Here we are, in the spring of 2016, and there’s an odd thing happening in the United States. An authoritarian has captured the national political dialogue, winning support by appealing to fears of The Other while boasting of being very rich. This has been a shock to those of us who reject his rhetoric, because things have seemed to improved since 2008. Yes, at times that progress has been maddeningly slow. The gains have been far from perfect. But a steady if frustrating progress is better than the alternative of going backward. On the cusp of the general election, we’re given pause: “We’re not really going to regress like that, are we?”
In this primary season, we’ve seen a democratic socialist from Vermont — speaking enthusiastically of political revolution — mount an effective challenge to the most established Establishment candidate to ever run for the presidency. And that revolution has been largely driven by the Millennial generation.
Millennials have produced the two most effective political movements of this decade: Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter. Both movements have sought to shine a light on broad injustices that were not receiving mainstream attention. The members of these movements altered the national conversation by effectively communicating their lived experiences. The experience of fearing for your life whenever you’re around a police officer. The experience of having no real opportunity to achieve the American Dream.
The internet and social media have been integral to the success of these movements. Through phone-captured videos published to YouTube, visual memes spread through Facebook, and breaking news posted on Twitter, it is now easier than ever to cultivate empathy among total strangers in real time. The internet’s most important feature is that it connects us to each other in ways that were impossible before. User-generated content, originally enabled by Silicon Valley startups to grow quickly and make large profits, has produced the wonderfully unintended side effect of making society more empathic.
Leadership now looks different. Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter have not been led in the traditional top-down structure the world is accustomed to. But they are not leaderless movements; they are leaderful. The Sanders campaign isn’t successful because of the 74-year-old man who gives it a name, but can credit a vast network of staffers and volunteers who built it together.
What constitutes legitimate power can be viewed through an improved lens. Instead of strength through physical coercion or economic clout, we can seek leaders who act with empathy. More often than not today, those leaders currently don’t have much power. And it’s not enough to have empathy — to possess it for oneself. Acting on that empathy is what really matters.
And so, here’s a working definition:
Empathocracy: a society that chooses to be led by the most empathic.
This publication will be devoted to advocating for empathocracy in the United States. It will cover attempts at more empathic workplaces and professional communities, new policies and programs in our cities and states that put truly put the people first, and how a national movement rooted in empathy might be cultivated.
Please give Empathocracy a follow, if you’re so inclined.