Is empathy the conceptualisation for right and wrong?

Where does right and wrong stem from? Are we the creators of this idea or is there an inbuilt moral compass where we can in fact distinguish the difference? I have always thought of myself of having my own moral compass, maybe unique to myself in that of my values, but nonetheless still an idea for the basis of right and wrong. I haven’t needed to turn to religion, laws and regulations, other peoples’ principles or any other means in identifying this. And my reasoning stems from the accreditation that all humans are born with a degree of empathy, thus allowing us to consider others feelings, putting ourselves in their shoes, and so understanding, whether chosen to follow through with or not, this morality in regards to humanity. So as for my reasoning as for why people commit such immoral acts. Well, because with all the stresses in life, negative influences and so forth this empathy can become hindered, leading to an overdrive of negative emotions, replacing this once constructive and positive trait. Love is definitely the most powerful force preceding that of hate but it trails behind inches. A strong poison, which if left untreated for long enough can consume the individual and also each other. I never saw it as a lack of empathy but more so hidden, and disguised, taking a new from, therefore the idea of right and wrong also becomes somewhat skewed.

Well my very way of thinking came into disrepute from visiting the killing fields in Cambodia. Is the concept of right and wrong instead learnt through life? Do all humans have this empathetic nature? Is its affirmation heavily disguised or does it not exist to even begin with? I say this because it is hard to believe that anyone could commit these genocide acts, in such a brutal and heartless fashion, to any species, let alone a human being, and still process empathy. How does it make any sort of logical sense? The complete and utter disregard for human life, men, women, and children alike still perplexes me. Taking it back to the very beginning: a baby, which is the ultimate symbolisation of purity and innocence. With that in mind it is hard to really comprehend an absence of empathy, only their crucial development stages determining its display, until full adolescence is reached. But when you look at a fully-fledged adult, this symbolic nature takes a diluted form, unless openly exposed. Why is that? Do we lose sight of this empathetic nature that we are apparently born with? When you look at all the merciless immoral acts committed during the Khmer rouge regime, it does put my theory into question that all beings have this vast degree of empathy from birth. And I hate to pinpoint one example of genocide considering the vast examples that could form an extensive list of pages. I go to these memorials because I like to become better aware, show my respect to the people that had their lives prematurely and dishonourably cut short, to look at every single one of their faces, victims and the guilty, but also to understand why is it these autocratic leaders, and followers do what they do?

The leaders rational a lot easier to comprehend, not understandable, but in terms of their disillusioned attempt to create their own utopic world, their demand for power and how this can lead to a misguided and selfish vision, no mater what the cost, telling themselves it is for the long- term benefits of the country. But then what about their followers who haven’t morphed this vision in their own minds? Are they now acquitted of blame, because they are the sheep, and they were ultimately just brainwashed? Are they really any less to blame? This word, brainwashed, is so heavily thrown around but I find it inconceivable that you could mistake your own views from another, and be led a stray to such extremities. It is not the same as stealing a bag of sweets from the shops, or cheating on a school test having been led a stray, taking an all-new level. Even in the petty circumstances you are always held accountable for your own actions so why should this be any different. Every being has their own mind so I don’t like the term brainwashing because it suggests that the person should only hold partial blame, absolving him or herself of the just guilt that should be felt. So, then what about the people that genuinely were not aware of their wrong doings at the time? Well this is a lengthier topic. I condemn the stupidity in acting in brutality first and then questioning later. Should this really be dismissed off as gullibility thus again dissolving you of such blame? Well, once becoming aware then the person should take reasonability for his or her crimes. It is always going to be a bit touchier when it comes to children, even for myself, so where do they fit into this conception? I understand that the recruitment of children can lead to hindered values, after all they haven’t reached full development yet, so can be much more easily manipulated in their ideologies of moral behaviour. But when I look at that specifically for the khmer rouge, the sheer brutality of the acts committed for such a prolonged period of time, on children just like themselves or younger even, then that is where my understanding reaches a standstill.

So now I am at a crossroads because I don’t know how I can still propose that all humans possess empathy given the hateful crimes committed on the killing fields to another human being. It just wouldn’t make any sense! And again and again, battering, bruising, bleeding, rendering some unconscious or better yet dead, weapons of massacre used to save money on bullets, the helplessness real, a yearning to have their life ended rather than to endure the continued torture, for three years, yet still no realisation. No, only attempting to destroy all the evidence, kill the leftovers burning them to a pulp like a piece of well done meat and run from the scene of the crime after hearing the Vietnamese soldiers were on their way. Why would an innocent mind need to run or to destroy any evidence? Surely, they would fight the cause so undeniably attempted to inflict for over 3 years now. After already exterminating over 3 million people. The word extermination was used at the S21 prison and I didn’t blink an eyelid, pretty much the perfect word to sum up the hateful acts committed. And yet another reason why I question the inability to hold only Pol Pot accountable, regardless of their juvenile nature. Firstly the continued torture tactics, and still a failure to see any wrong doings, regardless of the misguided idealisations, brainwashing, and also the notion mentioned above.

