It’s just emotion that’s taking me over

Michael Gerson has written what may be the ultimate anti-empathy manifesto today. It briefly left me wondering what might be next battlefield in the Global War Against Empathy. Then it hit me, at the end of this (quite reasonable) Brooks piece on empathy, which must be quoted if only because of the Two Great Conservative Thinkers who are mentioned at the end:

Right-leaning thinkers from Edmund Burke to Friedrich Hayek understood that emotion is prone to overshadow reason. They understood that emotion can be a wise guide in some circumstances and a dangerous deceiver in others. It’s not whether judges rely on emotion and empathy, it’s how they educate their sentiments within the discipline of manners and morals, tradition and practice.

It’s a slippery slope from empathy to emotion. And I think we all know how emotional Latinas are, right? I wonder if we’re going to see suggestions that Sotomayor lets her spicy, fiery Latin temperament cloud her judgements.






54 replies
  1. 1
    KRK says:

    Clearly, Sotomayor has to prove that she has it in her to be more than a woman.

  2. 2
    HankP says:

    What, no mention of how reason alone “can be a wise guide in some circumstances and a dangerous deceiver in others.”? What does that do to policy on immigration, terrorism, gay marriage, and virtually every other issue that Republicans harp on?

  3. 3
    Martin says:

    Well, I guess we know how torture got approved and implemented. It was simply the education of detainees in Republican manners and morals, tradition and practice. Thank God they turned off the empathy, or else that never would have gotten through.

  4. 4
    DougJ says:

    Clearly, Sotomayor has to prove that she has it in her to be more than a woman.

    Ha! Very good.

  5. 5
    Anne Laurie says:

    “As a young senator involved in judicial nomination debates, Obama showed no deference to presidential choices. Instead, he developed a theory that Supreme Court justices should favor socially unfavored groups. He opposed John Roberts for using his skills “on behalf of the strong in opposition to the weak.” He criticized Samuel Alito for siding with “the powerful against the powerless.” Obama made these distinguished judges sound monstrous because they stood for the impartial application of the law. “

    No, Mr. Gerson, the “distinguished” Judges Roberts and Alito made themselves sound monstrous by acting, and speaking, as monsters.

    Wasn’t Gerson Dubya’s “Christian liaison”, or some such title? Because I can see him as the guy who wrote Pontius Pilates’ famous speech, explaining that while he personally might favor socially unfavored groups, the impartial application of the law required that the terrorist known as Jesus Christ be summarily crucified with extreme prejudice.

  6. 6
    JGabriel says:

    DougJ, I’m gonna have that fucking song stuck in my head for the next 12 hours. Thanks a lot. Arrrgggh.

    .

  7. 7
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    This article needs so much untangling it’s like those jangled clumps of electrical wires you find in your suitcase with all the adaptors with their skinny wires all woven together to where you think you should just buy new ones rather than even try to separate them again.

    However, always up for a challenge:

    The principle is simple: A court should be a place where all are judged impartially, as individuals. The Obama/Sotomayor doctrine of empathy challenges this long-established belief. It is not a minor matter.

    See what he did? “Empathy” is opposed to “judging individuals”. How did he do this? Well by deciding first that there’s a “doctrine” Barack Obama has laid out which Gerson gets to define, which is A) empathy is good and B) it only applies to groups.

    Of course, no one, least of all Obama ever said that having empathy for the plight or claims of a petitioner or defendent including knowing the racism or other prejudicial factors they’ve had to surmount means that you don’t think of “the individual”. In fact, quite the opposite. Empathy for an individual in fact specifically takes into account THAT person’s influences, barriers, and so on. No one is talking of blanket judgements, i.e. “anyone Latino gets their case dropped” which is how the right wants this to be seen.

    There’s more to untangle but work also beckons. Ah well. So many wingnuts, so little time.

