October 25th, 2009


EmpathyFail 101

"She lied! She lied to us!"
--Grand Moff Tarkin, Star Wars, (1977)

This is something that I've been kicking around for a very long time, and which I suppose doesn't really need a good "hook" to tie it to, as the problem never seems to go away. We talk a lot about "empathy," defined in Webster's as "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", and the need of it for a functioning, humane society - or the horror of it, according to the conservatives in this country, with the somewhat surreal spectacle of rightwing pundits openly booing the concept of empathy as a significant part of their measured opposition to the nomination of Judge Sotomayor to the US Supreme Court.

This didn't work very well, because "Empathy Bad! Boo! Hiss!" is a trope that isn't as widely accepted outside the conservative bubble as its employers believed, and a meme, like a joke, that has to be unpacked and set up before most people can "get" it, just doesn't work in the id-stimulating way that slogans need to operate.

As for the mystifying-to-many rationale behind why the NRO crew et al thought that "Down With Empathy!" would be a good tack to take, it could be explored at length and in tedious detail, but it really does boil down to the essential misogyny of conservativism, Collapse )