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 But on the other, “Arguments against empathy rely on an outdated view of emotion as a capricious beast that needs to yield to sober reason.”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!