Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Other Side of Empathy

Pretty Lady admits that she should have seen this coming. But, sadly, complete and utter cynicism continues to elude her, despite having had ample life opportunity to acquire it.

You see, Pretty Lady, like Mr. Obama, has a Fatal Weakness--that failure to expect the worst of people, to whom one has given one's best. One would assume, that when one has stood up for a person repeatedly, at some risk to oneself, that this loyalty would be reciprocated; one would, all too frequently, be wrong.

For when we empathize with others, and treat them with human decency accordingly, this does not automatically bestow that decency upon them. All too often, their bruised and tattered souls do not blossom in the warmth of our regard; instead, the jealous, treacherous Ego raises its head and hisses, "Suckaaaaaaaaaa!"

This is when we perform the honorable, respectful and surgical duty of calling them on their shit, and cutting the connection.

UPDATE: Right on.
I want to use this press conference to make people absolutely clear that obviously whatever relationship I had with Reverend Wright has changed, as a consequence of this. I don't think that he showed much concern for me. I don't -- more importantly -- I don't think he showed much concern for what we're trying to do in this campaign and what we're trying to do for the American people and with the American people And obviously, he's free to speak out on issues that are of concern to him and he can do it in any ways that he wants. But I feel very strongly that -- well, I want to make absolutely clear that I do not subscribe to the views that he expressed. I believe they are wrong. I think they are destructive. And to the extent that he continues to speak out, I do not expect those views to be attributed to me.




50 comments:

jSinSaTx said...

Give your statement regarding Obama's personal flaw... do you think that he has the judgement to be President? I simply mean is he in fact gullible? In our personal private lives that may be more permissible, but in international relations and in dealing with other politicians is naivety not a serious handicap. If he can truly have known this man for so long and had no inkling of his character then what does that portend?

I believe we all get taken in at one point or another, but when working in the realm of politics, governance, culture one should expect through ample evidence that people are disingenuous and disloyal.

While perhaps erring on the cynical side, Mr. Obama could always have chosen a less divisive minister. Not all black clergy is going to be as over the top.

Thoughts?

Pretty Lady said...

Thanks for such a thoughtful question.

In a word, yes. I DO think Obama has the judgment to be President. His primary priority is listening to people; read below, in his comments on Petraus and the Iraq occupation. He surrounds himself with the best of the best and pays very serious attention to what they say, but without suspending his understanding of the broader picture, and without clinging to a perspective that has shown to be untenable by the facts. Thus any administration he puts together will automatically have the benefit of checks and balances which efficiently attune themselves to unfolding situations.

continued...

Pretty Lady said...

You must understand that 'empathic' is NOT the same as 'gullible.' Empaths don't fail to recognize bullshit; they just have a deeper understanding of where that bullshit is coming from. And they know when to call bullshit when it actually becomes dangerous bullshit, as opposed to getting into pointless fights over harmless venting.

This situation with Obama's pastor's behavior is VERY familiar in PATTERN to me. The way I see it, Wright had a habit of spouting hot-air bullshit from time to time, but this was completely overshadowed by his good works as a pastor, and by the genuinely powerful spiritual guidance he provided, as evidenced by Trinity Church's well-deserved standing in Chicago. Under those circumstances, it would have been pointless and counterproductive to confront him.

continued...

Pretty Lady said...

HOWEVER, as Obama forcefully pointed out in his address yesterday, Wright's grandstanding over the weekend was NOT harmless, and came from a very different set of motivations than any preceding them. The situation had changed radically, exposing a central weakness of Wright's character which had never been tested before. He had the opportunity to vent on a national stage, and the unfortunate fact is that he gave way to an egoistic, envious, and thoroughly destructive impulse. I think his grandstanding was deliberately intended to sabotage Obama. Wright is politically and culturally savvy enough to know exactly what he was doing; what we witnessed was a vicious, unprecedented act of out-and-out betrayal.