  8. 8
    Calouste says:

    The wingnuts still haven’t found out that Obama set a trap for them by using the word empathy. The wingnuts think that using the Atwater/Rove school of thought they can turn it into the 2009 equivalent of “liberal”. The probem that they don’t understand is that liberal was a fairly neutral word, and it opposite conservative as well. The opposite of empathy on the other hand is “sociopath” or “asshole” or “cold-hearted”. They try to twist the opposite into something like “impartial” or “unclouded”, which would be the opposite of emotional, but I think they are going to have a bit of an uphill struggle.

  9. 9
    JGabriel says:

    Clearly, Sotomayor has to prove that she has it in her to be more than a woman.

    Sigh. Right…

    Well, I read in the Post that Sotomayor enjoys those nights on Broadway, so, as long as the nomination is staying alive, I’m sure it’s no tragedy – it’s not like we’re talking some sort of New York mining disaster circa 1941, or any other kind of jive talkin’ for that matter.

    Of course, for Gerson, having a Hispanic woman as the nominee must seem like too much heaven. Eventually, it’ll backfire on him and all the other GOP racists, who will be left just sitting around wondering how can you mend a broken heart?

    .

  10. 10
    JGabriel says:

    Calouste:

    The wingnuts still haven’t found out that Obama set a trap for them by using the word empathy.

    I don’t think so. Obviously, Obama is capable of setting rhetorical traps for wingnuts to fall into, but I think the “empathy” ploy is really just the GOP being that dumb all on their own.

    .

  11. 11
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    @Calouste:

    The opposite of empathy on the other hand is “sociopath” or “asshole”

    Exactly. Another way to say it is that the opposite of empathetic is “inhuman”, which is close to what sociopathic means, i.e. seeing others basically as furniture rather than having the same emotions and so on that you yourself have.

    The logic of this current trumped-up right wing attack would have people believe that an entirely mechanical device could render legal judgements better than a human being could. Leaving aside the whole interesting AI debate that could veer into, as things stand now no one is claiming that any non-human creation could possibly be entrusted to render legal opinions, not ones we’d want to subject ourselves to anyway with any faith.

  12. 12
    DougJ says:

    Well, I read in the Post that Sotomayor enjoys those nights on Broadway, so, as long as the nomination is staying alive, I’m sure it’s no tragedy – it’s not like we’re talking some sort of New York mining disaster circa 1941, or any other kind of jive talkin’ for that matter.

    Of course, for Gerson, having a Hispanic woman as the nominee must seem like too much heaven. Eventually, it’ll backfire on him and all the other GOP racists, who will be left just sitting around wondering how can you mend a broken heart?

    I started a joke, which started the whole world crying, I see.

  13. 13
    Calouste says:

    @JGabriel:

    Maybe not an explicit trap, but Obama is not as naive as Clinton was with regards to the right wing noise machine, and he won’t be handing them any freebies. If they want to attack him (and of course they can’t resist doing so, as it is frankly the only thing they have), they have to do it on something that could very well backfire.

  14. 14
    Roger Moore says:

    @Bill E Pilgrim:

    This article needs so much untangling it’s like those jangled clumps of electrical wires you find in your suitcase with all the adaptors with their skinny wires all woven together to where you think you should just buy new ones rather than even try to separate them again.

    Get sandwich sized ziplock bags. You put one adapter or cable in each bag and zip it up. It makes it about a million times easier to keep your suitcase organized. Unfortunately, there’s no equivalent solution for keeping your thoughts from getting into an inextricable tangle, so I have no equally useful suggestion for incompetent columnists.

  15. 15
    aarrgghh says:

    someone at thinkprogress put it best:

    i really think one afternoon, [obama senior advisor] david axelrod leaned back in his office chair and said, “i know, let’s see if we can get all the republicans to denounce the concept of empathy.”

  16. 16
    aarrgghh says:

    get sandwich sized ziplock bags. you put one adapter or cable in each bag and zip it up.

    seconded.

  17. 17
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    @Roger Moore:

    Thanks. Actually that’s what I do now, for the most part, but learned the hard way from doing it the way that I described above too many times. I’ve traveled so much I’ve got suitcases down to a science, not to mention storage spaces.

