is on the grand scale of things one of the conditions for one's own
thriving". And as social animals, when we act in this way we are realizing
our natures "at their finest". (2007, pp. 170, 159-160, and 173) Again,
the political question remains that of realizing a form of global
environment that enhances the opportunity for our nature to flourish.

I've noted elsewhere, Fromm's classic book The Art of Loving is a
blistering indictment of the social and economic forces that deny us
life's most rewarding experience and "the only satisfying answer to the
problem of human existence". For Fromm, grasping how society shapes our
human instincts, hence our behavior, is in turn the key to understanding
why "love thy neighbor," the love of the stranger, is so elusive in modern

The global capitalist culture with its premium on accumulation and profits
not only devalues an empathic disposition but produces a stunted character
in which everything is transformed into a commodity, not only things, but
individuals themselves. The very capacity to practice empathy (love) is
subordinated to our state religion of the market in which each person
seeks advantage in an alienating and endless commodity-greedy competition.

Over five decades ago, Fromm persuasively argued that "The principles of
capitalist society and the principles of love are incompatible". (Fromm,
1956, p. 110). Any honest person knows that the dominant features of
capitalist society tend to produce individuals who are estranged from
themselves, crippled personalities robbed of their humanity and in a
constant struggle to express empathic love. Little wonder that Fromm
believed radical changes in our social structure and economic institutions
were needed if empathy/love is to be anything more than a rare individual
achievement and a socially marginal phenomenon. He understood that only
when the economic system serves women and men, rather than the opposite,
will this be possible (Olson, 2006).


The dominant cultural narrative of hyper-individualism is challenged and
the insidiously effective scapegoating of human nature that claims we are
motivated by greedy, dog-eat-dog "individual self-interest is all" is
undermined. From original sin to today's "selfish gene," certain
interpretations of human nature have invariably functioned to retard class
consciousness. These new research findings help to refute the allegation
that people are naturally uncooperative, an argument frequently employed
to intimidate and convince people that it's futile to seek a better
society for everyone. Stripped of yet another rationalization for empire,
predatory behavior on behalf of the capitalist mode of production becomes
ever more transparent. And learning about the conscious suppression of
this essential core of our nature should beg additional troubling
questions about the motives behind other elite-generated ideologies, from
neo-liberalism to the "war on terror".

Second, there are implications for students. Cultivating empathic
engagement through education remains a poorly understood enterprise.
College students, for example, may hear the "cry of the people" but the
moral sound waves are muted as they pass through a series of powerful
cultural baffles. Williams (1986, p. 143) notes that "While they may be
models of compassion and generosity to those in their immediate circles,
many of our students today have a blind spot for their responsibilities in
the socio-political order. In the traditional vocabulary they are strong
on charity but weak on justice".

Nussbaum (1997) defends American liberal education's record at cultivating
an empathic imagination. She claims that understanding the lives of
strangers and achieving cosmopolitan global citizenship can be realized
through the arts and literary humanities. There is little solid evidence
to substantiate this optimism. My own take on empathy-enhancing practices
within U.S. colleges and universities is considerably less sanguine.
Nussbaum's episodic examples of stepping into the mental shoes of other
people are rarely accompanied by plausible answers as why these people may
be lacking shoes - or decent jobs, minimum healthcare, and long-life
expectancy. The space within educational settings has been egregiously
underutilized, in part, because we don't know enough about propitious
interstices where critical pedagogy could make a difference. Arguably the
most serious barrier is the cynical, even despairing doubt about the
existence of a moral instinct for empathy. The new research puts this
doubt to rest and rightly shifts the emphasis to strategies for
cultivating empathy and identifying with "the other". Joining the
affective and cognitive dimensions of empathy may require risky forms of
radical pedagogy (Olson, 2006, 2007; Gallo, 1989). Evidence produced from
a game situation with medical students strongly hints that empathic
responses can be significantly enhanced by increased knowledge about the
specific needs of others - in this case, the elderly (Varkey, 2006).
Presumably, limited prior experiences would affect one's emotional
response. Again, this is a political culture/information acquisition issue
that demands further study.

