Empathetically Correct, Part 2

 

A July piece in theNew York Times written by three psychology professors made the case for leftist empathy. The authors objected to an argument made by a fellow psychologist,  Paul Bloom, who denigrated empathy as a “parochial, narrow-minded emotion” that “will have to yield to reason if humanity is to survive”. Apparently, Mr. Bloom is one who believes that empathy in the Angelina Jolie save-a-continent sense is a source of “moral failure.”

The authors retort :

“While we concede that the exercise of empathy is, in practice, often far too limited in scope, we dispute the idea that this shortcoming is inherent, a permanent flaw in the emotion itself. Inspired by a competing body of recent research, we believe that empathy is a choice that we make whether to extend ourselves to others. The “limits” to our empathy are merely apparent, and can change, sometimes drastically, depending on what we want to feel.”

 

This may be all well and good, but when we carry these emotions into the political sphere, we may become silly or even delusional. The fundamental task of political leaders is to provide lawful and responsible leadership in carrying out policies that benefit the citizens within their sovereign territory. Their task is not to collect tens of thousands of anecdotes and then show “empathy” toward groups that the New York Times considers to be victims.

 

The authors also gave a mixed picture of how empathy has been understood over the centuries. On the one hand, “Empathy has [traditionally] been seen as a force for moral good, motivating virtuous deeds.” But on the other, “Arguments against empathy rely on an outdated view of emotion as a capricious beast that needs to yield to sober reason.” Moreover, the Christian sensibility almost oozes off the page with this pseudo-sermon: “Yes, there are many situations in which empathy appears to be limited in its scope, but this is not a deficiency in the emotion itself. In our view, empathy is only as limited as we choose it to be.”

 

Again, this is all well and good, but what leftists the world over conflate and/or confuse is empathy and principle. They are not one and the same. This misunderstanding corrupts leftist perception of reality through and through. It affects everything from their politics to their movies. Being nice to someone or understanding toward someone does not mean suspending one’s critical faculties or abandoning moral principles. Furthermore, sometimes “niceness” in a short-term coddling sense is the very opposite of what we need from ourselves or those around us as we journey through life. No one ever made strides in their life from telling themselves or being told by others that they had no flaws or shortcomings. As Archbishop Chaput in Philadelphia recently explained in a sermon, there is a difference between being “nice” and being “good”; the two often overlap, but they are not the same, and where there is conflict we should opt for being “good”.

 

Many leftists enjoyed Pope Francis’s remark from a couple months ago that traditionalists often exhibit a “narcissistic and authoritarian elitism”. This fed the post-Christian leftist empathy heresy wonderfully. Unfortunately, Pope Francis is well-aware that this tendency he speaks of is a result of independent spiritual vitality, as opposed to the psychological chaos of people seeking never-ending therapy and new shoulders to lean on with rumors, gossip, anecdotes, and reactions. Feminized democracy has produced sorry excuses for leaders, such as Blair, Cameron, and Hollande.

 

There are two final points that the authors of the empathy piece need to understand: 1) the greatest practitioner of genuine empathy in its highest sense was the founder of Christianity, Christ Himself – but his means of expressing empathy was through infinite mercy and offering of repentance, not through accommodating every conceivable vice, perversity, or twisted belief, and 2) empathy as a moral guide that supersedes doctrine ultimately debases the human race.

 

The leftist push for infinite personal empathy excuses moral flaws and actually encourages people to indulge them further. It accommodates people with convenient justifications for their inadequacies. It lowers standards and brings culture down, and in the case of coping with the Islamic challenge, it blinds our leaders and renders them incapable of finding solutions. In this way, we certainly need to return to that “outdated” view of emotion as “a capricious beast that needs to yield to sober reason”. When it comes to empathy, that view isn’t outdated, but right. That nice Muslim doctor or businessman who you know doesn’t alter the contents of the hadith that are invoked by jihadists as they carry out their attacks and strategems.

Time to return to standing for what is good and paying attention to doctrine!

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Diogenes

Diogenes

13 Responses

  1. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    Good piece, Diogenes. I should point out, however, that “empathy,” so far from having a long tradition in the Christian West, is actually a 20th century neologism not even included in the old OED. It is not a Greek word, either, though there is an adjective empathes, which means, feeling deeply–something quite different from empathy. The word seems to have been introduced to translate the German Einfühlung. The notion, like the word itself, is bogus, and it projects the illusion that we can actually feel what others feel. Perhaps mystics and saints have this gift or curse on occasion, and even a mother for her children, but most of us never feel such a thing even for close friends, much less for aliens. It is the grossest kind of sentimentalism, one that undermines our moral sense.

    Of course, we use to speak of sympathy–a sort of fellow-feeling that enabled one parent to imagine who another parent felt when he lost a child. We also had compassion, which is the ability to have enough feeling for another’s suffering to take pity on him. This is the appeal Priam makes to Achilles at the end of the Iliad, and it is what Dido tells Aeneid when she meets him, that not ignorant of suffering she knows how to be kind to others who have suffered. It is compassion, sympathy, and charity that are at the center of Christian morality, and not this mystical twaddle of empathy.