Obama had no reason to expect that this would happen. It is not in the nature of any decent person to suspect their friends and associates of harboring that kind of impulse to treachery until it actually happens; if a person DOES continually suspect it, they are much too paranoid to have their finger on the trigger.

continued...

Pretty Lady said...

Thus I think Obama acted in precisely the right way at precisely the right time. He gave someone the benefit of the doubt until it was proven that his trust was not justified; then he promptly, clearly and categorically repudiated the connection. I would be hard pressed to think of a way any leader could do better.

And DAMN this coComment software, it has INFECTED my Blogger account. Thus forcing me to comment in chunks.

jSinSaTx said...

I don't necessarily conflate empathy with being gullible but I question how each relates to judgement (pardon my British spelling... I think it looks better). Empathy for the homeless lead to good judgement on the part of someone like Mother Theresa but bad judgement on the part of someone who is bound by law. I mention gullibility only in so far as whether him being surprised about the behavior of this man at this time might so indicate the trait. Your theory on his behavior is interesting though.

jSinSaTx said...

I recently have listened (long drives pushed me to audiobooks) to both of Mr. Obama's works... I actually do think Ms. Coulter's characterization of his thoughts in his autobiography were a bit unfair as the emotions one has as a teenager can hardly be expected to be rational... if one can ever expect emotions to be rational... however, my general opinion is that despite what might very well be a true attempt to change tone and to empathize with his opponents, Mr. Obama ultimately returns to the same wellspring as all liberals. He makes numerous statements about 'underfunded (insert anything from schools to playgrounds)' and affirmative action programs without ever detailing what would be sufficient funding

jSinSaTx said...

or by what criteria we will ever not truly act through the lens of race and sex. He seems to be polite in his dismissal of the religious, but it is dismissal none the less... I think a call to universal values is flawed because, and I think that a multicultural liberal should of all people believe this, there is no such thing. There is only majority values built on the preponderance of opinion in a culture. He expects the religions to be bound by these new understandings and yet would not find it just for people in the 50's to be so bound by that generations universal values...

jSinSaTx said...

Thank you so much for your thoughts. I do find you a fascinating commentator. Your writing style alone is engaging... and I so tire of the average exchanges that take place on Vox Popoli...

Pretty Lady said...

Empathy relates to judgment only in that it gives judgment a wider base of information from which to operate. When a person has an understanding of possible underlying motives for someone's words and behavior, beyond that of "That stupid asshole doesn't agree with me, thus he's out to destroy civilization," a much wider range of responses to that behavior become available. The response is not tailored merely to the superficial symptoms, but endeavors to get to the root of the problem.

It's the difference between giving someone with pneumonia a cough suppressant, to get rid of that annoying cough, and giving them an antibiotic to kill the infection that's CAUSING the cough.

Pretty Lady said...

Mr. Obama ultimately returns to the same wellspring as all liberals.

Mr. Obama has spent many years of his career organizing communities in the poorest sections of Chicago. He's not an idiot. If his honest opinions on what is needed to genuinely raise people out of ignorance and poverty reads as 'liberal' on the political scale, so be it. He has access to practical information that I do not.

Pretty Lady said...

He seems to be polite in his dismissal of the religious, but it is dismissal none the less...

Do you think, from your attendance on my conversations, that I 'politely dismiss' the religious? Because my perspective on my own religion and spirituality is very close to Obama's. I see the necessity for rigid adherance to a literal moral law, at a certain stage of spiritual/emotional/cultural development, but I do not see this as the endpoint or the sum total of religious experience. If I did, I would have to dismiss religion entirely, because it does not square with either my values or my personal spiritual experience.

Pretty Lady said...

I think a call to universal values is flawed

Not universal values; common values. There's a huge difference. We can agree that it is good for families to stay together, for children to have good education, good nutrition and good healthcare. We may disagree on how that is to be done; those disagreements are better resolved by honestly discussing the merits of various proposals, without name-calling, hidden agendas, and massive political polarization.

Pretty Lady said...

Thanks for your interest and your comments as well!

jSinSaTx said...