Third, for many people the basic incompatibility between global capitalism
and the lived expression of moral sentiments may become obvious for the
first time. (Olson, 2006, 2005) For example, the failure to engage this
moral sentiment has radical implications, not the least being consequences
for the planet. Within the next 100 years, one-half of all species now
living will be extinct. Great apes, polar bears, tigers and elephants are
all on the road to extinction due to rapacious growth, habitat
destruction, and poaching. These human activities, not random extinction,
will be the undoing of millions of years of evolution (Purvis, 2000). As
Leakey puts it, "Whatever way you look at it, we're destroying the Earth
at a rate comparable with the impact of a giant asteroid slamming into the
planet". And researchers at McGill University have shown that economic
inequality is linked to high rates of biodiversity loss. The authors
suggest that economic reforms may be the prerequisite to saving the
richness of the ecosystem and urge that " if we can learn to share the
economic resources more fairly with fellow members of our own species, it
may help to share ecological resources with our fellow species".
(Mikkelson, 2007, p. 5)

While one hesitates imputing too much transformative potential to this
emotional capacity, there is nothing inconsistent about drawing more
attention to inter-species empathy and eco-empathy. The latter may be
essential for the protection of biotic communities. Decety and Lamm (2006,
p. 4) remind us that "one of the most striking aspects of human empathy
is that it can be felt for virtually any target, even targets of a
different species".

This was foreshadowed at least fifty years ago when Paul Mattick, writing
about Kropotkin's notion of mutual aid, noted that "For a long time,
however, survival in the animal world has not depended upon the practice
of either mutual aid or competition but has been determined by the
decisions of men as to which species should live and thrive and which
should be exterminated. . [W]herever man rules, the 'laws of nature' with
regard to animal life cease to exist". This applies no less to humans and
Mattick rightly observed that the demands of capital accumulation and
capitalist social relations override and preclude mutual aid. As such,
neuroscience findings are welcome and necessary but insufficient in
themselves. For empathy to flourish requires the elimination of class
relations (Mattick, 1956, pp. 2-3).

Fourth, equally alarming for elites, awareness of this reality contains
the potential to encourage "destabilizing" but humanity-affirming
cosmopolitan attitudes toward the faceless "other," both here and abroad.
In de Waal's apt words, "Empathy can override every rule about how to
treat others" (de Waal, 2005, p. 9). Amin (2003), for example, proposes
that the new Europe be reframed by an ethos of empathy and engagement with
the stranger as its core value. The diminution of empathy within the
culture reduces pro-social behavior and social cohesiveness. Given the
dangerous centrifugal forces of ethno-nationalism and xenophobia, nothing
less than this unifying motif will suffice, while providing space for a
yet undefined Europe, a people to come.

Finally, as de Waal observes, "If we could manage to see people on other
continents as part of us, drawing them into our circle of reciprocity and
empathy, we would be building upon rather than going against our nature".
(de Waal, 2005, p. 9) An ethos of empathy is an essential part of what it
means to be human and empathically impaired societies, societies that fail
to gratify this need should be found wanting. We've been systematically
denied a deeper and more fulfilling engagement with this moral sentiment.
I would argue that the tremendous amount of deception and fraud expended
on behalf of overriding empathy is a cause for hope and cautious optimism.
Paradoxically, the relative absence of widespread empathic behavior is in
fact a searing tribute to its potentially subversive power.

Is it too much to hope that we're on the verge of discovering a
scientifically based, Archimedean moral point from which to lever public
discourse toward an appreciation of our true nature, which in turn might
release powerful emancipatory forces?


A highly abbreviated version of this paper appeared at Zmag (5/20/07).
Helpful comments were offered by N. Chomsky, D. Dunn, M. Iacoboni, K.
Kelly, S. Preston and J. Wingard. Thanks, per usual, to M. Ortiz.


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Gary Olson is Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science,
Moravian College, Bethlehem, PA. He can be reached at: olson [at]
Read other articles by Gary.

This article was posted on Wednesday, October 24th, 2007 at 5:02 am and is
filed under Science-Tech and Philosophy.

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