And we can’t even use the genocide case in Cambodia as an isolated incidence. I can think of plenty examples, which does not even begin to scratch the surface. When you look at how far we have come since the first Homosapiens over 200,000 years ago, it first makes me feel proud to think how we have carved the world we live in, with such ingenuity, the ability to withstand the harshest of climates and the development of sciences, technology, languages and other endless accomplishments, all from working together, generation to generation, but then when you then look at the destruction and devastation that we inflict upon each other, all for a much better and more warranted cause than the last in the hopes of creating this idealised utopic vision of an individual, not for the people, the majority, in all honestly I just feel ashamed and embarrassed to be classed in this same categorical nature. I would rather be classed as a lesser species than to have the same implication of these ruthless yet conscious individuals. From watching game of thrones I still see much of our world today in this fictional television series. Okay, maybe taking a more fanatical and primitive approach but nonetheless the basic human qualities in terms of the strife for power, money and wealth, the manipulation and deceit at all costs and also the brutality, nowadays it is just done much more secretive and in a clever fashion, hidden by lies and fairy tale stories fed to the population of sheep. And you can’t blame the sheep. How possible to fight for a justified cause when you don’t really know what to fight for, censored and lied to as to the harsh realities. The genocide memorials try to raise awareness for future generations in preventing this same fate, which in theory is very virtuous indeed. But when another ideology takes hold, for a new and very different cause, somehow the similarities fail to become eminent. This time it is for a very different cause so the countless examples becomes inapt, and ultimately scraped. It may certainly be interpreted much differently, seemingly different in appearance, taking a new shape or form but really it’s all just the same. Genocide. And death. And, more deaths. It’s all the same essentially with a different face in the form of a leader, the sheep of followers and this so called ulterior motive, this time, but the ones who suffer in the midst of this validated cause is always the innocent. And why is it you never see any of the leaders out in the battlefields? That’s one thing I respect Stannis Baratheon for, another game of thrones reference, if anything at all.

Even with the current day petty squabbles, although not to be classed as genocide, which I’m not going to give a detailed rendition about the exacting causes, because I am fed the same bull of lies as the rest of the nation, but mainly as I think recognition should be for that of all the innocent caught up in the crossfire; the misinformed sheep in the front line, the unintentional bombings and so forth leading to more innocents’ lives, or the refugees forced to flee their homes despite the treacherous journeys which could result in death, and still the only concern being their influx, despite being the sole cause of rendering their homes uninhabitable. I doubt the world will ever be free from such atrocities, and I probably live in an idealistic mythical fairy-tale world myself, but I have a far-fetched vision where patriotism is centred on the entire world, country none specific. Only then can real equality begin to take shape; real equality, rather than being pulled off as this, when in actual fact it is a morphed vision, the uniformity of humans, and a means to keeping people within line. And what may come of stepping out of line again…maybe, another genocide?

Well, enough of all this negative talk because despite past and present examples of hate I still believe humans resonates with a superior frequency of love. And this was made no more evident than from also visiting the killing fields, and hearing some of the survivor stories, the love in a time of such hate, the forgiveness, hope, courage and strength. These feelings also resonated much stronger with me, demonstrating my very philosophy, which I was close to abandoning. In the end a selfless or positive trait will always project a much stronger and long-standing energy than that of a negative. Always. I can think of countess examples where I have been touched myself, creating the most humbling of feelings, and they have never left me, whereas the negative emotions will fade and diminish unless left to consume your very being also. Firstly I was touched on hearing one mans story of hope that saw him through this awful time. The hope that he could still live out his mothers dream, although warped at a time when he saw no alternative, but brought back on reflection with the overpowering of positive feelings. On initially hearing this story, I just couldn’t understand how one could remain hopeful, living through such an experience. Although in commendation of the strength in not losing sight of this hope, I didn’t think I’d be able to adopt this spirited and resilient mentality, purely just from witnessing the inhumane acts, committed from one human to another. But on reflection, I believe hope can be the only element to see you through, an untainted mind despite being tested in the most unspeakable fashion. Still, the most touching story from visiting the killing fields was how one man sacrificed his life to save another. A young boy, one of the youngest in S21 prison, who had ran out of lies to deceive himself with, he just wasn’t cut out for the art of self deception, so was about to become the next chopping block victim, when the person in the cell next to him, pleaded and pleaded with the self-acclaimed prison guards, with full awareness of his own fate as a result; a life for a life. Well the young boy survivor lived to retell the story of the love and empathy shared towards another. The high regard for every being, so much so that he valued his own life as strictly equal to that of another. So, although I ultimately questioned the empathetic nature of humans, and quite rightly so, it only takes one selfless action to overpower, all other feelings. The predominant feeling that will touch me from visiting the killing fields, I refuse to be drawn into feelings of hate also. Because I now know that with such hate there still resides such love. That will always be the overwhelming force!

Here is a poem for thought, which I first heard while at school, and I think it sends such a powerful message.

When the Nazis came for the communists,

I remained silent;

I was not a communist.


When they locked up the social democrats,

I remained silent;

I was not a social democrat.


When they came for the trade unionists,

I did not speak out;

I was not a trade unionist.


When they came for the Jews,

I didn’t speak up,

because I wasn’t a Jew.


When they came for me,

there was no-one left

to speak out.

 (When the Nazis came for me, by Pastor Martin Niemöller)


There is no escape. S21. Cambodia



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