I think what you say is true; however, emotion can certainly cloud judgement as easily as aid it. While empathy is not strictly an emotion, it tends to express itself as an emotional attachment or as an attempt to make an emotional connection to the humanity of the other person. I do believe you can have intellectual empathy to a point, but I’m not sure that would be commonly accepted. I do believe that Mr. Obama could possess both types and he certainly conveys in his books that he does not view the opposing side as inherently evil. But it also matters for whom your empathy generates action. Having empathy with one side while working to thwart their hopes and desires is not better than having someone who more cynically supports you that does get the job done. Honesty matters, but results matter more I suppose. To certain groups that Mr. Obama would understand he would give neither cough suppressant nor antibiotic… unless you view the cough suppressant and understanding. Does this make him a bad man? No… it just does not make him fundamentally different in practice to others.

jSinSaTx said...

Mr. Obama has spent many years of his career organizing communities in the poorest sections of Chicago. He's not an idiot. If his honest opinions on what is needed to genuinely raise people out of ignorance and poverty reads as 'liberal' on the political scale, so be it. He has access to practical information that I do not.

This logic holds to a point, and having read his books I am familiar with his time in Chicago. However, I am simply assigning the label he has chosen, though he does use ‘progressive’ more often. But the fact he has never, for example, run a business or been a governor would not in his mind or his supporters rule out his capability to speak to the economy or running a diverse population. Experience in an area does not necessarily bestow upon the individual sacrosanct thoughts. In fact, Mr. Obama has spent his time in the pursuits that many of his mindset have. The same solutions seem to lead to the same situations or at best minimal if any improvement on the situations that he organizes for.

jSinSaTx said...

What I mean by dismiss is that he comes from the point of view that the motivations of religious people do not warrant the backing of society while his much less firm base of universal values does warrant this. I do not question, as it is not within my capability to know his heart, or whether he has true Christian faith; nor do I believe that Christian faith necessitates one be Republican for instance. I just believe that when he argues that certain actions are necessary based on what he views as broader values that it has no more basis then a Christian organization doing the same thing. I do agree that the problem exists about which sect of Christian faith would be supported though there tend to be several key points on which there is generally commonality.

jSinSaTx said...

Let me amend the above post by saying that he does not believe that the motivations of the religious warrant the backing of the state unless they can tap into universal or common values (as you would put it). While he does address that minorities should make an attempt to move their issues forward using common values in this case it comes across more as a tactic than as the belief that they do not have specific issues that are self justified.

jSinSaTx said...

Not universal values; common values. There's a huge difference. We can agree that it is good for families to stay together, for children to have good education, good nutrition and good healthcare. We may disagree on how that is to be done; those disagreements are better resolved by honestly discussing the merits of various proposals, without name-calling, hidden agendas, and massive political polarization.

I use the term universal because that is what he used in his book ‘The Audacity of Hope’. Such is my remembrance at any rate. If I am wrong on that then I would retract the use of the term. I concur with the rest of your statement though.

Pretty Lady said...

he does not believe that the motivations of the religious warrant the backing of the state unless they can tap into universal or common values (as you would put it).

And I thoroughly agree with that, as does, I believe, our Constitution. Isn't that what 'separation of church and state' is all about?

Pretty Lady said...

Having empathy with one side while working to thwart their hopes and desires is not better than having someone who more cynically supports you that does get the job done.

You cannot possibly suppose that there is a politician or a government on earth that could EVER fulfil the 'hopes and desires' of EVERYONE. That's not the job of government, as a libertarian ought to understand.

The reason Obama is a different kind of politician has almost nothing to do with the kinds of policies he supports; it is entirely to do with attitude, methodology, and a baseline prioritization of decency. You are perfectly free to disagree with any of his policies, as I do myself. But the thing that makes Obama different is that he is willing to reach across the aisle to work with the opposing party; he listens to as many people as possible; he readily admits mistakes and alters course to correct them; and as I said above, he's operating from a greater base of information with which to make decisions in the first place.

continued...

