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A question to the humanists in this forum: Do I have to sympathize with all human beings, or is it justified to grade my sympathy and empathy?

The basic idea is: Each of us lives at the center of many circles: the inner circle being the family, the next circle are my friends, then my neighbors, my colleagues at work, my political "tribe"... and so on. Each circle is a specific kind of "us" or "we".

I confess that the biggest "we-circle" for me is the nation ("we Germans" sounds natural, but "we Europeans" sounds artificial to me).

Question: Is this graded sympathy based on different circles (or bubbles if you prefer metaphors in three dimensions) of "we" morally justified? Or do we have to be ashamed of this intuitive emotional grading because we are ALL human beings, and ALL human beings have the same worth?
Is there anybody around who can say sincerely "Humanity is my family - to me there is only ONE big circle and it encompasses all human beings"?

By Matias
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23 comments

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@Matias Are you an AFD supporter?

Krish55 Level 7 July 12, 2018
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I can't. The idea for me is a Pollyanna, tree-hugging way to not address the abominations that 'the human family' can perform. Rapists, paedophiles, torturers, political, religious and social manipulators, animal abusers and drug dealers are not in my circle.

Geoffrey51 Level 7 July 12, 2018
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I think that it is enough for me to engage with those people who are capable of engaging with me . None of my circles has ever contained my family of origin & I am fine about that - family means nothing to me unless we care about each other - Mine were mentally unwell and unreachable . Basically I will play with anyone who plays nice and doesnt pull anything on me and I am enormously happy being on my own or with a known friend having a laugh and a loon around & I wouldnt waste my precious time left with people who are not getting me in any way shape or form -

jacpod Level 7 July 11, 2018
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@Matias You believe you have nothing in common with many other human beings (Your response to me below)? You are incorrect and the claim displays alienaton from humanity. We all share the plight of the planet and need solutions that work for all. This alienated GRAND THEORIZING PHILOSOPHY is merely an excuse to be selfish and deny your responsibility. As a German, you are responsible for NATO and its leader, the USA, destroying Iraq, Syria, and Libya - thereby creating the current refugee problem, You are not some aloof GREAT WHITE FATHER who is above it all and is being asked for sympathy. It was European industrialization that started the destruction of the planet. Many refugees are fleeing climate change or wars caused by climate change (e.g. Syria). You and I are both complicit in the problem. We are both beneficiaries of Western Imperialism and responsible for its destructive human and environmental consequences. Give up idle philosophizing that reinforces alienation and reclaim your humanity!

Krish55 Level 7 July 11, 2018
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This seem to be an ad hominim response if I am not mistaken. What of the argument are you responding to for us all to discuss.

@Geoffrey51 I agree with you that at first glance it seems A.H. However, I provided historical facts that refuted his assertion of supposed non-involvement. Second, if someone claims to have nothing in common with most of humanity, that person is by definition alienated from most of humanity. Alienation is actually an important concept in sociology and political philosophy. I use it in that sense.

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To me, there is only one big family and we are one "circle" . But we can also put certain limits on people depending on their relationship to us. We all have equal worth, but we also have to be reasonable.

SethD Level 2 July 11, 2018
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Try one step further - all creatures are my family, and I sympathize far less with humanity than I do with the world we are defiling. It's a tricky mental state to be in.

Faithless1 Level 7 July 11, 2018
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The two alternatives you posit are not mutually exclusive. Also let's talk specifics! Especially if you have refugees in mind....?

Krish55 Level 7 July 10, 2018
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For example. Am I morally obliged to sympathize with people with whom I have nothing in common exempt the fact that we belong to same species?

Your response assumes something that is both incorrect and also reflects a high degree of alienation. See my new, full response above.

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I don't believe it is justified as we are all the same species, presumably. It is the odd thing about immigration. Some expect us to believe people on one side of an imaginary line are good and those on the other side are bad based on the line alone. It isn't logical or reasonable. The internet has started to open the world, why not go all the way? Let's treat the human race with humanity!

Deanervin Level 5 July 10, 2018
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I think we are all equal as humans. It's sad that some feel justified in seeing more value in one set of humans over another.

confidentrealm Level 6 July 10, 2018
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So if on of your friends were in big trouble and a woman in Africa was in trouble too and asked you for help - and you would have only the means to help one of them - would you toss a coin to decide which one you will help?

@Matias Certainly no coin toss, easy. Inner circle first and radiate from there.

@Geoffrey51 @Matias But if my friends are in trouble for a hate attack on an African woman...This is why specifics and the concept of justice, not tribalism, matters.

Edited

@Krish55 justice is great a very large percentage of the time. But if there is a threat to a child or grandchild for example I suspect the tribal connection will outweigh any legislated justice

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It's also natural for weak unhappy people to take advantage of someones benevolence.

jellyfish Level 5 July 10, 2018
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Of course it's graded and natural to do so. I care much more for people I know than for those I don't. It's tribalism and a survival mechanism.

It also allows us to go do silly things like genocide and shit, but you take the good with the bad.

NoMorals Level 4 July 10, 2018
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I respect everyone by defualt, till they direspect others.

RandyMoose Level 7 July 10, 2018
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I was not talking about respect, because respect is quite cheap. I talked about sympathy which can become quite costly in times of misery, when people seek your help. Since you cannot help everybody, would you toss a coin (like the "veil of ignorance" in Rawls' theory of justice) to see which one to help or would you mete out your help according to your graded sympathy: first to the family, then your friends....

