Like many, perhaps most autistic people, I am suspicious of a lot of the work and research that Simon Baron Cohen is involved with, however sometimes he hits the nail right on the head. I recently watched a 2012 TEDx presentation by Cohen and he made some comments regarding empathy and democracy that are surely relevant today. Let me quote starting from 10:35:
10:35 “Empathy is vital for a healthy democracy; it ensures that when we listen to different perspectives, we hear other people’s emotions and we also feel them. Indeed without empathy, democracy would not be possible.”
11:46 “Empathy is our most valuable natural resource for conflict resolution. We could wait for our political leaders to use empathy – and that would be refreshing – but actually we could all use our empathy.”
If I was asked for one word to describe what is lacking in American society and politics at this time, I think I would choose the word empathy.
For America and Americans there isn’t any, but for us in Aotearoa there is an upside. Especially when it comes to women’s health. The reality is that in America, and especially in the conservative south, many professionals working in women’s health live in fear – fear of being shot, fear of their work places being bombed, fear that their families might become targets for anti-abortion extremists. Who would choose to live like that? If enquiries from American health professionals to New zealand recruitment services are anything to go by, many have chosen to seek safer pastures.
For many decades, Aotearoa, like many smaller nations have have been the happy hunting ground where large American and European health organisations poach health professionals by offering eye watering salaries way beyond our capacity to pay. We simply don’t have those resources. As a consequence this country is critically short of medical staff in practically every field. And covid has only made thing worse with staff often working beyond the point of exhaustion. But perhaps the tables are about to be turned.
While I have the deepest sympathy for American women who have had their bodily autonomy stolen, I’m grateful that as a consequence of Roe vs Wade, many qualified and experienced health professionals are looking for alternative places where they can practice what they have been trained to do without fear of imprisonment and without fear for their safety, the safety of their families, safety in their place of work and safety for their patients. Many are seeking to make a new, safer and more balanced life for themselves and their families here in Aotearoa. We benefit by a reduction in our critical shortage of health professionals. Everyone wins (except for America and its women).
The YouTube video below is from Sunday, a weekly documentary series shown on TVNZ’s ONE channel. This episode describes the plight of American women seeking abortions in the south of America and also the plight of their health professionals. I can’t imagine living like that. I suspect this outside perspective of what America has become will be unsettling to many of its citizens, but I also suspect that those who should see it will be the last to even consider watching a foreign documentary. That’s what religious and political intolerance does.
It came as no surprise to me that the Capitol siege occurred. Perhaps what I find more surprising is that it ended more quickly and with less violence than I would have predicted. Perhaps we have Trump to thank for that as he belatedly urged his supporters to disperse peacefully and return to their homes. According to news reports I heard this morning, New Zealand time, it was viewed by many insurrectionists as an order from the Commander in Chief that had to be followed.
Had the mob been larger and Trump remained silent, I shudder to think what the outcome might have been, and the four known deaths (at time of writing) would have paled into significance. My question is why did Trump, given his ongoing claim that the election result was fraudulent, decide to issue the “go home” directive?
Somehow I don’t think it was in the interests of democracy or the welfare of his supporters, so what was it? Did he come to the realisation that his supporters would follow him to hell and back if he so ordered, and that with a better organised command structure he could be the leader of a militia that the constitution clearly allows for in order to protect the people from a tyrannical government?
The irony of course would be that his followers have mistaken which part of the government is being tyrannical. While it may have been lost to his supporters, it’s clear from non-autocratic leaders around the globe that most of the free world views the Capitol siege as an attack on democracy.
I’m somewhat disappointed that our own Prime Minister was rather guarded in her comment avoiding any direct blame on Trump. I would have much preferred her to have spoken in terms similar to German Chancellor Angela Merkel who placed the blame clearly on trump’s shoulders: “I deeply regret that President Trump has not conceded his defeat, since November and again yesterday. Doubts about the election outcome were stoked and created the atmosphere that made the events of last night possible”.
Somehow I doubt that the number of Trump’s supporters who would be prepared to participate in an insurrection are not as small or insignificant as Biden and others are suggesting, and there may be not just tens of thousands but possibly hundreds of thousands who would be prepared to commit to a militia if such a call was made. Regardless of the final outcome over the next few weeks, the myth of a fraudulent election is not going to go away any time soon and suspicion of American authorities and particularly the federal government does not bode well for democracy in America in the short term.
While I have no doubts about Trump’s legacy, I suspect Biden’s will depend on how well he restores faith in America’s system of democracy.
The wife and I visited a nearby voting place to cast our votes in the General election and referendum. In and out in less than five minutes. I really feel for those in other jurisdictions (and America immediately comes to mind at this time) where the ability to vote is frustrated by gerrymandering, partisanship and regulations making the voting process difficult for those who are not of the “correct” political persuasion.
Advance voting is available in the fortnight before Election Day. However, at previous elections the wife and I have always left it to Election Day to cast our votes (by law it must be on a Saturday). Even though the nation is in COVID-19 alert level one (no restrictions domestically, but international borders closed to non-residents), we decided it was prudent to visit a voting place mid-week when there’s likely to be no or minimal queueing.
When we arrived, there was just one other person in the “queue”, and as it turned out, he wasn’t on the electoral roll. It took about a minute to determine he was eligible to enroll and was directed to the appropriate desk to register. As the wife and I had remembered to bring our EasyVote cards with us, it was a 15 second procedure to confirm we were on the roll and we were handed our voting papers.
This evening, three major TV networks carried an article on the difficulty that voters in Texas, USA were experiencing. Apparently there’s only one voting drop-off facility per county for absentee voting, which seems totally ridiculous. The county referred to in the news item has a population of 4.7 million – almost the entire population of Aotearoa New Zealand. I assume an absentee vote is similar to what we refer to as a special vote, which can be done at every voting place.
During the early voting period there’s around one voting place per 2,500 eligible voters, while on Election Day there’s one per 1,300 eligible voters. The result is zero or minimal queues, unlike those regularly depicted in news items of American voters queuing for hours. I wonder what the ratio of voting places to electors is in the various US states?
I don’t know how common it is to have to wait in line for five or more hours, but the frequency at which it’s depicted on our TV screens would indicate it’s not uncommon. What does seem alarming is that this seems more common in states and counties where Republicans are in control. Has partisanship in the US caused the democratic process to sink to this level?
If America was ever a model of democracy worthy of emulation (which I seriously doubt), it most certainly no longer is. It does help explain why Aotearoa New Zealand is listed in the Democracy Index as one of only twenty-two nations having full democracy, while the United States is listed as one of fifty-three nations having a flawed democracy.
It’s understandable that the American elections take up almost as much news time as our own elections due the the influence America has on world affairs. But I wonder whether the fact that this nation is ranked first on the Corruption Perceptions Index while the US is ranked twenty-third (behind Uruguay and the United Arab Emirates) affects the slant given to American politics and politicians by our news services.
It’s almost a given that humorous scorn pertaining to Trump will find its way into the evening news most days of the week, and while we can laugh at the situation knowing it couldn’t happen here as our system doesn’t give so much power to one person, I wonder how many of us cringe knowing conspiracists and science deniers have a growing number of followers even in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Americans have a long, rich history of having a really weird relationship with sex. They indulge in two unique assertions: nudity is inherently sexual, and sex is somehow more objectionable than violence. The rest of the world just doesn’t understand these notions.