Monday, November 16, 2020

Enough with the Empathy

More woke than thou, never wanting to miss out of a fad, the American business community has now embraced-- empathy. These great minds had been hawking sensitivity training, most of which renders people less sensitive-- but who cares? And they are all-in for anti-racism, because increased awareness about racism is likely to produce more racism. 

Now, they want us to embrace empathy-- you know, the kind that was brought into American consciousness by none other than Bubba himself-- remember when he felt your pain. It was a con, a piece of abject fawning to female voters, but the country bought it anyway.

And they bought it in the name of one Joe Biden. Apparently, according to the Biden campaign, the real winner of the presidential election was: Empathy.

One recalls that Yale Professor Paul Bloom has already written a book called Against Empathy. One also recalls that your humble blogger has written more than his fair share of posts on the trap represented by empathy. Bloom calls it a "moral train wreck."

Apparently, in a world where people no longer know how to think, Joe Biden, a man who has routinely assaulted women, is leading a return to empathy. Apparently, the reason that the coronavirus became a pandemic was that President Trump lacked sufficient empathy.

This means, for those who require a translation, that empathy is girl power. Thus, Trump was so defiantly manly that he did not feel anyone’s pain and thus allowed the virus to proliferate.

To be fair, most of those who call for a return to empathy are really calling for compassion, as Prof. Bloom explained. Empathy is sharing feelings. The Greek root means feeling with. Compassion means feeling for. 

Of course, the notion that empathy is some kind of panacea is patent nonsense. Try a thought experiment. You seem to have broken your arm. You are wheeled into the ER. Two doctors are on duty. One feels your pain, because he had a similar break. He has no knowledge of how to set a broken bone. The other has never broken a bone in his body but he has mastered the art of setting broken arms. Which would you choose as your physician?

Try another thought experiment. You are suffering from an indeterminate psychic pain. Do you want to consult with someone who feels your pain, and who feels the concomitant hopelessness or do you want to consult with someone who will help you to overcome your pain?

And then there is the absurd notion that empathy will cure all of society’s ills and allow people to join together by sharing feelings. That is, the notion that empathy is a panacea for everything that is ailing our society.

We owe the analysis of this notion to to Prof. Bloom and also to Adam Smith. Let’s say that you are watching a televised interview of a male politician by a female journalist. The journalist is berating and haranguing the politician. She is strong and empowered and she is going to put him in his place. The rules of decorum prevent him from responding in kind. The journalist knows this, and she lets rip.

So, imagine two people watching this interview. A woman identifies with the female journalist. A man identifies with the male politician. Nothing says that things should be this way, but we will use this obvious point for argument’s sake. So, the woman feels what the journalist is feeling and she decides that she should speak to her husband and perhaps even her male boss with the same tone of voice. How do you think that will work out? Will it foster comity or animosity? 

The man, however, will feel the anger the male politician feels. He does not feel constrained by the rules of public decorum, and the next time a woman or anyone else, talks to him that way, he is going to retaliate. Will this foster comity or animosity?

Besides, do I even need to mention it, but how much empathy did the party of empathy have for President Trump or Michael Flynn or Brett Kavanaugh? Zero would be generous.

In the meantime Sam Walker has taken the measure of our currently mindless obsession with empathy in the Wall Street Journal. One remarks that empathy, for whatever it may or may not be doing, does not require very much rational thought. It is all emotion, all the time. Whining and drooling, tears and fears, people dissolving in a puddle of vulnerability.

It is not just, as Walker remarks, that leaders need strength more than they need empathy. They also need their rational faculties, the ability to step back and look at a problem from an objective distance. When faced with a crisis, empathy will paralyze your response.

