Tag Archives: National Review

Empathy – the Enemy?

 

I read an interesting piece by Mark Steyn recently that questioned to oft-vaunted “empathy” of the Left.  The occasion for this discussion was the horror that some members of the media showed when Rick Santorum explained the circumstances around the death of an infant child.  In brief: though told that the baby would live only hours outside the womb, Mr. and Mrs. Santorum decided to take the child home so that the family could meet him.  Basically, he decided to treat his non-viable child like…a life.  How strange.

Steyn points out the irony of the “empathetic” Left showing horror at this occasion:

The Left endlessly trumpets its “empathy.” President Obama, for example, has said that what he looks for in his judges is “the depth and breadth of one’s empathy.” As he told his pro-abortion pals at Planned Parenthood, “we need somebody who’s got the heart — the empathy — to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom.” Empathy, empathy, empathy: You barely heard the word outside clinical circles until the liberals decided it was one of those accessories no self-proclaimed caring progressive should be without.

Of course, the irony goes deeper than this instance.  The Left’s empathy ends when it meets people with whom it disagrees:

The Left’s much-vaunted powers of empathy routinely fail when confronted by those who do not agree with them politically. Rick Santorum’s conservatism is not particularly to my taste (alas, for us genuine right-wing crazies, it’s that kind of year), and I can well see why fair-minded people would have differences with him on a host of issues… The usual rap against the Right is that they’re hypocrites — they vote for the Defense of Marriage Act, and next thing you know they’re playing footsie across the stall divider with an undercover cop at the airport men’s room. But Rick Santorum lives his values, and that seems to bother the Left even more.

All this has me wondering if empathy is much good at all.  I recently completed Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve.  If you aren’t familiar with systems theory, you probably should be.  His basic argument in this book is that leaders lead best who lead themselves.  That is, the best leaders are able to remain connected while staying differentiated (not “bound up” on a core level with those one leads).  Doing so enables leaders to take well-defined stances that, if maintained, encourage growth on the part of those around her or him.

Empathy, as it turns out, is counterproductive to this model of leadership (and maturity).  Friedman points out that “empathy” entered our language very recently, and yet in its short history has come to be viewed as indispensable in all kinds of professions and contexts.

“As lofty and noble as the concept of empathy may sound, and as well-intentioned as those may be who make it the linchpin idea of their theories…societal regression has too often perverted the use of empathy into a disguise for anxiety, a rationalization for failure to define a position, and a power tool in the hands of the “sensitive”…I have consistently found the introduction of the subject of “empathy” into family, institutional, and community meetings to be reflective of, as well as an effort to induce, a failure of nerve among its leadership.”

The basic assumption of empathy is understanding.  The classic illustration is that sympathy can look down on someone from above with pity, but empathy puts us right next to the person in trouble.  Friedman’s argument – and he is not a reactionary arch-conservative but a Reformed Rabbi and counselor – is that the empathetic stance is actually counter-productive to the growth and “self-regulation” (read: maturation, development, positive change) of the others we seek to help.

The bottom line:

“Forces that are un-self-regulating can never be made to adapt toward the strength of a system by trying to understand or appreciate their nature…it is self-regulation, not feeling for others, that is critical in the face of entities which lack that quality.” (133-135).

What do you think?  Is empathy actually holding back our churches, families, and communities?  Is empathy the enemy?

Egypt and Carter-bama

https://pastormack.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/obama-carter.jpg?w=300

Some folks will hate this comparison, but I’ll go for it anyway.  Victor Davis Hanson, the classicist, military historian, and political commentator reminds me a lot of the polemical theologian Stanley Hauerwas.  They are both fairly angry, fairly old white dudes.  Both are very intelligent and wide-ranging.  And I enjoy both of them, though each occasionally veers off into ideological extremes which I don’t care to follow.

VDH (as his fans call him) has just written a very interesting new piece for National Review comparing Jimmy Carter circa 1979 to President Obama in the midst of the Egyptian crisis.  In both instances, he argues, a so-called new-era idealist liberal has been roughed up by a nasty world that does not share his pretensions.  Here’s a highlight:

Yes, our third year of Obama hope and change is beginning a lot like 1979 (I’ll skip the domestic parallels), as an unjust and imperfect world rejects the utopian visions of another liberal idealist, and sees magnanimity as weakness to be exploited rather than as kindness to be reciprocated.

Obama Endorses American Exceptionalism(?)

Has the President been reading National Review?  The day after a column by Rich Lowry defended the oft-debated notion of American Exceptionalism, Obama seemed to endorse precisely the core tenets of the doctrine.  The Weekly Standard points it out thusly:

The day after Rich’s column appeared, on January 1, President Obama asserted in his weekly address that “we’ve had the good fortune to grow up in the greatest nation on Earth.” Then, in case anyone missed it, Obama repeated eight sentences later that he’s confident we can “do what it takes to make sure America remains in the 21st century what it was the 20th: the greatest country in the world.”

Has anyone on the multiculturally-inclined left caught on to this? Surely some of Obama’s cultured sycophants will not stand for this.  For the time being, as the Weekly Standard concludes,

…we look forward to denunciations from the usual enlightened quarters of this vulgar expression of American chauvinism and boastful claim of American exceptionalism by an American president.

 

Note: For my leftist friends, National Review and Weekly Standard are both conservative magazines.  Clicking on the links in this blog may cause your liberal friends to disown you.

Hating Conservatives

http://thestar.blogs.com/.a/6a00d8341bf8f353ef0120a782fbc3970b-800wi

Howard Dean talking to a conservative kitty-cat.

From the National Review:

….the Left thinks the Right is evil. Granting the exceptions that all generalizations allow for, conservatives believe that those on the left are wrong, while those on the left believe that those on the right are bad. Examples are innumerable. Howard Dean, the former head of the Democratic party, said, “In contradistinction to the Republicans, Democrats don’t believe kids ought to go to bed hungry at night.” Rep. Alan Grayson (D., Fla.), among many similar comments, said, “I want to say a few words about what it means to be a Democrat. It’s very simple: We have a conscience.”

The point is not that there is no hatred for the left to be found on the right – far from it.  But rather, leftist hatred of conservatives is accepted by the mainstream and acceptable from its most public spokespersons.  As the piece goes on to say,

Would mainstream conservative journalists e-mail one another wishes that they could be present while Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi or Michael Moore died slowly and painfully of a heart attack?

and

Has any spokesman of the Republican party ever said anything analogous about Democrats’ not caring about the suffering of children or not having a conscience?



I’m open to the possibility of someone proving the thesis of this article wrong.  It’s a fair critique to say that the typical reader of the National Review is not going to be sensitive to outlandish statements against liberals by conservatives (including myself).

But I think the point stands, and it is an interesting one.  The amount of vitriol on the left seems to be reaching newer and newer heights.  This is odd from the set that claims to be more sensitive, tolerant, and open than its opponents.  But it’s also detrimental to our ongoing conversation as a democratic people.

Good government demands that citizens be capable of decent, maybe even virtuous, political discourse.  The less we practice this basic part of civic life, the worse our situation will become.  And while the right certainly has its folks who are harmful to this end – here’s looking at you, Glenn Beck – on the left, the most vile kinds of political hate-mongering seem to be increasingly acceptable from the leaders of America’s left.

To paraphrase Jean Bethke Elshtain – when addressing a different kind of hate – “One cannot effectively critique what one loathes.”