    Ziplock bags are indispensible, for lots of reasons. They’re my hitchhiker’s towel, and more useful.

  18. 18
    El Cid says:

    I’m just greatly amused that conservatives have the chutzpah to try and portray themselves as reason-dominated rationalists while they’re out there screaming that Barney Frank & ACORN destroyed the economy, ‘everybody’ agreed that invading Iraq was the only choice we had, torture sends a good message to our enemies, and Barack Obama is a haughty elitist because he knows the plant name ‘arugula’.

    The modern American rightists are utterly irrational, anti-logic, anti-reason, passion-driven weirdos who don’t care how much their open thievery and hysterical pants-pissing destroys the nation and its people.

    Conservatives as defenders of calm, reasoned thought? Get fucking real.

  19. 19
    BC says:

    I like that Obama used “empathy” as a value he would look for in the next Supreme Court nominee, the rightwing went bonkers on empathy from the time that Souter retired until Obama introduced Sotomayor, and Obama used “empathy” again when he introduced her. He basically just ignores the rightwing hissy fits and goes on and does what he was going to do anyway, even using the language they are railing against. Almost as if he had not heard them. I think this – not engaging them, just ignoring them – is going to do more to bolster his support than if he tried to directly debate the rightwing noise machine. If he continues doing it this way, chances are he will marginalize that megaphone and maybe he can engage some of the GOP in power. Or not.

  20. 20
    BC says:

    El Cid: Just listened to the asshole Scott whatisname on that rightwing station in Fargo ND yesterday, he had John Bolton on, and they were upset that Obama is not getting all hysterical about North Korea’s recent activities with atomic bombs and missiles. They just can’t stand that Obama is calm even when they are running around shouting that the sky is falling and we need to launch our vast nukes somewhere, anywhere. So what you said.

  21. 21
    MattF says:

    I don’t know if it was altogether deliberate on the part of Obama & Co., but forcing the wingers to argue against empathy is just a wonderful thing. Empathy is their sore point– where they part company from the rest of the human race– and now they’re being forced to smack themselves on it, over and over again.

  22. 22
    Tom G says:

    Thanks Dougj. Now I will have that BeeGees song stuck in my head all morning !

    (Actually, the great headings are one of the many reasons I love this blog)

  23. 23
    Joey Maloney says:

    @Roger Moore:

    Get sandwich sized ziplock bags. You put one adapter or cable in each bag and zip it up. It makes it about a million times easier to keep your suitcase organized. Unfortunately, there’s no equivalent solution for keeping your thoughts from getting into an inextricable tangle, so I have no equally useful suggestion for incompetent columnists.

    I do. Get gallon sized ziplock bags. Put your head in the bag and zip it up. After a surprisingly short time you’ll find those tangled thoughts smooth right out – all the way to a simple, straight, one might even say flat, line.

  24. 24
    rea says:

    Jeez, if one starts tempering the purity of the law with empathy, one might conclude that the president doesn’t really have the power to order a 6-year old’s testicles crushed, and then where will we be?

  25. 25
    rea says:

    Jeez, if one starts tempering the purity of the law with empathy, one might conclude that the president doesn’t really have the power to order a 6-year old’s testicles crushed, and then where will we be?

  26. 26
    linda says:

    I wonder if we’re going to see suggestions that Sotomayor lets her spicy, fiery Latin temperament cloud her judgements.

    front page of the NYfuckingTimes:

    May 29, 2009
    Sotomayor’s Sharp Tongue Raises Issue of Temperament
    By JO BECKER and ADAM LIPTAK

    WASHINGTON — Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s Supreme Court choice, has a blunt and even testy side, and it was on display in December during an argument before the federal appeals court in New York. The case concerned a Canadian man who said American officials had sent him to Syria to be tortured, and Judge Sotomayor peppered a government lawyer with skeptical questions.

    “So the minute the executive raises the specter of foreign policy, national security,” Judge Sotomayor asked the lawyer, Jonathan F. Cohn, “it is the government’s position that that is a license to torture anyone?”

