I think Daniel Johnson is going a little deeper than that in this piece. Johnson wants to examine not only that he has this empathy, but why that empathy exists in him. For Johnson, it’s not a satisfactory answer to his line of questioning to simply say “it’s basic human empathy” as though it were some kind of standard part of the human anatomy — and he has a reason for thinking this way: because enough people apparently lack it that it would seem more than a simple aberration.
Johnson’s explanation — that it was not inborn, but inculcated — may scare you, but it is one of the two essential answers humans have come up with for their moral/ethical behaviors over the millennia. He’s not treading any new ground when he says that the root of his morality lies in the bonds to his family and his fear of their reprisal; that’s pretty basic anthropology.
For what it’s worth, the other answer, implicit in your own response, is that our moral behavior derives from an essential goodness built into us. Are we essentially good, or essentially evil? This is the divide across which the two of you gaze at each other’s thoughts and shudder.