  2. Avatar Ben says:

    Diogenes you dog you…

    A question for both of you regarding your last sentences respectively (and with all due respect):

    To the anonymous Dog- “stand up” how? A dog doesn’t stand up and even if it did…head shot: think trench warfare. Then, “stand up” with the kollektiva? If so, why/how? (What’s the Russian word for the collective?). God help us when the collective moves us all all of a sudden; only catastrophe brings change after which the good has a chance to give rise to a lotus from the muck. In other words, do you Diogenes really believe you’re barking brings change?

    To Dr.TJF- “at the center of Christian morality” is JC himself, and His center was of Judaic origin, an origin and law that He came to fulfill and clarify and, more or less, improve upon, no? Of compassion, sympathy, and charity, which if any at all are exclusive to Judaism? We see these three positive personality traits in the Old Testament to be sure, no? From what else would these originate?

    also, to Dr.TJF: I quite appreciate the etymological note on the word empathy – that is the most interesting thing of all in this “dialogue” of commenting thus far aside from the comment/questions from yours truly 😉

    agreed: “standing for the good” = the moral, I get it; but we are lacking a prescription here, a plan for the average sucker, otherwise, this piece comes off sounding like a distended radio talk show host who reads on-air, bad radio – unless of course the only prescription is to live well for revenge’s sake….

    also, when Diogenes and Dr. TJF display a vibrant exchange of comments/so-called-dialogue in this space is when I believe they are not the same person…Who is Diogenes? why be anonymous? are you posting something that warrants death threats from unstable minds? what are you afraid of? if you’re afraid this site is monitored by the likes of the splc then I can understand because I can assure you, it is, and anybody commenting on it, needless to say the contributors, have long been flagged for caponization.

    forgive me for not being “nice.”

  3. Avatar Ben says:

    sorry . a correction to my question- not “exclusive to” but “originating from”.

  4. Avatar Frank Brownlow says:

    Until I came to America I had never heard the word “empathy,” but quickly found it had elbowed “sympathy” aside completely. The English word for the empathetically disabled is, or used to be, “wet.” It may be on the index of prohibited words by now, but one “prescription” might be to start using it. Jeb Bush, for instance, is wet, soaking wet in fact, and someone should tell him so. In Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour, the newly-arrived American army in Italy tries to win over the Italians by providing them with opera. A puzzled English officer says, “We’ve just beaten the bastards, haven’t we? What have they got to sing about? I don’t believe even the Yanks would be so wet as to lay on entertainments for them.” Ah, but they would. It’s that terrible fear of not being liked. Haunts the mind. Hence all the empathizing.

  5. Avatar Ben says:

    As a child I remember Moe frequently saying to Larry, “…you’re all wet.” Was “winning the hearts and minds” always a part of warfare – it can’t be too near the top of the rules for warfare art, near “deceive always” ?

    I will start using more often, I love this one, “wet bag”, especially directed towards my so-called family members and friends, you know the ones, the ones who turn on Good Morning America as they prepare and eat their sugar cereal breakfast.

  6. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    I am certainly not Diogenes, a young man whom I have encouraged to write under a pseudonym in order to avoid creating trouble for himself. If Ben is reading the chapters of my Properties of Blood, he will see that I am attempting to answer his questions about Christian morality. Not every brief piece, much less a briefer response, can do much to offer prescriptions.

    Yes, Prof. Brownlow, let us all promise to begin to use “wet” in this sense. In America we used to say someone was “all wet” when we meant he was not merely in error but thoroughly wrong. Mrs. Thatcher called her Conservative opponents Wets, apparently meaning spineless and perhaps soppy.

  7. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    I should add that every publication with which I have been associated has attracted the attention and wrath of the liars at the SPLC, particularly the slimy and cretinous Mark Potok.

  8. Avatar Dissident says:

    Ben, what I meant by the idiomatic “stand for what is good” was simply that we should not abandon facts or moral principles in public debates simply because someone we know personally might be unsettled by them. This is what the empathy advocates are calling for. If talking about unpleasant hadiths publicly is going to make Muslims in America or Europe feel irritated, then I am sorry, but that is too bad. There are lives and cultures at stake in this discussion, and Muslims of good will should at least be willing to entertain a conversation about what their religious texts say. If nothing else, they could have the courtesy of conjuring up some bogus rationalization for why the hadiths are quoted incorrectly by terrorist groups, but at least in that case we would move the conversation beyond vague cliches like “ISIS is twisting a great religion, most Muslims are peace-loving, etc.” Let us at least have a conversation of substance. The same goes for, say, controlling the border. I personally have two very good Hispanic friends and I prefer Latin music to Taylor Swift or Adele croaking out their latest cornball tune; this does not mean that I do not believe in maintaining some semblance of control over the border. Personally liking Mexicans has nothing to do with a public policy of maintaining national sovereignty.

