My utopian dream: an empathic society

If I was all-powerful and could re-arrange the core values of society, goodness and empathy would hold top positions. Not intelligence, wealth or beauty.

I’ve questioned the almost unquestionable merit of knowledge and intelligence before. I do not dispute that knowledge and intellect are valuable and responsible for a great many wonderful advancements, but they are amoral. Intelligence without empathy can be extremely harmful, which is why, in my ideal society, it would take a second place after kindness.

I’ve recently had a few courses were intelligence has been discussed along with intelligence testing. I can’t help but think how distasteful it is to arrange people based on their IQs. Maybe university professors love studying IQ because their own is medium to high. They are among the privileged group thanks to their genes and beneficial upbringing. It would be less so if their own was 95 (an impossibility, but let us suppose). There are charts ranking occupations and education levels and the average IQ.

Imagine being among the low IQ people. Their good fortune sometimes is that they don’t realise their own lack. Of course, it has been found that the less a person knows, the smarter they believe they are. But there are certainly many exceptions. People who are painfully aware of how they don’t get math or understand complex academic papers. Who suffer for it and feel they are good for nothing. Intelligence testing and ordering people based on IQ feels as unethical to me as ordering people based on looks – having an attractiveness quotient. Not because of the testing itself, but because of the value judgements that come with it.

Most people want to be considered intelligent because it has prestige and power. They generally want to receive an above-average IQ score. When they don’t, they tend to get a tiny bit disappointed. Alternatively, they start claiming how tests are faulty and don’t measure real intelligence. They do it to defend themselves from the label of being only average in intelligence, or below average. Readjusting tests is not an answer. It is too superficial and maintains the hierarchy. It just disadvantages someone else. I deeply, fundamentally dislike a society where people are ordered based on who is better than the other. Hierarchy is not so bad in itself, but if value judgements are added, it is. Ego massage for those at the top, self-esteem killer for those at the bottom. That seems to be human nature though. Labelling and competing.

So if we can’t live without competing with each other and wanting to be better, I wish that we could compete with each other in empathy. That being empathic and kind would be the highest values a person could aspire to and that having attained them, people would be rewarded with the same prestige and honours that the intelligent, beautiful and wealthy receive in our society. Furthermore, unlike IQ, empathy is a lot more flexible. For the average person, it is a lot more receptive to cultivation. If being emphatic was prestigious and people were motivated to cultivate that part of them, the world would surely become a kinder place.

In the present world, it often seems to me people are afraid of being kind. It feels “too much”. People who are caring and empathic are not respected enough. It has no obvious profit in it. Being middle-of-the-way is a lot more desirable, lest you be deemed a fool or an altruist.

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