On fortune, philosophy and empathy

Do you consider yourself lucky? (Well, do you, punk?)

While most people — no matter how relevant their position within society may be —consider themselves “lucky” in some way, many do not realize the role fortune plays in shaping their lives.

Whether an individual is born with immeasurable wealth or very little wealth can ultimately define how they act in the world. Fortune helps construct belief systems that provide individuals numerous justifications for the way in which they interpret reality around them.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, youths that live in “low-income families” are more likely to steal, have sex at an earlier age and fail to earn a high school diploma than their middle- and upper-class counterparts.

While this may seem logical, it nevertheless creates a problem for society.

Are these youths naturally inclined to misbehave within society? Is this a social problem in relation to the deconstruction of the family unit within poverty? Or, as I theorize, is this is a direct result of an individual creating his reality — whether it be grounded in truths or falsities — based on his acquired fortune and social position within his society?

It's easy to explain how one endeavors to justify his own reality.

It's effortless for those that are wealthy to believe that poverty in a capitalist society is avoidable if citizens work hard to improve their societal standing.

This perfectly demonstrates an individual who out of ease has created his own belief system in order to justify the struggles of those less fortunate than him in accordance with his social status.

While his hypothesis is neither right nor wrong, it gives him an excuse to lift the virtual “poverty weight” off of his back and place it solely on the work ethic of the poor.

In contrast, it's easy for the poor to justify the accumulation of mass-wealth as being inherently evil.

This gives the less fortunate individual an excuse to not only explain households full of wealth, but perhaps helps to justify bending the law in certain circumstances.

While like the wealthy individual, his hypothesis is neither right nor wrong, it gives him an excuse to lift the “poverty weight” off of his back and place it solely on the inherent morality of the rich.

It's as if empathy is colliding with selfishness.

In fact, that's exactly what it is: Individuals unknowingly create empathy out of some sort of misconceived selfishness to somehow eliminate themselves from social wrongdoing.

Empathy is when an individual attempts to understand and experience the thoughts and feelings of someone when he obviously cannot. It is the outward facade of understanding and the inward consecration of inherent selfishness in an attempt to remain morally unblemished.

How hypocritical of us to display feelings of unity and understanding, when we define reality primarily to make ourselves “feel better?”

Fortunately — pun not intended — we are rational creatures. We can use reason to stop ourselves from simply taking the philosophically easy way out of attempting to explain the immeasurably complex.

Instead of incorrectly lifting the virtual blame off of your shoulders, recognize that no one is guilty and no one is innocent.

Things are the way they are. Go from there.


Reach the columnist at spmccaul@asu.edu or follow him on twitter at @sean_mccauley


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