Empathy or Anthropomorphism

Empathy and anthropomorphism

Words don’t mean anything, people do.

Much of the conflict we experience, observe or imagine arises from the problem every human and arguably most other mammals confront from the moment they become distinct beings—animals. While I never studied classical languages I believe the very term “animal” designates a being, an entity, endowed with a soul. The literalists among the species homo sapiens may in fact justify their attitudes toward each other and toward other animals by their underlying response to the soul at the core of animal being. Depending on the degree of self-value or self-effacement the humans adopt, a wide range of behaviour, i.e. responses to the world in which they live, may be elicited. Centuries of recorded Western thought and reported have yet to establish any uniform pattern of response to the confrontation with life forms, whether animated or not—more precisely whether or not deemed animated—since there is no evidence of universal agreement as to what constitutes even the basis of such an assertion or category of response.

If after millennia there have only been contested responses, it may be assumed that such universal consensus will continue to elude us. That leaves us with the permanent interim solutions and the daily work of controlling behaviour, our own and that of others in what for purposes of simplicity we can call life itself. The fact that I am even writing this essay can be understood as an example of the many ways humans can attempt to respond to the world and ourselves in some manner judged appropriate. If the category of deity means anything, then perhaps it is best defined as the status in which all these responses are perfectly controlled– always appropriate and never incoherent or inadequate. Of course the stories we can find in all religions, whether Buddhism or Western monotheism, if we read the texts attributed to the divine command as authoritative, are full of conflicts and incoherencies. The gods or the one true god is also incapable of establishing stability of response and meaning (appropriate response). Creation is simply ungovernable. There is also no extant example of divine perfection—unless by that we mean unlimited indifference, sometimes called “fate” or “destiny”.

This uncertainty may arise ultimately from an error of scale. Humans are but one group of the living on this planet we call Earth. Despite the ambitions of our scientific clergy, explicitly religious or merely implicitly devote, to imagine a universal scale of life and action, we are unable to demonstrate a view of the world which does not assume we are the middle of it. What Pluto or Jupiter might teach us about the significance of human life remains bound by the fact of our own animal existence.

In the past decade there has been an increasing and perverse obsession with transhumanism and the creation of social and material organisations benignly anointed as “smart”. While very little of this rhetoric is actually new, the attention generated and the style of propaganda devoted to concepts like the Fourth Industrial Revolution, since 2020 the “great reset”, and many other subroutines best captured by the slogan “you will own nothing and be happy” have together enhanced the general insecurity fostered by those ecumenical fascists who constitute the World Economic Forum. As I have argued elsewhere repeatedly the most recent manifestations in Davos are based on the institutional environment that emerged one thousand years ago in the rabbinical-Latin absolutism of Pope Innocent III. Feudalism as conceived by the Latin Church was an order in which no one owned anything except by papal license.

The religious foundation of Latin Christendom—we can leave aside any discussion of Jesus of Nazareth or teaching attributed to this person as irrelevant—was and remains salvation of the soul through ecclesiastically ordered and secularly performed torture and execution. The wealthy were entitled to live and the poor required to work and die. They did not even own their lives, but in heaven they would be happy.

When Marx argued that capitalism was automatic, i.e. it did not rely on the individual capitalist, he was identifying at the same time the spirit of Judeo-Christendom. Max Weber’s misguided attempt to justify capitalism by faith alone only confused the genealogical analysis, obscuring the continuity between the Reformation and the financial derivative system at the core of Latin political-economy. The West is still essentially—one hesitates to use the word “civilization”—a mass of people ruled by primitive superstition and piratical-barbarian violence exercised by a robust death cult. It makes no difference whether that superstition is reified at Lourdes, Fatima or Wall Street. The automatic violence of capitalism is maintained by constant revolution in the technology of production. Thus it should be no surprise that its current doctrinal manifestation, neo-liberalism/ conservatism, is championed by members of the death cult who claim to have been Trotskyists. Since the Portuguese dismembered and disfigured the merchants and artisans whose trade relations they wished to dominate in the Indian Ocean basin and the British East India Company raped, pillaged and plundered India, every significant Western technological advancement has been directed to eliminating labourers and enhancing lethality.

The same underlying religious confusion has also shaped the opposition to all the consequences of this system’s automatism. The terms of condemnation include the deadly sins and some vulgar accusations of racism, sexism, or basically unfair conduct. On one hand there are plenty who want sin punished and prevented if possible. On the other there are those who imagine there is some unique great revolution or technological rationality that will neutralize the impact of individual bad conduct or evil. With regard to Marxism, the dominant form of socialist ideology by the end of the 19th century, pseudo-debates continue as to what Marx did or did not anticipate or adequately theorize. Such debates are structurally no different from those that persist in the Latin Church as to what Jesus really meant and what the Church – he never founded—ought to do.

Now that there appears to be a critical mass of articulate people who assert that they have transcended the primitive superstitions with which Western mass culture is fuelled, the debates are focussed on the capacity of humans to grasp and act in accordance with something called Science. That Science subsumes a vast industrial complex. Perversely—say I—but naturally if viewed as proposed here—we find in this mass of the articulate those who argue that the Science shows (Simon says) that the political-economy upon which the past five hundred years of Western history has been based is suddenly a hindrance to the continuation of the Planet (by which they mean themselves as inhabitants of same) and that the same Science dictates all sorts of measures which will save the Planet (by which they mean them). They are struck by the epiphany that Western culture is a system of enhanced lethality. However they turn to those who have had their hands on the trigger for five centuries as the not so “lone rangers” (together with their “Sloane Rangers” in the City or Wall Street) to save them.

