Maybe it’s because I’m such an optimist, but I can’t help but look at what I’ve learned and look where we are and I can’t help but think “Holy hell we come so far.”
You speak of a ‘death of empathy’ what I see is a painfully slow birth. You mention your own life as example, that you would have been institutionalized on the Philippines. When you have to live through that, when it’s you, that must be painful in a way I can’t even begin to imagine. On the other hand I do know this was standard practice everywhere not too long ago. All people with disability were hidden from sight for the comfort of the ‘normal’ population. It’s only in modern times that society has began worrying about the comfort of the disabled.
I see the same thing in other areas of modern times. Take torture. Waterboarding is awful. I wouldn’t wish that on my worse enemy. But at the same time, I’ve been to the museums that specialize in 14th century artifacts. I’ve seen the sick twisted shit human minds have thought up and used on other human beings. That’s not to excuse torture, but in comparison water boarding is pretty tame. I can’t deny that even in the horrible things we inflict on others we’re trending towards empathy.
Speaking of horrible things we inflict on human beings, I’ve grown up with the message that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Can we reflect for a moment that this is something that actually happened. (not Jesus Christ, that one is up for debate, but to humans) At one point, hanging people on a pole by their hands and feet to suffocate under the weight of their own body was a thing. We owe the word ‘excruciating’ to the practice of crucifixion. So, yeah.
Looking back to where we were should in no way serve as a justification to the bad treatment of people now. We still have a long way to go. But we will get there. Some people will get there reluctantly, and some will have to be dragged kicking and screaming. This is sad. But I am convinced we will get there. Empathy will get stronger with each generation. Just as it has for centuries.