Some twenty-five years ago I edited a textbook on international politics (Olson, 1984) and included a carefully researched contribution by Gordon Adams on Cuba’s military actions in Southern Africa. I included that chapter because, in part, it effectively refuted certain widely-held misconceptions about Cuban foreign policy, one of which was that Cuba was acting as a surrogate, a pawn for the Soviet Union. But at least as important, the piece served to convey something of the societal wide, organic, cultural ethos of empathy that motivated and continues to nurture and affirm Cuban internationalism. That is, claims on behalf of a global praxis of empathy that fail to explicitly critique and attempt to eradicate global structural violence must be treated with skepticism. Such assertions fall outside the borders of any serious discussion of the subject (Huish and Spiegel, 2008; Gould, 2010).
Today we know more about both Cuban behavior from that era and about current policies. We also know considerably more about the evolution and dynamics of empathy. Given recent advances in cultural neuroscience and related disciplines, there is strong evidence pointing toward a bidirectional connection between brain development and culture. One consequence is that our biological, hard-wired moral intuition, our predisposition toward empathy, may be short circuited by the influence of unchecked hyper-individualism (Olson, 2010). For example, after decades of unrelenting exposure to neoliberal ideology’s ‘Gekkoisation’ of culture, it’s hardly surprising that American college students are 40 percent lower in empathy than their late 1970s’ counterparts (Konrath, 2010; Bone, 2009). But far beyond undergraduates, as the hegemonic ideology of our era, neoliberalism also serves, in Henry Giroux’s apt phrase, as “public pedagogy” that anesthetizes feelings of social solidarity throughout society. It has “become an all-encompassing cultural horizon for producing market identities, values, and practices” (Giroux, 2008, p.113).
By contrast, Cuban internationalism—initially more military and now medical missions—is the most compelling large-scale example we have of empathic solidarity.
Read the rest here.