I am going to say something that defies activist convention. Focusing primarily on justice out of an anti-capitalist commitment is a waste of energy. It puts the cart before the horse. It’s making a desirable outcome the whole reason for our existence. Fulfillment should be our primary focus.
Two days before Christmas I went to the Emergency Room in a Staten Island hospital with chest pains. The day after Christmas I had two stents put into the primary artery to my heart, which is 95% blocked. Since then I have been doing some serious research on how to re-think my life-style. I ran across this physician and scientist named Dean Ornish who knows his business well—that is, he has done very solid, “very high-tech, expensive” empirical research. Currently, my primary physician told me, there are only two diets that have shown they can reverse cardiac disease: the Ornish diet and the Mediterranean diet. Both would revolutionize the conventional eating practices in our culture.
Reading Ornish, however, I realized my primary had seriously shortchanged what he offers. His program is all about four interactive elements: nutrition (not “diet”); managing stress; love and support; fitness. His work on major health issues is deeply spiritual and political. Not surprisingly, then, he has come with up a sort of radical physiology, claiming many things that defy conventional thinking, and with substantial empirical back up. He brings the best of the West together with the best of the East, and cutting to the heart of our political economics and its consumerist culture. One example:
Our nature is to be happy; our nature is to be peaceful, our nature is to be healthy. And so happiness is not something you get, health is generally not something that you get.
Another from the same TED Talk:
There are powerful tools for transformation, for quieting down our mind and bodies to allow us to experience what it feels like to be happy, to be peaceful, to be joyful and to realize that it’s not something that you pursue and get, but rather it’s something that you have already until you disturb it.
Ornish doesn’t tap into empathy but it is something that we have from the beginning until we learn to smother it because of trauma. And then to sustain that smothering through the fear we hold onto as protection from being hurt in relationship. There are also powerful tools for regaining our empathy as the ground for how we relate with each other and all of life.
To return to the top. Justice is not about being happy, it’s about getting to conditions for happiness. It’s not about being peaceful, it’s about being equitable, a condition for being peaceful. It’s not about being healthy, it’s about creating conditions that foster widespread health. Nor is justice about loving and supporting, which is what community and solidarity are all about.
Empathy is a way of experiencing Other that makes it clear that my fulfillment is connected with Other’s fulfillment—that is, all of life’s fulfillment. Justice is an essential tool for fulfillment, not the goal of movements for democracy. The fulfillment of those movements will come through deeply empathic people.