Empathy, is in my opinion, the fundamental driver of human morality. Empathy is the ability to understand, sympathise and relate to another person, creature or place.
Empathy is primarily an imaginative act as it involves imagining how the other is feeling, or how you might feel in the same situation, or being so identified that you suffer along with the other.
The weakness of empathy is that it can be contracted to direct kin or even to one’s self alone (depending on the training), or expanded to the whole of creation (depending on the training). In some ways the history of empathy is precisely this expansion to cover almost the whole realm of the known. In some societies empathy may be directed at the whole of nature, but this current time is the only time that empathy can be directed to the whole world, and we are capable of destroying that world. So empathy becomes more and more important to our survival.
Empathy may even be the fundamental imaginative act, that precedes all other imaginings, and is possibly related to mercy in that working empathy may find it hard to extract full vengeance… It allows another chance, another imagining. It implies that we are not foreign to one another, that we could step where the other has gone.
When empathy is cut off, then there is no possibility of a moral response to anyone or anything. There are only rules or fury. Empathy disturbs legal rules and fury.
That is why dictatorial regimes like finding scapegoats. Firstly it excuses them their own failings (it is someone else’s fault) and secondly it breaks empathy. Once it is broken, then it becomes easier to do vile acts and enforce the will of the dictators.