Oft have I warned of the danger of making a fetish of empathy. I wrote about it at length in my book, The Last Psychoanalyst.
Today’s therapy culture has elevated the ability to feel the pain of others into something of a moral absolute.
Since moral precepts define what you should do, making empathy a moral law upends ethics by enjoining us, not to do something, but to feel the right feelings.
Under the rule of empathy, it doesn’t really matter what happens to the poor and disadvantaged in our great nation. What matters is that you feel the correct feelings about the problem. They shield you of all responsibility for the consequences of the policies you have supported.
It’s a lose/lose situation that feels like a win/win.
Recently, presumptive presidential candidate Hillary Clinton-- whose husband rode “I feel your pain” to the White House and to no small number of sexual conquests-- recently announced that we need to empathize with our enemies.
By the Hillary doctrine, we do not need to defeat our enemies. We do not need to feel their pain. We need to be sensitive to the pain that is causing them to want to kill us.
Like it or not, discussions of empathy quickly degenerate into mindless cant.
Yesterday, as soon as the terrorist hostage taking in Sydney, Australia been suppressed, the Sydney Morning Herald embarrassed itself with an editorial about the need for empathy.
At the least, the paper demonstrated that wallowing in empathy diminishes mental capacity.
If only in passing, note that the forces of order in Sydney showed no empathy for the terrorist who had held seventeen people captive in a chocolate shop. They stormed the place, behind stun grenades and automatic fire.
The SMH, however, sees it in terms of empathy:
First and foremost, we have faced yet another test of our empathy. Like the Bali bombings and myriad natural disasters, our thoughts are with the innocent victims: those inside the cafe who were caught up in a tragic situation for no other reason than they were going about their daily lives. Our thoughts are with their loved ones, too, for the hard times ahead.
Whatever does that mean? Surely, we all feel sympathy for the victims of any crime or disaster. It is a perfectly normal human emotion. And we feel sympathy for those who have lost loved ones.
But, we are not being tested. No one can be insensitive to the feelings of the people whose loved ones were killed by a terrorist.
After that warm-up, the SMH moves on to the crux of its argument:
Perhaps we face an even more difficult test of our empathy as well. How should we feel for the perpetrator so far witnessed and his family? While we do not know his story or his motivation, we know he was once someone just like those people whose lives he has now treated with such disdain. He must have loved ones, too. Forgiving him will be very difficult, and it will take time. Without forgiveness, though, we have to live with destructive hate.
One understands that this is therapy-speak. One is tempted to say that it is girl-talk, but if Margaret Thatcher had read it she would have thrown up. When the Iron Lady was faced with IRA terrorists on a hunger strike, she refused to have them force fed.
For all I know the editorial was written by a man pretending to be in touch with his feminine side. If so, it’s insulting to women.
For the editorial board of the SMH the issue is not what to do about the cancer in their midst, but how they should feel about it.
Do you think that that will deter future terrorists?
The editorial implies that after 9/11 we should have ginned up our empathy and felt for Mohammed Atta’s loved ones. If we didn’t, did we fail the empathy test?
As absurd as that sounds, one suspects that Senator Feinstein’s recent indictment of the CIA was designed—consciously or unconsciously—to make us feel empathy for the terrorists who had undergone advanced interrogation.
As psy-ops go, feeling for the families of your attackers, the ones who will suffer the most if you destroy your enemies, is guaranteed to make you weaker and more ineffectual.
And, what is this nonsense about forgiveness? Do you think that Australia now needs to forgive Mon Haron Monis his horrific actions? Do you believe that if they do not forgive him they will be eaten alive by hatred?
If so, you have certainly had too much therapy. In the real world, if you forgive your enemy you will encourage him to hit you again.
What is especially infelicitous in the SMH’s call to feel empathy for the family of Monis is that he behaved monstrously toward his family. Monsters do not deserve empathy; they deserve contempt.
The Daily Mail reports in detail. Consider it an empathy test:
Court documents show that the dead gunman behind the siege of a Sydney cafe was facing up to 50 sexual offence charges, including aggravated sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault and inciting a teenage girl to commit an indecent act.
Man Haron Monis painted the breasts and bodies of women with water, massaged their breasts and rubbed his genitals against them and raped them in 'spiritual healing' sessions all over Sydney going back 13 years, the documents allege.
The 50-year-old committed the sexual offences against women at his Spiritual Consultation business in the Sydney suburbs of Burwood, Liverpool, Westmead and Belmore between September 2001 and September this year, according to the documents.
Monis, whose name is recorded in the documents as Mohammad Hassas Manteghi, was due to face court on February 27 next year.
Further documents allege that he threatened to shoot the mother of his two sons at Minchinbrook McDonalds in western Sydney almost two years before Noleen Hayson Pal was murdered.
According to an interview conducted at St Marys Police Station on July 27, 2011, Monis threatened Ms Pal after they split up and had demanded full custody of their children, then aged seven and three-and-a-half.
Ms Pal, who told police she was afraid of Monis, had met him at the McDonald's a week earlier to discuss custody of their children.
Police say Monis told her, 'If I can't see the kids more than I am now, you're going to pay, even if I have to shoot you'….
Ms Pal, who became Monis' s de facto wife around nine years before she was murdered, died in a brutal killing on the afternoon of Sunday, April 21 when she was set upon, stabbed 18 times, doused with accelerant and then set alight.
It was not until seven months later, in October 2013, that police arrested and charged Monis' s girlfriend, Amirah Droudis with murder and charged Monis with accessory to murder before and after the fact.
It sounds as though the police officers who shot Monis did his family a very large favor. Do you think that we should feel badly for their having lost him?
The Daily Mail asked the right question:
Why was this man out on bail?
Did the Australian criminal justice system believe that his murderous ways were a test of their empathy? Did Australia sacrifice two lives in order to pass an empathy test?
Look at the closing line in the SMH editorial:
To find the answers of the Martin Place siege, we need to remain calm, retain perspective and embrace all sections of the community to ensure we can all go about our everyday lives free of fear.
It’s a nice feeling, to be free from fear. And yet, when you have enemies who are hell bent on destroying you, a little fear is a good thing. If you do not fear those who would murder you, you are out of touch with reality.
It’s also nice to embrace all segments of the community, but that does not tell us what to do with those who do not want to be embraced, who do not want to belong to our communities and who see your embrace as a sign of weakness, an invitation to commit heinous actions.