a last opportunity
EMPATHY AND INTELLIGENCE
LOUIS RENÉ BERES
René Beres is Emeritus Professor of Political Science
and International Law (Purdue University). He is author of many
books and articles dealing with international politics. His
columns have appeared in the New York Times, Washington
Post, The Jerusalem Post and OUPblog
(Oxford University Press). This article was originally published
in The Hill.
While stunningly counterintuitive, the critical gap between
technical intelligence and human empathy is more insidious than
ever before. In response, one fundamental question should spring
immediately to mind: What has created such a strange and wholly
injurious state of affairs – where, precisely, have we
gone wrong, not merely as citizens of one country or another,
but much more broadly, as key elements of a far wider and integrated
is not a narrowly academic question posed solely for the philosophers.
Rather, it represents the single most pressing practical question.
Until we venture a reply, any proposed solutions to war, terror
and genocide will remain intolerably partial, intellectually
limited, and resoundingly temporary.
we should care to admit it or not, Americans are immutably part
of a much larger human family. Significantly, this imperiled
global community continues to accept, without any evident humiliation
or embarrassment, the painfully fragile veneer of presumed social
coexistence. Inter alia, we must learn to admit that behind
this veneer lurks a dreadful and inconsolable barbarism.
reading the latest world headlines, we should readily acknowledge
that our entire world could once again become "bloodless,"
a skeleton, morphed from what had been the deceptively lacquered
corpse of further civilizational ruins-in-the-making.
must candidly inquire: How has an entire species, one so deeply
scarred from its start, managed to scandalize even its own blistering
creation? Is it “simply" that we are all potential
murderers of those who might live beside us? Looking at history,
and also at current world affairs, we will acknowledge that
this is not a naive or foolish question.
or unwittingly, and in all-too-many different cultures and geographies,
the human corpse remains a more-or-less sacred object of veneration,
sometimes even one of ritualistic worship. Perversely, especially
with spreading weapons of mass destruction, whole nations of
corpses could soon become the "fashion." After all,
following even a small nuclear war, cemeteries the size of entire
cities would be needed to bury the dead.
Before anything decent could be born from such a post-apocalypse
world, a hideously snarling gravedigger would first have to
wield the obstetrical forceps.
again, the silence of "good people" is vital to all
that would madden and torment. These good people, these eternal
"bystanders," moreover, both here and in other countries,
remain determinedly "uninvolved."
there will always be impassioned reactions to the latest human
exterminations in Africa or Asia or Europe or the Middle East,
but here, in Donald Trump's America and amidst our own seemingly
advanced "America First" ethos, audible sighs of suffering
elsewhere have yet to become seriously bothersome.
certain, they never quite rise to the level where they might
annoyingly interfere with golf.
our predilections for self-delusion, really big questions must
rise to the fore. How much treasure, how much science, how much
labor and planning, how many centuries have we humans already
ransacked to allow a plausibly unstoppable carnival of chemical,
biological or nuclear harms?
always, by the irrepressible specter of one's own personal death,
and also by the often desperate need to belong - to be a recognizable
member in good standing of a particular state, a faith, a race,
or a tribe - how long can we continue to seek personal succor
or national security within the perpetually lethal illusions
of "me first" or "everyone for himself?"
know the precise answer (nor does anyone else), but I do know
that it is surely not a comfortingly long time. I also know,
correspondingly, that we cannot remain forever unmindful that
these seminal queries represent the most vitally important questions
before us today.
follows that finding correct answers will be indispensable to
solving all of our overlapping survival, security and economic
literally, all of these challenges.
is not merely for adornment. Always, it must have its proper
and respected place, a stable position of usable erudition.
In this connection, French philosophers of the eighteenth-century
Age of Reason wrote of a siècle des lumieres, a century
of light, but the early twenty-first century is still mired
in a conspicuously bruising and restrictive darkness.
principle, at least, this forbidding pall can be loosened or
changed, but only if we first learn the core differences in
human affairs between cause and effect. We must learn to base
our national and international remedies on conquering the real
disease, the truly causal pathology, not just the evident symptoms.
even the most opaque depths of history, we should be able to
make out multiple phantoms of still-earlier ships of state,
and thus learn much more about the then-foreseeable disasters
that sank them.
Americans in particular and for our misguided species in general,
the barbarians are not primarily outside the gates. We must,
therefore, learn to look much more closely within.
increasingly corrosive human inclination to reject necessary
empathy in favor of narrowly technical kinds of intelligence
and "progress" – an inclination now most patently
apparent in these bewildered United States – is to miss
the most important point of all.
are all irreversibly interdependent: Absolutely all individual
and collective human futures are irremediably and profoundly
unless we can finally begin to value the open secrets of coexistence
more seriously than those of casually distracting technologies,
there will be no tolerable human future at all.
those proud "pragmatists" who might disagree on certain
supposed grounds of "practicality," it would be best
for them to consider the broadly insightful (and prophetic)
words of Frederico Fellini: "Ultimately," said the
imaginative Italian filmmaker, "the visionary is the only