Pretty Lady said...

There are a lot of conservatives who consider Obama the last remaining hope for conservatism in this country, simply because he takes their views seriously. As opposed to the Republican party, which openly mocks and vilifies Ron Paul and his supporters.

Pretty Lady said...

It's been awhile since I read 'The Audacity of Hope,' and you are probably right that he uses the word 'universal.' I still think he means it more as a distillation of fundamental priorities, such as family, education and health, and not as a sort of demagoguic 'smooshing' of principle into one monolithic mishmash. People in political debate tend to get caught up in nasty arguments about 'how' we are going to accomplish something, before even articulating exactly 'what' we wish to accomplish, and why we wish to accomplish it. Focusing on values as opposed to methods is a good way to start clarifying the what and the why.

Pretty Lady said...

And, as a final clarification on where I stand in terms of 'policy versus attitude,' I will point out that I actively and vocally oppose Hillary Clinton, even though her policy proposals are virtually identical to Obama's. She has proven time and again that she will lie, sacrifice truth and integrity for the sake of political expediency, and demonize those who oppose her personally, regardless of their position on the 'issues.' Her vote for the Iraq war was calculated on the basis of political image and not on the slightest smidgen of actual research into the issue (she didn't even read the report first). Her universal healthcare proposal in the early 90's was a disaster, brought about by her egoistic refusal to listen to the input of even her own supporters. She prioritizes her own ego above all else.

This is not the kind of person I want making decisions about anything more consequential than what color flowers to order for the centerpiece. I don't care what her policies are; the basis on which she reasons is fundamentally unsound.

jSinSaTx said...

Test

jSinSaTx said...

And I thoroughly agree with that, as does, I believe, our Constitution. Isn't that what 'separation of church and state' is all about?

I would have to say that the constitution is mum on many things. Not establishing a religion and supporting the general cultural provisions, particularly at the state level, are separate things entirely. And Mr. Obama even if he were to be correct on his interpretation of religious views and the constitution commits serious overreach with the majority of his other proposals in terms of their constitutionality. That is obviously not even remotely limited to just him. Senor W and the majority of the Republican ilk do the same.

I will demonstrate this item with abortion... one may or may not support the act... but I hardly think the Constitution ever spoke to it at all. On this I believe Ron Paul is correct. Mr. Obama would dismiss the common religious belief, or feel that it has to justify itself on other grounds (though religion is certainly a cultural set of values)... these values he subordinates to 'common' or 'universal' values of (insert whatever reason he gives) that allows for him to support the other belief.

jSinSaTx said...

The intent here is not to argue abortion or any particular issue... just to demonstrate that empathy does not necessarily provide value.

As a person with a libertarian mindset there is really little about any of the candidates to support. A person being likable means little more than that.

I certainly do not believe that giving lip service and not delivering has value (ie Republicans).

I'm not certain that Mr. Obama offers much hope for the Conservative side of the spectrum though... all his experience and rethinks still leave him far on the left.

This entire discussion simply involves Mr. Obama's methods and ideas... from me it isn't an intention to detail my political thoughts... it just details my thoughts on him and the utility of the way he is to people with whom he does not agree.

You strike me as someone much like Mr. Obama with whom I can discuss things without so many emotional outbursts clouding interesting conversation. Which is why even if we were not agreeing I would prefer to type and discuss here.

jSinSaTx said...

I would concur on your reading of Hillary... if I supported both their policy positions I would definitely go with Obama... even if Hillary was 3x as experienced... in a choice between Mccain and Obama if I chose to vote it would be for Obama based on similar reasons to the ones you listed... simply that Mccain is mentally off.

I just cannot extend to Mr. Obama any more than that he seems to be a pleasant person with a willingness to not demonize the opposition as readily as others. His approach to life does not result in a man who would move the country in the direction that I feel it should go.

By all accounts Mr. Bush is a pleasant person in personal encounters... and I'm sure Bill Clinton had his moments... but what good did that do? Governance is about effectiveness... looks, friendliness... only parts... character, important for sure... but history as much or more remembers what you do as opposed to who you were... see Augustus for example.