The other order of mendicants imagine that once the arsenal has been liberated from the “old and greedy” and programmed with the “right” rules and computational procedures, we will be able to march to the Holy Land where life is free of the unreliable and messy humans who previously managed all that mischief. Their defence is that the technology is not defective—the people are. Change the people or liberate the technology from their cold, dead hands and salvation will dawn.

This is nothing more or less than the argument raised by the Great Reformer before he pled for the slaughter of rebellious peasants and their leader Thomas Müntzer at Bad Frankenhausen in 1525. The Church, once freed from papal autocracy, was still the door through which faith would lead man to salvation, even if reading Scripture was to be allowed. My point is not that overthrowing the Papacy in some form was not a good idea. It has been convincingly argued that Martin Luther did what was possible at the time. He could not have rejected the entire world in which he had been raised, could he? The clergy continued to serve as a source of oppression and instrument of imperial expansion—after all that is what mission is. He could not abandon the value of salvation either. Instead he tried to change or expand the terms upon which it could be attained.

If we return to the question with which this essay began—the problem of human souls and the souls of other animals—then we ought to ask ourselves seriously: when we seek salvation of our souls, do we actually consider the souls of other animals? Do we take soul seriously or is it just another manifestation of the malignant narcissism in which the West luxuriously bathes? The animal rights fanatics—and I consider this a kind of cult fanaticism—would have us wear petrochemical products instead of leather but have no serious response to the bipeds killed for oil needed to cloth them. The vegetarian and even worse the “veganese”—when they are not addressing the problem of industrial slaughterhouses and poisoned foodstuffs—seem quite silent about the nutritional sources of other animals. (I have a neighbour whose pedigree dog is actually allergic to meat.)

Many of the incoherencies I could list have been mentioned elsewhere. I have also elaborated on the legal and socio-political consequences of the inversion of “rights” doctrines to eliminate the very distinguishing characteristics of humans upon which human rights are based. However here I am concerned with fundamental question, one which I would call moral for want of a better term. What is the difference between empathy and anthropomorphism?

If we are so bold to admit that homo sapiens is a distinct mammalian species of animal then the soul/ psyche we attribute to the members of this species joins us to other animals, other inhabitants of this miniscule planet. It is something we share. It is something a wolf and a rabbit share as do a whale or dolphin. We might ask ourselves if sharks or spiders have a soul. There are certainly religious attitudes which affirm this. However I have just as often asked myself if we are too deaf to hear the scream of a grain of wheat? If we are so bold to admit that other beings are endowed with attributes so unfathomable as the soul we attribute to ourselves and other mammals (in descending order), then we should also be sensible not only to what we presume to know but also to the vast universe of ignorance in which we wallow. Anthropomorphism is another manifestation of anthropocentrism. If we turn everything into a mirror of us we deny not only our own unique qualities—both positive and negative— but also the very existence and potential value of the world we inhabit. The jargon of sustainability or the religious fervour with which Science fanatics preach our salvation through technology are both symptoms of the Western religious pathology embedded in our modern mass culture and capitalism itself. Marx has been read as a latent technocrat. He was a political activist as well as a scholar. Obviously he could only make politics under the conditions of the world in which he lived—fighting the fights as the fronts were formed during his animal lifetime. Yet his explanation of where value is added is essentially humanist. It is a model analysis of empathy not automatism—which he explicitly criticized. He refused the formulation that prevails despite his argument that labour creates value and not things in themselves. Hence it was constantly necessary to ask what humans were actually doing? The machine, no matter how sophisticated, was not the creative force.

Anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism—both essential drivers of the current crusades and wars—turn the entire world into the human and thus abolish the very conditions for human qualities. When the pontificate and ecumenical fascists whether in Davos, Rome, Washington, New York or the City of London assemble they do what their patron saint, Adam Smith, wrote that they always do—meet to fix prices and restrain trade. That is the least harmful of their malevolence. For the last decade, with the benefit of nearly a century of mass destruction weaponry, e.g. atomic weapons, genetic engineering and virtual monopoly of mass media and medicine, they have committed themselves to our salvation. They have recruited from the generations of indoctrinated and alienated youth. Like the court who joined the pope behind the walls in Avignon this ecclesiastical oligarchy would drive those outside to their joyful deaths. Like the papacy that preached the Fourth Crusade, they would drive those outside with the promise that death and mortification, after killing the infidels and heretics, will save the Planet and leave a society of the saints managed by the benevolent computers and other EDP devices they have created for the survivors.

Empathy is not identification. It does not mean usurping the other. Rather it includes the limits of cognition soothed by the capacity to love—even someone or something one does not even know. Empathy is not wanton or gratuitous. Nor is it based on gluttony or lust. At the same time, it does not demand that a wolf eat bread or a sheep ground cattle bones. We eat and with time we too are eaten. If we had true empathy we would be concerned about enhancing the nutritional value of our lives for all those around us. We would nurture our spirit and not just our egos.



In Solar Terms

Fruit of the Vine: Volume 1: An Intelligent Family,

Author’s book interview:

Dr. T.P. Wilkinson, aka Wei Santang discusses his two new books, “In Solar Terms” and “Fruit of the Vine”. China Rising Radio Sinoland 231215

Poems and articles on Dissident Voice:


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