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Lions Roar : September 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2006 21 more likely to empathize with people who are suf- fering if they feel in some way that these people are a member of their own race, their own tribe, their own nationality. Sometimes people identify when one particular he- roic figure seems to embody the suffering of a group of people. I wonder, for example, if international pressure on the apartheid regime in South Africa would have been as great if not for the moral stature of someone like Nelson Mandela. Another thing that helps in creating such a movement is if there is a fairly sim- ple and obviously effective thing that people are asked to do. The anti-slavery movement had deep spiritual and religious roots. Do you think spiritual roots are needed to sustain any movement of social change? No, I don’t, although there’s no question that for many people this is a major motivation. I look at movements for social change and see some where people like Martin Luther King Jr. are clearly motivated by deep spiritual forces. The capacity for outrage at injustice is often, or perhaps most of the time, felt by people with spiritual roots—but not necessarily. What lesson can today’s social movements learn from the anti- slavery movement? We need to be much better at working in political coalitions. One of the things that made the antislavery movement revolu- tionary for eighteenth-century Britain was that people from dif- century Britain was that people from dif- ferent religious sects came together to press for a common aim. This was unprecedented. In the U.S. there is an effort by peo- ple in the environmental movement, who are concerned about global warming, to reach out to evangelicals. There is a wing Q&A ADAM HOCHSCHILD writes about inhumanity and the peo- ple who fight against it. In his new book, Bury the Chains, he tells the story of how a small group of Britons, many of them dedicated Christians, created a mass movement that eventually ended slavery in the British Empire. The Shambhala Sun talks to Hochschild about morally-based social movements and how they can succeed today. DAVID SWICK: Why did you write Bury the Chains? ADAM HOCHSCHILD: The British antislavery movement excited me because this was the first time a large number of people got out- raged about somebody else’s plight. This was the birth of something extraordinary—people willing to demonstrate, sign petitions, boy- cott, etc., for the sake of the rights of people they didn’t personally know. We have to be able to find and cultivate and encourage that ability today, I think, if we’re going to survive as a human race. Has considering so much inhumanity made you more pessimistic? I tend to be kind of an optimist by nature. And the fact is, if you write about history, as I do, almost anywhere you look people are enslaving other people, are making war on each other in horrible ways, are routinely practicing torture. Of course a lot of these things still go on in the world—but there are large portions of the world where they no longer go on. A little over two hundred years ago, more than three-quarters of the people on Earth were in outright slavery, serfdom, or indentured servitude—bondage of one kind or another. We may be far from perfect today, but at least we can no longer say that about three-quarters of the people in the world. Abolitionists believed that once the average person was aware of the terrible truth underlying slavery, human empathy alone would put an end to it. It wasn’t so simple. It didn’t bring about change as rapidly as they had hoped, be- cause changing public opinion was not enough. But they were justified in thinking that making things known could change people’s hearts. I hope we have not gotten past that point today. One hears a great deal about compassion fatigue. Many people today do feel powerless in the face of all our problems. What is needed to bring about change? One has to do some thinking about the question, what are the pathways to empathy? I think people are always, sadly, much The Good Fight ADAM HOCHSCHILD ILLUSTRATIONCOURTESYOFTHELIBRARYOFCONGRESS,PRINTSANDPHOTOGRAPHSDIVISION,LC-USZC4-5321PHOTOBYSPARKMEDIA