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What has happened to our capacity for empathy and our sense of social solidarity?

Asked by Zuma (5908points) May 6th, 2009

Once upon a time people rooted for the underdog in America. They were concerned about inequality and poverty. They enacted Social Security and Medicare so that seniors could live in dignity in their old age.

They sought to end the effects of racial discrimination by instituting equal opportunity programs, affirmative action, and by remediating the more persistent cultural disadvantages of poverty through programs like Head Start.

They sought to liberate women from their traditional economic dependence on men by making it possible for a single woman to raise her children on welfare. Anyone who wanted to go to college could get financial aid.

Most of that has been rolled back. The mentally ill have been completely abandoned; affirmative action is a dead letter; civil rights enforcement has more or less been dismantled (up until recently); and there is a pervasive attitude that if you are poor, unemployed, or disenfranchised, it’s your own fault.

People who are losing their homes in foreclosure have been called “losers.” People who were duped into sub-prime loans by predatory lenders are being blamed for being over-reaching and greedy. We incarcerate more people than any country in the world, and under some of the worst conditions. We try children as adults; we sentence them to life in prison and even death. We clamor for evermore severe penalties. We invade other countries; we imprison and torture people.

Indeed, it would seem we can hardly stand one another.

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