Three meanings of "empathy"

This is a comment on Brandon Berg's recent entry. Empathy is:

the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner ; also : the capacity for this

This is a fundamental component of human cognition (and one might even say perception). For example both the ability to imitate and the contagiousness of emotion are obviously, observably present in small infants. Implying that someone does not have it or does not use it is an insult on the order of calling a person blind or retarded. People do, of course, call each other blind and retarded when they disagree. People, then, are in the habit of claiming, falsely, that the people they disagree with are missing fundamental components of human perception or cognition.

To accuse another person of blindness, stupidity, or a lack of empathy is an expression of contempt. It is almost always false; if someone is actually blind, literally sightless, we don't nastily accuse them of it. If a person is actually stupid, we are careful to avoid rubbing it in. If a person actually lacks empathy, which is surely possible (Oliver Sacks writes about similar people), then they are suffering from a neurological deficit.

The only reason we are talking about empathy is that Obama used the word. But we know that Obama has contempt for his opponents. He has used expressions of contempt throughout his time in office, thinly disguised. It is one of his favorite things to do.

Obama used both "compassion" and "empathy". Similar points could be raised about compassion. This is one of the problems that I have with "compassionate conservatism". It implies the lie that conservatism, plain conservatism, is uncaring. This is a lie that liberals tell about conservatives. It is also a lie that anti-capitalists tell about supporters of capitalism, and liberals tell the same lie about conservatives for the same reason: because conservatives support the free market and oppose forced redistribution (this is a matter of degree: they do it to a greater degree than do liberals). "Compassion" is code for "liberalism" - i.e., economic interventionism and tax and spend redistribution.

Meanwhile recall the ideal that justice is blind, and that a justice must be dispassionate. What can this mean? It doesn't actually mean all the things that it might mean. It doesn't mean that the judge has to literally be blind or literally uncaring. It means something specific. It is if you like code for something specific (maybe not exactly code in the sense that the meaning is buried deep - but code in the sense that it is a very specific meaning and should not be understood in just any old way). It is code for impartiality. So is the requirement that justices be dispassionate. So it is not a great stretch to read a demand for empathy and compassion as a demand for partiality.

So, take your pick. Maybe Obama is expressing contempt, maybe he's repeating the commonplace liberal lie about conservatism (which many pseudoconservatives, such as the Bushes, ultimately bought into, possibly leading to the current state of Washington conservatism from which free market advocacy has been surgically removed), maybe he's demanding judicial favoritism.

Personally, I think it's all three.

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corruption of justice

Obama has repeatedly intervened in the justice process to protect criminal actions by those that are politically or racially correct, and against those that are politically or racially incorrect - for example protecting those that intimidated voters at the voting booth, protecting democrats that embezzled public funds.

He has similarly intervened in foreign affairs to smash the Honduran constitution to the benefit of his fellow leftists.

So it is perfectly clear what he means by "compassionate" justice.

Obama, though not himself a fanatic, is surrounded by criminal totalitarian fanatics bent on smashing western civilization by criminal means, for example his science Czar is an Ayatollah of Gaea, the environmentalist equivalent of Jeremiah Wright. "Compassion" means those guys are inside the tent, and the median voter in flyover country is outside the tent.

"Compassion" means "no enemies to the left, no friends to the right".