Empathy and Sympathy

H/t to LOTB, Norman Podhoretz says he has no empathy for the Palestinians.

Podhoretz violates a social norm here, because the social norm is that you are supposed to have at least a little empathy for everyone, even people you don’t like. Systems of social norms, whether you call them religions, spiritual systems, or legal and political systems, operate partly around ethics, or what the rules are, and partly around empathy, which is the understanding of a person’s subjective situation, and also sympathy, which is an understanding for a person’s subjective situation combined with compassion for them.

There are rules, but people don’t always follow them. Who, when they don’t follow the rules, gets empathy, sympathy and love? Who, when they don’t follow the rules, gets judgment, condemnation, and hate?

Most social systems feature mostly ethics for everyone, with some sympathy for everyone. People are supposed to follow the rules, if they break them they are punished, but not excessively. If the rules are difficult and strict, more people will break them, creating more need for empathy, but if the rules are hard the people making and enforcing the rules won’t be inclined to much empathy. This will alienate a lot of people. The rules have to be strict enough to allow society to function, but not so strict people will frequently violate them and lose respect for the rules and the rulers. Strict rules are great for the rulers, but tend to backfire in the long run.

The ethical system held by mainstream conservatives and libertarians mostly rules, with limited empathy, but the rules are not strict so empathy isn’t a big issue. You must not harm others. If you harm others, you will be punished, but only to the extent necessary to maintain order, not with hatred or anger. Conservatives expect traditional sexual mores to be respected. People unable to produce economically will get charity or welfare, to a limited extent, but they believe the economy can be organized so that it is easy to get a job and make a living.

Progressives have a quite different concept of ethics. Empathy and sympathy are extended virtually without limit to some groups and not at all to others. I think this goes back to Jesus’s admonition to “love your enemies”. Bible interpretation gets onto dangerous ground. The important point here is that progressives decided at some point that not only was it good to love your enemies in addition to loving your friends and relatives, it was good to love your enemies more than your friends or relatives. This to me is the Pharisaical sin of adding on to the law, but it allowed themselves to position themselves as morally superior, and moral superiority as power is the entire idea of the last 500 years.

Jesus also told people to care for the poor and oppressed, so progressives extend unlimited empathy- or demand that others extend unlimited empathy- to those they identify as poor and oppressed, and people regarded as bad. Progressives love criminals, and care deeply about their well-being, while having no empathy for crime victims, and subjecting them to a high ethical standard. They expect criminals will be treated with kindness and decency, love, and not punished but only given confinement and treatment such as needed to remove their defects of behavior, which are entirely understandable and only due to oppression. Crime victims are expected to not have any anger over their suffering and loss and expected not to hate the criminals who hurt them, but immediately forgive them, whether they show any remorse or repentance, and not demand any more punishment than a progressive criminal justice system would dole out.

The poor are by definition good, so they must receive a lot of money and aid from the government, and the non-poor must not object to paying for this.

Most people find homosexuals and transsexuals disgusting, but being different they are oppressed, and society must do whatever they want so they will feel comfortable, and normal people must not object to their presence or any of their behavior.

This upside-down system of ethics and empathy became more and more powerful up until the 1970’s, but then the massive crime problem it created caused a backlash and counter-revolution by normal people. The criminal justice system became a lot more strict. School busing was ended, so people were able to move away and keep their children away from badly behaving poor people. Gays didn’t move back legally, but they toned down their behavior somewhat and rather than acting like 60’s cultural rebels, have since tried to portray themselves as normal middle-class citizens.

The Pharisees took a fairly straight-forward system of law and ethics and added additional customs and rules to it, to make themselves look better and give themselves more authority. This frustrated and discouraged the population. If you are a city dweller with slaves who can go to a well close by, you can wash frequently but if you are a farmer or herder admonitions to wash frequently may be difficult or impossible to follow. Jesus only wanted to restore a reasonable system of ethics and empathy, tempered with humility. Only God is good, he reminded us.

Progressive Christians took the Pharisaical model of religion where well-behaved, outwardly religious people with money were good- very much like the pagan model- to one where the badly behaved poor and sexual deviants are the good people. You go from having Deuteronomy Pharisees, who are annoying, to Sermon on the Mount Pharisees, who are deadly.

Extending unlimited compassion to the badly behaved is really a Hindu or Buddhist concept- a theoretical one, since poor and badly behaved people aren’t treated too well in Asia. The reasoning here is a little better, because a murderer for example has to suffer many lifetimes, including murder himself before he is enlightened and enters a state of bliss, rather than getting a get-out-of-jail-free card. Extending unlimited compassion to a person who has harmed you is ethically questionable to me, because while you can discount the harm they have done to you, you can’t legitimately discount the harm they may do to others without punishment. But at least it’s your choice. Demanding other people extend unlimited compassion to people who have harmed them, while extending them no compassion yourself, is evil



About thrasymachus33308

I like fast cars, fast women and southern-fried rock. I have an ongoing beef with George Orwell. I take my name from a character in Plato's "Republic" who was exasperated with the kind of turgid BS that passed for deep thought and political discourse in that time and place, just as I am today. The character, whose name means "fierce fighter" was based on a real person but nobody knows for sure what his actual political beliefs were. I take my pseudonym from a character in an Adam Sandler song who was a obnoxious jerk who pissed off everybody.
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3 Responses to Empathy and Sympathy

  1. Ryu says:

    There’s neither sympathy nor empathy for racists. You find out how much “tolerance” a person has when you say no.

  2. Hizzle says:

    Just read an article in the Wall Street Journal talking about how evil Golden Dawn is for beating up an immigrant. That two Golden Dawn members were murdered (not beaten up) and their headquarters was burnt down is only….proof of Golden Dawn’s evil.

    I read earlier than Diane Feinstein thinks Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld are evil for authorizing water-boardings. She has no words of condemnation for the Nobel Laureate who has killed more people by executive order than Bush ever did (and authorized “double-taps” which target civilians, unlike his predecessor Bush). If you believe it is more painful to have water poured down your throat than it is to say, die alongside your whole village engulfed in flames in a drone attack, well, then, you just might be a progressive.

    Years ago you quoted Jonathan Haidt (who wrote “The Righteous Mind” and introduced the concept of Social Intuitionism into public consciousness: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_intuitionism ).

    Haidt started as a democrat, but after a long period of research, he became a right-leaning independent. What led to this change? It was simple. The conservative emphasis on order meant there was one set of rules, and the liberal emphasis on empathy meant that there were not, which meant, in the end, that the conservative model was ultimately more empathetic, since trying to figure out the rules when there are none is pure torture (This is why rulers get off on punishing their subjects for yearning for sane immigration policies, why progressives delight in essentially saying that because illegals broke the law, they deserve to be citizens).

    The literal-minded constitution lovers like Rand or Ron Paul are considered tiresome by many, but there comes a time when we’re all grateful to have them around.

  3. Claer says:

    “The conservative emphasis on order meant there was one set of rules, and the liberal emphasis on empathy meant that there were not, which meant, in the end, that the conservative model was ultimately more empathetic, since trying to figure out the rules when there are none is pure torture”

    That makes a lot of sense to me. Plus, liberalism, not having a frame of reference, means the public has to be ‘told’ rather than being given guidelines that they can figure out for themselves. Shockingly, I’ve discovered that this actually appeals to many people who simply don’t want to be bothered figuring anything out for themselves. A case of Societal Neoteny perhaps.

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