    The alternative with a question such as Islamic terrorism is just to continue to have the same demented conversation we have been having for over 15 years now after every attack and then watch as major cities like Brussels become mini-police state societies with military personnel armed to the teeth walking the streets. I don’t think anyone wants this, but apparently the empathy-die-hards are willing to deal with it so long as they are showing empathy to a traditional opponent of Western Christians.

    As for your question about my name, perhaps it is Diogenes, or perhaps it is not. I do not know why it event matters. We are discussing ideas here and I actually think anonymity can be valuable in the course of conversation if the interlocutors just stick to the point being discussed and more or less follow rules of basic decorum. Once official titles are brought in then the purity of conversation often gets muddled by exterior considerations like who said what or what their secret motivations must be. If Harry Reid or Howard Dean were to post on this site with their true names, why it would it impact the conversation we are having? Either way, the quality of it would be severely reduced. On LewRockwell’s site I have enjoyed reading Bionic Mosquito at different points and it did not vex me that he wouldn’t share his non-mosquito name.

  9. Avatar Dot says:

    At one time not long ago, how one felt gained greater validity than reason. It seems to me that if one’s life is dominated by how one feels, it can be paralyzing and controlling at the same time.

  10. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    I do not at all agree that anonymity is in principle a good idea, and I do my best to restrict it to necessary cases. The anonymity of the internet is a curse that allows cowards to pretend to be brave, taunting more honest and braver men. In this case, I think it is a good idea, on balance, but it should never be used to shield the irresponsible from the consequences of their actions and words.

  11. Avatar Ben says:

    DrTJF – I think I agree with you re: anonymity in principle but I hope you don’t believe that I was taunting Diogenes. I realize I perhaps came across harshly towards The Dog’s anonymity, or as attacking the messenger. However, anonymity, from the pseudonyms of Soren Kierkegaard to today’s hacktivist group, is intriguing in itself, no? …with all these darn Guy Fawkes masks everywhere, the air is pregnant with the topic, so what does it all mean?! There must be a story as to why Diogenes choose Diogenes. I’m only curious.

    Yes, among other things, we are discussing ideas here, but the brief piece’s last sentence comes across as a rallying call, and coming from a pseudonym I found it distracting. That’s all, though I remain fixated on it…was it not time to return to what we need to return to before it was time to return to it? Enough already, it’s long over due. Me asking if your barking can make a difference if any at all, I suppose, was me thinking: when did it go bad? who’s responsible for this inversion of good and bad? Did it go bad? There’s nothing new under the sun, wasn’t it always broken? What’s the plan? will this viral epidemic not burn itself out like a Spanish Flu? This is all a vexation of spirit, this vanity. And so, yes, I’m naturally intrigued as to why you’re vain about your name (a final scene from The Crucible comes to mind, “…because it is my name!”)

    Forgive me but our modern day witch hunts have me squirming – have we not learned anything? Are we really going to be rolled over by history so easily?

    anyhow, I find it extremely difficult to have true dialogues in cyber space, it’s oddly barbaric talking via telegrams. Post marked hand written cursive letters are better – I would have in flowing cursive written: “it was once said: as for my people, a babe is your master and women rule over you.”

    Happy New Year everyone.

  12. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    I took no offense at anything Ben said. It was I who gave the young man his pseudonym, partly because I did not want to assign him exclusive use of the term “the dissident” and partly as little joke which I shall not explain. Happy New Year and Buon Anno–we shall soon be flying to Rome for six weeks in Italy. This trip, however, we shall be mostly (over a month) in an apartment in Rome, which gives me a stable base in which to work. The Greek trip was too hectic for me to remain on top of things.

  13. Avatar Ben says:

    Well then, I hope Diogenes took no offense. Diogenes’ brief piece ultimately leaves me wanting more, as a good comedian or a good writer does, and so I will look forward to more E.C. pieces by Diogenes with which hopefully he offers new ideas on how to live with the E.C. Police because I don’t think they are going anywhere since “the fiends long ago discovered the most efficient way to destroy” whatever is good (which was when? in 1792 with no-fault divorce laws? or earlier? it had to have been earlier than that…)

    I hope DrTJF’s little joke didn’t involve his pupil-dissident carrying around a big fish all week.

    And to stay on my side topic of anonymity (my apologies, again, I can’t resist) and given that the next Boethius Book party will discuss the atheistic Hammett, was not Hammett’s most powerful character the unnamed Continental Op of Red Harvest? To Diogenes’ point, it matters not what his identity is. Working under not exactly a pseudonym, the Continental Op portrays a sense of how this E.C. piece made me feeeel at my first comment i.e. that there is no redemption at the end of this journey, instead we plod along through a series of transitions as eerily portrayed in the character’s dream sequence in the back half of the story. When I hope for Diogenes’ articulated prescriptions, I should realize that a wanted cure-all pill is irrelevant because there is no destination.