@Matias i help whomever I can with the resources avaliblec to me. If you are saying that I’d prioritize family and friends, I woul prioritize them. I have more time, effort and emotions invested in them, but I wouldnt turn away a stranger that I couldnt help.

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I feel no sympathy for Mr. Cosby's day to day struggles.

mt49er Level 7 July 10, 2018
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bet they serve jello pudding in prison. If that's were he's going

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Because each person is the end result of a very long evolutionary process, they are logically entitled to respect. If we are, as I lean toward thinking, all extensions of universal consciousness, then we are all the same thing from a higher perspective. I cannot harm another conscious being without harming myself.

That said, I think there are evolutionary reasons for a tribal mentality. Birds of a feather flock together for a reason. IMO, the tribal mentality is part of our instinctive makeup and we need not feel guilty or ashamed. Our bodies are actors on the world stage, and they generally follow the script. For greater happiness though, we can expand our circles, gradually experiencing the beauty of all.

I consider myself to be a primatist. I belong to a couple of primate supremacy groups, and I vote only for primates. The other mammals are ok in their places, but I certainly would not want my sister to marry one of them. smile001.gif

WilliamFleming Level 6 July 10, 2018
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It's natural to have a hierarchy of compassion, concern, empathy, or what have you towards various circles in your life. The root cause is probably evolution since individual survival long ago depended depended more on cooperation among family and tribe more than it did the next tribe. As a humanitarian, the goal is an increased concern for all of humanity, but still within the hierarchy of your circles.

TheAstroChuck Level 7 July 10, 2018
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Per the [americanhumanist.org] website:

"Humanism is a progressive lifestance that, without theism or other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead meaningful, ethical lives capable of adding to the greater good of humanity."

The only group listed is "the greater good of humanity", there are no separations for family ties or any other group. Personally I don't think sympathy and empathy have anything to do with it. It's not about the individual or their situation or their link to you, it's about all of humanity.

mattersauce Level 6 July 10, 2018
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The Point is Justice, not sympathy

Krish55 Level 7 July 10, 2018
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You can frame the same problem in terms of justice. Is it justified to help friends and family members first in times of misery, even if a distant person with whom you have no personal ties may be more in need than those who are close to you?

@Matias Depends on the specifics. That's the general problem with philosophy - grand theorizing without reference to specifics..

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Not me.

Sticks48 Level 8 July 10, 2018
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I don't think prioritizing your inner circles implies that you think those in the outer circles are "less than". Rather, it reflects what your primary responsibility is for. Otherwise you would try by yourself to meet the needs / wishes / demands of the entire world which would not be feasible.

If everyone took care of themselves and their families, did a good job of that, there would be an "overflow" from which the family could give to friends, neighbors, work, town, district, country, etc.

So I see it as a perfectly legitimate way to break down your responsibilities and prioritize your discharge of them.

I have spent time meeting the needs of my wife and stepson and my work client today; if I didn't get around to my neighbor or give time or $$ to every possible charity or call my brother or whatever ... it's okay. It doesn't in any way reflect that I dehumanize the people I didn't get to.

mordant Level 7 July 10, 2018
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Jonathon Haidt's book The Righteous Mind helped shape some of the these ideas for me. Tribalism is innate. Turns out, a lot of what we would consider to be our value systems are also innate; the values are there first and our logical minds defend the values after the fact. Disgust is an instrumental component to shaping values, and we don't really control what disgusts us. That being the case, you can be as inviting as possible to all humans, until you encounter someone with antithetical values. Not just different, or leaning at a whole different angle, but antithetical. When they want to promote something you would want stamped out, or vice versa, it is your nature to be disgusted by their values and their efforts. Your innate tribal processing will make sure they are now in the "other" tribe. I don't see a lot of value in being ashamed of an evolutionary process that has gotten us this far, but I also don't see any shame in fighting to evolve the tribalism that has literally costs millions of lives and wiped out whole civilizations. We are one family, and one species, but until we can streamline the surviving value systems into a single tolerable spectrum, there will always be a contentious us and a them. We still live in a world where communities see value in tossing homosexuals off of rooftops, and we're only about 150 years removed from scalping entire peoples or forcing women to be bound at the ankles day and night. We've still got a long ways to go.

Humanistheathen Level 5 July 10, 2018
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Excellent! Jonathan Haidt's book was an eye-opener for me too, especially about the emotional building-blocks of our moral values.

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The idea of one big circle is an ideal worth aspiring to, but really impractical since one can not know everything about everybody. I think it natural to show more sympathy and empathy to one's family since we have known them the longest, and our friends would come next in that scale.

I think the touchstone is whether we reject appeals from people without reason when we know that they need help and that we are able to offer it. If we do, then we aren't exhibiting very good humanist qualities.

DougTElmira Level 4 July 10, 2018
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Is your question seeking a descriptive answer? If so, anthropologists and evolutionary biologists have answers.

If you're seeking a normative answer, any distinction arise from legal definitions alone is by its very nature . . . artificial and arbitrary.

Can we transcend our nature? Perhaps. Should we? Clearly.

NerdyOkieDude Level 7 July 10, 2018
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