    Mr. Cohn managed to get out two and a half words: “No, your hon—— .”

    Judge Sotomayor cut him off, then hit him with two more questions and a flat declaration of what she said was his position. The lawyer managed to say she was wrong, but could not clarify the point until the chief judge, Dennis G. Jacobs, stepped in, asking, “Why don’t we just get the position?”

    To supporters, Judge Sotomayor’s vigorous questioning of the Bush administration’s position in the case of the Canadian, Maher Arar, showcases some of her strengths. She is known as a formidably intelligent judge with a prodigious memory who meticulously prepares for oral arguments and is not shy about grilling the lawyers who appear before her to ensure that she fully understands their arguments.

    But to detractors, Judge Sotomayor’s sharp-tongued and occasionally combative manner — some lawyers have described her as “difficult” and “nasty” — raises questions about her judicial temperament and willingness to listen. Her demeanor on the bench is an issue that conservatives opposed to her nomination see as a potential vulnerability — and one that Mr. Obama carefully considered before selecting her.

  27. 27
    linda says:

    honestly, i’m taking bets on who’s the first one to call her ‘mami’ during the hearings….

  28. 28
    Napoleon says:

    I wonder if we’re going to see suggestions that Sotomayor lets her spicy, fiery Latin temperament cloud her judgements.

    That is exactly what this issue is all about. It is a dog whistle.

  29. 29
    ppcli says:

    someone at thinkprogress put it best:
    i really think one afternoon, [obama senior advisor] david axelrod leaned back in his office chair and said, “i know, let’s see if we can get all the republicans to denounce the concept of empathy.”

    I love the image… I look forward to the next SC choice, when the Republicans find themselves impelled by their ingrained reflexes to argue against decency, motherhood, backyard barbeque and high school football.

  30. 30
    Dennis-SGMM says:

    @Napoleon:

    That is exactly what this issue is all about. It is a dog whistle.

    Indeed. They are implying that Sotomayor may go easy on some classes of defendants and we (nudge, nudge, wink, wink!) all know which classes they’ll be. The critics are either deliberately or ignorantly confusing empathy with sympathy. Thoughtful adults can empathize with another person and not have their judgment clouded by sympathy.

  31. 31
    Mike says:

    @Linda – Calling her Maria was pretty damn close. We’ll get a senorita while asking for a copy of her green card by someone like Tancredo who dosen’t know the Bronx is part of New York City.

    The temperment code word was the very first shot out of the gun in that POS Rosen peice on TNR.

  32. 32
    Col. Klink says:

    You have to admit that after 8 years of BushCo., suddenly being ‘deeply concerned’ about the rule of law takes some pretty big brass ones.

  33. 33

    Funny to watch the talking heads shouting angrily about how emotion is bad.

  34. 34
    Dennis-SGMM says:

    @Col. Klink:
    Same for their sudden concern about the dangers of emotion. Michael Ledeen’s quote about how the US should pick up some crappy little country every 10 years or so and slam it against the wall just to show we mean business comes to mind.

  35. 35
    Zifnab says:

    It’s a slippery slope from empathy to emotion. And I think we all know how emotional Latinas are, right?

    Oh! Oh! I know where this is headed!

    “–
    There is no emotion, there is peace.
    There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
    There is no passion, there is serenity.
    There is no chaos, there is harmony.
    There is no death, there is the Force.
    —The Jedi Code (Based on the meditations of Odan-Urr)
    –“

  36. 36
    SGEW says:

    Get sandwich sized ziplock bags. You put one adapter or cable in each bag and zip it up.

    Well, that works, I suppose – but it seems like a waste of baggies to me.

    *Pro method*: coil ’em up (coil with the cable, not against!) and tie ’em up (w/ tie line [i.e. “string”], twist ties, or velcro tabs).

    [signed, ex-roadie]

  37. 37
    AhabTRuler says:

    @SGEW: And make sure not to twist. I can’t tell you how many purported pros I have seen twist their cables as they wind them. It kills me (and the cable) every time!

