For the record: I’ve never liked Roy Moore, and recent accusations (a topic unto themselves) did nothing to change my perspective. That said, even though I may not like this choice, I can understand why people voted for him. You see, I sometimes have this thing called “empathy,” which used to be considered a positive human trait. It allows me to see how someone can be rational and good-natured, even though we are different.
Empathy played an ironic role in the Alabama election: one of the factors that led rational, good-natured people to vote for Moore is that, from their perspective, their political opponents lack empathy and see them as “others” to be used or eliminated. And their perception is, regrettably, not unfounded. Empathy communicates that you see the other person as fully human, capable of intellect and emotions not unlike your own, and worthy of a dignity equal to your own. A refusal to empathize demonstrates that you count the other person as an “other,” devoid of value beyond your ability to control and use the other. Further, and more frightening, an inability to empathize is a grotesque pathology of the mind and of the soul. Here is my theory: the lack of basic empathy toward our political opponents is crippling our politics and our civil society. The inability, or unwillingness, to respectfully afford people the opportunity to disagree will only have the deleterious effect of pushing people toward extreme options. Conversely, letting people disagree “without casting aspersions on their good sense or moral character” will lead to less extreme outcomes, and perhaps, better solutions for the problems that face all of us. So back to Alabama and Moore (or pick another question, as there will always be grotesque choices to be decided), where you find yourself exasperated by the ugliness and ignominy of others. Take it as an opportunity to exercise, and identify why and how they felt and thought as they did; and for a moment, attempt to relate as a fellow human, perhaps even more fully-human than yourself. Even if my theory on empathy is proven wrong, I’d rather go down as having tried to revive this forgotten-and-gasping quality. The alternative, as best as I can tell, is to scrap for my preferred version of human ugliness over an other’s version of ugliness.