Pretty Lady said...

The fact is, the majority value on abortion, at this point, is contrary to the religious one. There are even websites which document the number of evangelical anti-abortion activists coming in to get covert abortions, largely because of the social stigma attached to unplanned pregnancies in their communities.

The best way to combat abortion at this point is not to make it illegal, but to address the practical circumstances that cause so many women to get them--poor information and availability of contraceptives, and lack of social and economic support for bringing children to term, whether or not they are kept or given up for adoption.

Yes, the breakdown of family and community plays a huge part in the situation, but we can't fix that by passing legislation that pretends the social climate is the same as it was 50 years ago. And that climate had its own huge problems as well.

Pretty Lady said...

His approach to life does not result in a man who would move the country in the direction that I feel it should go.

So it boils down to the notion that your opinion should supercede the opinions, experience, input, hopes, desires and priorities of the vast majority of people in this country?

;-)

We do live in a semi-democracy, after all.

Pretty Lady said...

You see, the great flaw in pure libertarianism, as I see it, is that it results in pure liberty for the smartest, healthiest, strongest, wealthiest, and best-armed of us. 'Liberty' for everybody else tends to translate into the liberty to be stepped on by those big strong paragons who do not have such a fine sense of either ethics or empathy as perhaps they might.

Pretty Lady said...

Not to mention the fact that unbridled multi-national corporatism can create machines every bit as disrespectful of human liberty as all but the most totalitarian of governments. We cannot create an ideal world out of ideals; we can only attempt to keep balancing forces as they evolve.

Pretty Lady said...

Which is why even if we were not agreeing I would prefer to type and discuss here.

Well, then. We could do worse than electing a President who attracts the reasoned discourse of the most calm, intelligent, thoughtful and perceptive among us.

jSinSaTx said...

Again, I think you misunderstand my position... I'm not asking for legislation of any kind... particularly from the Federal Government. Actually I would much prefer a rollback of legislation... I'm just pointing out that if that is what you are looking for then Mr. Obama's lack of support for your position is not going to be assuaged simply because of his empathy.

Let me phrase it this way... as a question... 'What good is Mr. Obama's empathy going to do when his actions do not support your desires?'

jSinSaTx said...

I think ultimately that was the point of sorts of the Constitution... that the desires of so many different people would not run wild over the hopes and desires of others... obviously the hopes of white slave owners ran wild over the black population... I'm simply pointing out that as nice and empathetic as he is... his hopes and desires and opinions and those of the people he represents will supersede those of his opponents... it is just the nature of the game.

jSinSaTx said...

My biggest problem with libertarianism is that it is entirely theoretical and has no real historical evidence... its proponents rarely address the realities of given situations. I do think it provides a good guideline... I think Mr. Paul uses it in that way.

I think agreeable people will be agreeable in spite of who might be governing at any one time... are you any different now with W in office then you think you will be when Mr. Obama is?

Pretty Lady said...

'What good is Mr. Obama's empathy going to do when his actions do not support your desires?'

It's going to result in an action that is not as likely to totally ruin my life as that proposed by someone who disagrees with me AND doesn't take my emotions into account at all. Or worse, who reflexively attributes the most scurrilous of motives to me because of that disagreement, and thus feels perfectly justified in actively torturing me.

Which is a fairly accurate description of the current state of affairs.

Pretty Lady said...

I'm not any different now, but I rather suspect that my range of influence might be expanded, if we should elect an administration that makes a habit of paying attention to things beyond its own venal interests.

Or perhaps I wouldn't feel a need to be of any influence at all, and could just focus on gardening in the yard I might actually be able to afford, if the economy weren't in a state of collapse, and my income were to rise in proportion to my skills, qualities and efforts. Instead of flatlining below the poverty level.

jSinSaTx said...

I apologize... I fear that I did not adequately address your libertarian points... further perhaps I am not being clear on the empathy situation...

