Monday, December 8, 2014

Ready for Hillary's Empathy?

If you had thought that four years as Secretary of State taught Hillary Clinton something, you would be wrong.

Considering how well she managed the Arab Spring, the Russian reset and the Benghazi terror attack you would be right to assume that she’s a slow learner. You would also be right to believe that her knowledge of foreign policy is sorely deficient.

For those who had any doubt, Mrs. Clinton made the following widely-reported remarks at Georgetown last week:

This is what we call smart power. Using every possible tool and partner to advance peace and security. Leaving no one on the sidelines. Showing respect even for one's enemies. Trying to understand, in so far as psychologically possible, empathize with their perspective and point of view. Helping to define the problems, determine the solutions. That is what we believe in the 21st century will change -- change the prospects for peace."

It’s a pungent irony to see the wife of a man who made the phrase “I feel your pain”  famous imagine that she could seduce people as well as her husband did.

For some time now I have been warning about the therapy culture’s glorification of empathy. I analyzed it at length in my book The Last Psychoanalyst.

Because the one thing you don’t need when you are fighting an enemy is to feel his pain. You need to assess his abilities, you need to know his faults and flaws, you need to project what he is and is not capable of doing. You do not need to feel his feelings.

Exception given for those who enjoy feeling pain, a good competitor shuts out any feeling for the pain he wants to inflict on his opponent.

Roger Simon has offered a useful rebuttal to Hillary:

When I first read that Hillary Clinton said we should have “empathy” for our enemies, my first thought was — is she senile?  Who is she talking about?  Empathy for Hitler?  Pol Pot?  Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?  Surely if we only empathized with the ISIS leader a bit more, they wouldn’t be slicing off as many heads or placing as many women in sexual slavery, not to mention shooting large groups after having had them dig their own mass graves, Nazi-style. All that business about global jihad and caliphates and “see you in New York” would go away with a little sympathy. 


Yes, I know sympathy is often defined as “feeling for” someone and empathy “feeling into,” but let’s not get bogged down in minor distinctions.  It’s hard for anyone with basic morality to have empathy or sympathy for ruthless transnational mass murderers motivated by extreme religious fanaticism.

Clinton’s notion that we should respect our enemies is even more absurd. One might say that a good commander respects the abilities of his enemies. But, that is not what Hillary meant. She got caught up in psychobabble and declared that we need to understand and to feel the grievances that are animating our enemies.

I suspect that she does not read this blog or that if she does she does not take it seriously enough.

But, since I strongly advised against precisely what she is prescribing, I am happy, for her benefit, to repeat my thoughts from a couple of weeks ago:

Showing respect for Islam, speaking reverentially of Islam, calling Islam a religion of peace is precisely the wrong tactic.

One does better to respond to terrorism with contempt and derision, with force where need be, but without respect. If Islamic terrorism degrades the character and reputation of all Muslims, then it is for Muslims to restore their good name and the good name of their religion.

We should be unflinching in our support of Israel and stop trying to make the Israelis and the Palestinian terrorists moral equivalents. We should be supporting those Islamic forces that are fighting against the terrorists, leaders like President Sisi of Egypt. And we should respect those Islamic countries that have renounced terror and have successfully joined the world economic order… like Dubai.

There is only one way to overcome the shame of failure: success. Trying to cover up shame by blowing up the products of someone else’s success is ultimately a losing strategy. Those who oppose it should expose the shame that drives it.

More humiliation is the correct counterattack, not more respect and reverence.


Sam L. said...

Well, if I thought she might have any empathy for ME, I'd have to do some considerable work to get ready for it. I'm thinking a hidey-hole deep in the woods with guns and ammo.

Ares Olympus said...

People can sure write a lot from one short quote. What does she say?
"...Trying to understand, in so far as psychologically possible, empathize with their perspective and point of view."

Besides being vague without specific examples, the word "perspective" would seem to imply "cognitive empathy" rather than the feeling sort.

And Goleman talks about this:
The first is “cognitive empathy,” simply knowing how the other person feels and what they might be thinking. Sometimes called perspective-taking, this kind of empathy can help in, say, a negotiation or in motivating people. A study at the University of Birmingham found, for example, that managers who are good at perspective-taking were able to move workers to give their best efforts.

But there can be a dark side to this sort of empathy – in fact, those who fall within the “Dark Triad” – narcissists, Machiavellians, and sociopaths – can be talented in this regard, while having no sympathy whatever for their victims. As Paul told me, a torturer needs this ability, if only to better calibrate his cruelty – and talented political operatives no doubt have this ability in abundance.

When someone takes hostages, you don't send in Rambo, or at least not until you trick the hostage taker to surrender the women and children to show his good faith.

But whatever she means in detail, and I'm sure she means more than to use her "enemies" POV to manipulate them, it seem more like common sense.

Maybe you're right, and humilation is the cure for disempowering your enemies, but it seems to me that only works if the final state is to provoke them into stupidity so you can shoot them dead.

If you have any other goals besides imprisoning for life or killing all your enemies, I'm sure you have to be smarter.

Ares Olympus said...

p.s. Maybe Hillary's empathy means we should fire bad cops AFTER we understand their point of view that says they can get away with murder?
Unfortunately, I don’t think better training alone will reduce police brutality. My fellow officers and I took plenty of classes on racial sensitivity and on limiting the use of force.

The problem is that cops aren’t held accountable for their actions, and they know it. These officers violate rights with impunity. They know there’s a different criminal justice system for civilians and police.

Even when officers get caught, they know they’ll be investigated by their friends, and put on paid leave. My colleagues would laughingly refer to this as a free vacation. It isn’t a punishment. And excessive force is almost always deemed acceptable in our courts and among our grand juries. Prosecutors are tight with law enforcement, and share the same values and ideas.

We could start to change that by mandating that a special prosecutor be appointed to try excessive force cases. And we need more independent oversight, with teeth. I have little confidence in internal investigations.

The number of people in uniform who will knowingly and maliciously violate your human rights is huge. At the Ferguson protests, people are chanting, “The whole damn system is guilty as hell.” I agree, and we have a lot of work to do.