Mr. Mezzo and I have a monthly Datebox subscription. I gave it to him as a Christmas present last year, and we enjoyed it enough that we re-upped once the initial subscription term ended.
For the record, this was not one of those passive-aggressive “you aren’t bringing enough romance into my life” kinds of gifts. Between my workaholism and my mental health, I have been the less-romantic member of this partnership for a long damn time. Instead, the gift was offered in the spirit of “I know I’m often too busy or distracted or depressed for romance, but this is my commitment to you to regularly carve out time together“—and I’m pretty confident that was the spirit in which said gift was also received.
I’m sharing all of this because one of the activities in a recentish Datebox involved rolling dice to randomly get questions to answer so we could learn new and quirky things about each other. One of the questions was “If you could have one wish, what would it be?”
I don’t actually remember how I answered that question, but I do remember that we then organically and nerdily moved from there into the question “If you could choose one superpower, what would it be?”
That, I remember my answer for:
Universal Empathy Bomb
Now, that whole vignette is on my mind cos I’m still noodling a bit over the “empathy gap” I wrote about a couple nights ago: namely the enduring expectation that we lefty elite urbanite types need to do a shit-ton of work in order to understand the concerns and perspectives of “real Americans” who are MAGA voters.
And I’m not using irony quotes to imply that MAGA voters aren’t real Americans. Instead, I am pushing back against a predominant narrative—however dangerous or false it may be—that small-town conservatives are the only acceptable flavor of “real American.”*
In the weeks after the election, when I was grappling with the naivete of my hopes that voting patterns would have signaled a strong, nationwide, repudiation of Cheeto POTUS and all his crimes against humanity, I was also seeking to create some mental picture of a MAGA voter that doesn’t demonize them as a person, but also doesn’t let them off the hook for the evil and immorality that their vote is supporting.
So far, my best metaphor to be able to resolve this tension is to theorize that most MAGA voters haven’t really built their empathy muscle, and that they aren’t really able to see people outside their immediate circle as much more than NPCs in a game.
You don’t have to worry about the health or safety of the NPCs, they don’t really have feelings or a meaningful point of view. They don’t matter. They’re not really people in the world of the game. Humanoid props, yes. But people? No.
Only the main gaming party matters.
Think about it. How many MAGA voters would move heaven and earth to get their unexpectedly pregnant daughter an illegal abortion while simultaneously working against a woman’s right to choose? They can see the grey areas, the reason to support the daughter they love—the birth control failed, and she doesn’t need to have her entire future made so much more challenging because of an honest mistake—without being able to make the empathetic leap to see how many of the “loose women” they moralize about in the abstract are living in the exact same space of grey areas and unexpected pregnancies that shouldn’t have to make your entire life more difficult.
Because their daughter is a person to them, but those other women wanting abortions aren’t.
Turns out there’s a name for this construct—the “empathy gap” one, NOT the NPC/RPG metaphor.
The new rule for empathy seems to be: reserve it, not for your “enemies,” but for the people you believe are hurt, or you have decided need it the most. Empathy, but just for your own team. And empathizing with the other team? That’s practically a taboo. [. . .]
There is a natural way that empathy gets triggered in the brain — your pain centers light up when you see another person suffering. But out in the world it starts to look more like tribalism, a way to keep reinforcing your own point of view and blocking out any others.Hanna Rosin
And that will be a topic worth a deeper dive in a day or two….
* Y’all: there is a reason I am so up in my flag swag for the 4th of July. I’m a one-woman campaign about being a proud progressive and an American patriot all in one package.
- Itty Bitty superheroes: photo taken by the author, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.
- Colorful pawns: NeedPix, open license.