I too empathize with people... and have taken actions in my own life to deal with certain situations I have observed... however my observations have frequently shown me that many problems in the lives of people have been caused by their own choices and their own character... things you cannot readily change and that sometimes they hate you for if you even try and help. I have seen that many people who envy my life spent their early years less diligently than did I... what is the solution there? If Mr. Obama and I both empathize... but have entirely different prescriptions regarding solutions... then in the end result our empathy matters little to the side that is opposite the actions we would take. They may think we are ok people... but it does not change the end happenings.

Perhaps that all comes across as a jumble... it is late for me... I bid you good evening.

Pretty Lady said...

And the household consensus is that it's bedtime. Goodnight!

jSinSaTx said...

One last question... do you think perhaps that sex influences in a serious way our thoughts on empathy here?

Hopefully I have not frustrated you... such would not have been my intent.

jSinSaTx said...

Man... this is churning in my head... let me clarify... I think that one of the most powerful desires of any human regardless of sex, race, creed is to be understood. I refer more to dealing with the idea of empathy in the abstract. While I might value someone who personally empathizes with me... might a female value someone who is shown to be empathetic on a macro scale more than a man would... that was more the point... perhaps now I can let my mind wind down...

Doom said...

Foolish? Yes. He used his old friend as long as he needed to, jettisoning the radical as soon as his weight out did his support. You, I might suspect, are either naive or savvy enough to know this. Play innocent as you wish, but do not expect even me to fiddle for your striptease. Pa-lease.

American Genius said...

If he wins the nomination I'll go with him, but he's not my preferred choice at all. Like I'm going to vote for John McCain, Come on, People

Pretty Lady said...

Doom, that remark is insulting to me and unworthy of you. Please have the goodness to keep your unsupported pejorations to yourself. You notice that I have provided thorough support for my own perspective; some thirty comments' worth, in fact.

AG, I would go with McCain over Clinton, simply because he has shown more integrity than she has.

Pretty Lady said...

might a female value someone who is shown to be empathetic on a macro scale more than a man would

Very possibly. The NF temperament is rare, period, and even rarer in a man; also, women are inherently both more cognizant of lack of sensitivity in others, and more vulnerable to it. Obama is the first Presidential candidate in living memory who perceives the world even close to the way I do.

jSinSaTx said...

My reading of your thoughts is that character and emotional stability trumps policy determinations (or how the policy is determined seems to be more important than what it is). This reminds me of those who voted for Bush over what was being presented as a Clinton I continuation through Gore, that Bush had better 'character'. One could make the case, as Democrats certainly do and even some Republicans who look at things like debt, that governance was better during the Clinton time frame.

I believe empathy to be an important trait... and not all attempts at emotional engagement are empathy (Clinton's for example use emotion, but it is not for positive purposes)... but there are a myriad of other traits that can also be a fountain for prudent governance.

Given the three choices up there, none of whom I can support, I honestly probably would be least disturbed by Mr. Obama... at least it would be more interesting to watch. On that stage we would also find out more about him as a person.

I very much appreciate your thoughts on all this and eagerly await your next post... I think I will stick around here awhile if you don't mind.

Larry said...

Not to mention the fact that unbridled multi-national corporatism can create machines every bit as disrespectful of human liberty as all but the most totalitarian of governments. We cannot create an ideal world out of ideals; we can only attempt to keep balancing forces as they evolve.

Ah, but corporations are simply golems created by the state. Many, if not most, libertarians would like to see the "rights" of corporations seriously constrained, or do away with the idea of incorporation altogether. What it boils down to is that bigness is the enemy of individual liberty, freedom and dignity, and I don't see much difference between big government, big business or big religion in this regard. Oversized institutions simply run over people without even realizing what they are doing, or justifying it as being for the greater good.

Chris Rywalt said...

HOLY CRAP!

I have nothing to add to this massive discussion except that.

HOLY CRAP!

Chris Rywalt said...

Except: "fiddle for your striptease"? AWESOME PHRASE.