One also understands that, in our thoroughly promiscuous misuse of language, we have a tendency to believe that empathy refers to your ability to see things through other people's eyes. It refers to the way that we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

This is nonsense, too. Not a single one of our empathy mongers has bothered to ask themselves this question, rehearsed on this blog. In 1989, during the Tienanmen Square demonstrations in Beijing, how many of our empaths asked themselves how the situation looked to the members of the Chinese Politburo. This would, after all, have required them to analyze recent Chinese history. From that they would have concluded that while we saw a Chinese Woodstock, the Chinese leaders saw a potential return of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Since they had all, in one way or another, been victimized by the Maoist madness, one might conclude that they would not allow anything similar to happen again. This type of analysis has little to do with empathy.

It gets worse. Walker remarks that we feel the most empathy for people who are like us. Thus, that empathy does not promote racial harmony. It promotes discord.

The biggest obstacle may be this: Surveys have found that people are actually becoming less empathetic. When we do extend empathy to strangers, we’re more inclined to do so if they look like us, think like us, follow us on Twitter, or support the same soccer team. Some researchers believe empathy isn’t what unites us, it’s what makes us bond to one warring tribe or the other.

So much for that multicultural paradise you thought that the Biden presidency was going to bring into being. You know, the one that the Obama presidency failed to bring into being during its eight year tenure.

Walker continues to offer the plus and minus of empathy:

On the positive side, the empathetic CEOs were generally more attuned to the concerns of their people and better at collecting the information they needed to diagnose the problem. They were better at comforting others, avoiding blame and repairing the team’s ability to work together. They were more adept at convincing outsiders that the company cares.

On the other hand, they were often so empathetic to their people that they struggled to assign blame. They worried more about repairing internal relationships than fixing the problems that caused the crisis, and were sometimes biased in favor of decisions that would relieve anxiety and pressure.

Of course, this is conceptually lame. Feeling empathy has nothing to do with the ability to collect information and to diagnose the problem. It requires an objective approach to the problem, a willingness not to jump to conclusions. It also requires the leader to take charge, by not feeling the hopelessness that others feel during a crisis.

But then, empathetic leaders are more like Mommies. They mother their staffs and cannot assign blame. They are also more like therapists, who ignore the reality of the issue at hand and prefer to soothe hurt feelings.

As a sidelight, yesterday I started watching the new season of the Crown. It is well done and very well acted, for the most part. One was interested to see the way that Margaret Thatcher was presented. To my eyes, the portrayal was not very sympathetic and not very well acted.

And yet, in times of crisis, the Iron Lady showed a marked ability to deal with the realities of the situation. She showed less empathy and more concern for British national honor than did most of her Tory colleagues.

It did not mean that she had no feelings-- Heaven forfend-- but it did mean that when push came to crisis, she put them aside and did what was best for her country.


Sam L. said...

"And they bought it in the name of one Joe Biden. Apparently, according to the Biden campaign, the real winner of the presidential election was: Empathy."
Yes, empathy for them, and Fear and Loathing for the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

Empathy is irrelevant to our government; what we need is less corruption and more common-sense. Biden: "You're a lying, dog-faced pony soldier!" "Hey, fat" "What are you, a junkie?" "I don't need your vote," etc. All he does is snarl at the audience. It isn't surprising that the media paints him as the opposite of what he is; but it is sad that people believe it.

trigger warning said...

In government, the rule of law is the path to avoid tyranny. We have seen the rule of empathy from Justice Sotomayor, our. idiotic "Wise Latina" SCOTUS judge.

David Foster said...

"Two doctors are on duty. One feels your pain, because he had a similar break. He has no knowledge of how to set a broken bone. The other has never broken a bone in his body but he has mastered the art of setting broken arms."

There is also a third type: the doctor who has never personally had a similar break, but fulsomely expresses how sorry he is that this has happened to you. This is the Bill Clinton type.

Sam L. said...

Anon, the media are/is clearly in cahoots with the Dem Party. I don't know if one is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the other, or they're just two gangs that get along with each other.

n.n said...

The progression or fallback to an empathetic appeal is evidence of a religion (i.e. moral philosophy) or a quasi-religion (e.g. "ethics") with principles that are internally, externally, and mutually inconsistent.

Peter B said...

Empathy is sharing feelings

As in a mob?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Of course....

Ares Olympus said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.