I am deeply intrigued by Plumwood’s Liberation Model. In all my classes, dualism has been brought up and debated upon. To highlight part of Plumwood’s model, in my Intro to Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies class, we talk about the division between public and private, how that is gendered, and the power given to public versus private because of it is gendered as male. In my Intro to Sociology class, we discuss the assumptions made in the distinction and classification of civilized versus primitive. Specifically, during the Cold War, the terms “First World” and “Third World” were created to demonize and trivialize non-Democratic nations. Nowadays, these distinction carry even heartier biases and assumptions born from Western obsession with charity and the capitalist pursuit of many Western organizations claiming to be philanthropic.
Perhaps where my greatest interest lies, however, is in the intersection of reason and emotion. I believe it is when this duality is broken down that empathy can emerge. Speaking philosophically, a great deal of philosophers, as we discuss in my philosophy class On Being Human, find the distinctive marker between animals and humans to be humans’s ability to control our emotions, to reflect upon our instincts, and ask if we want what we want. While some argue emotion is separate from reason, I the argument that emotion and reason act interdependently far more compelling. Emotion in social situations lead to the kind of self-reflection that culminates in reasoning. In fact, empathy is a form of reason, I would argue. Think of Tecmessa in Ajax, as performed by Sally Wood in Theater of War this past Sunday. She attempts to reason with Ajax by reminding Ajax of what his son, his wife, his friends, his loved ones would feel and experience should he die. Tecmessa, then, was using emotion as reasoning.
Of course, if the lines between human and nature are not equally blurred, empathy/reason could remain anthropocentric. The assumed dichotomy of human and nature certainly creates the kind of “Logic of Domination” that Professor Peterson addressed. If human empathy is not extended to all forms of life, then the level of environmental destruction currently underway will not end. But how do we extend this kind of empathy? Certainly there have been many attempts to connect environmental destruction with human life destruction. For example, some argue that we shouldn’t begin off-shore drilling in the Atlantic because it is harmful to us. But, isn’t the better reasoning to acknowledge the death, destruction, and pain off-shore drilling wreaks on non-human animals and other forms of life and nature? Even if there is no oil spill at the drilling site, seismic testing deafens whales, creating them largely unable to navigate their daily lives. These whales are unable to adjust to such a disability and typically die.
Philosopher Frans de Waal addresses the concept of in-group and out-group morality. According to de Waal and other philosophers and scientists, empathy is more easily practiced in an in-group, but it is much more difficult to extend that empathy to an out-group. If we assume these groups exist, how do we develop out-group empathy (often described as agape or higher-order empathy)? If we go by Plumwood’s Liberation Model, however, perhaps those groups shouldn’t actually exist. But what kind of repercussions could such blurring of lines have on society?