  38. 38
    SGEW says:

    @AhabTRuler: Preach it, teacher.

    Video on how to over-under cable here. I don’t actually know th’ guy who’s in it, but he sure looks like half the dudes I ever worked with.

  39. 39
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    @Zifnab

    Or do both. I coil up and tie everything and then the little ones, all the adaptors and etc, go into a gallon-sized ziplock or two.

    When I traveled as a musician it was a different thing because everything went in road cases, but when you’re carrying electronics in your suitcase with everything else, the ziplocks help keep things separate and not snagged or mixed or etc.

  40. 40
  41. 41
    Jim says:

    Someone ought to ask Gerson to distinguish between “empathy” and “instinct” as guides to political thought. Because he was one of the great cheerleaders of a totally un-rational man who thought his “instinct”, i.e. things he insisted were true because he wanted them to be, trumped intelligence (in both senses of the word), education, history and just about every other manifestation of the human intellect and experience.

  42. 42
    SGEW says:

    @Bill E Pilgrim: An eminently sensible compromise.
    @AhabTRuler: Well played.

  43. 43
    fuprof says:

    Empathy is the ability to feel what others are feeling. It requires people to take the role of others and interpret the world from their perspective. Without empathy, and other role-taking emotions, socialization would be completely impossible.

    Sympathy, on the other hand, is not only a feeling but also a reciprocal gesture people use to maintain social bonds (that is, until others exhaust their claims to it).

    I wish there was more discussion on the importance of role-taking emotions in society because without them, we really would be sociopaths.

  44. 44

    […] But anti-empathy rightism smacks of a hot-blooded Latin slur. Your go-to place for illogic, Balloon-Juice. I guess they need something to counter Sotomayor’s slam on uptight white […]

  45. 45
    bago says:

    @linda:
    A wonderful complaint in that article is where the lawyer claims that the judge is too judgemental. You can’t make this stuff up people.

  46. 46
    Comrade Dread says:

    I wonder if we’re going to see suggestions that Sotomayor lets her spicy, fiery Latin temperament cloud her judgements

    .

    Probably. Right after she hires her court staff from the Home Depot parking lot, puts on a Sombaro, and screams Arriba a lot before running really, really fast to snatch cheese from a mousetrap.

  47. 47
    Xanthippas says:

    Gerson is a moron, and his major contribution to with this column is to continue to prove that right-wingers are the world’s biggest morons, incapable of conceiving of anything other than the most simple-minded of dualism. Empathy is a “judicial philosophy”? Really?? I don’t recall discussing that particular philosophy at ANY POINT in law school. Why? Because it’s bogus! I suppose there is a tiny and subtle philosophical debate among jurists between impartiality and empathy among judges, but really these are just political concepts because everyone with any brains at all realizes that judges are biased all over the freakin’ place, and that the only real debate is over HOW biased they are and in which particular direction. Everybody in the freakin’ legal world (and most of the real world I’m sure) realizes this, but instead of acknowledging that rather obvious and salient point, we’re treated to lengthy treatises from legal morons like Gerson about how liberal judges are supposedly empathic, and conservative judges are supposedly impartial dispensers of the law. The only reason this idiocy gains any traction is because boiling someone’s entire judicial career down to a single world is something that appeals to the rubes on both sides of the aisle who don’t know any damn thing about the law and can’t be bothered to learn enough to even have an informed opinion about Supreme Court nominees.

    The only reason that this ridiculous “debate” pleases me in the slightest, is because I enjoy Republicans going on the offensive against “empathy”, as if Joe Schmoe on the street is going to read their idiotic columns and go “Empathy for deserving and disadvantaged plaintiffs and defendants? What an outrage!!” Once again, Republicans are determined to prove why they don’t deserve to be in charge of this country. It’s not much of an upside to this generally idiotic level of discourse, but I’ll take it.

  48. 48
    kid bitzer says:

    you know, dougj, a post-title like this?

    it oughta be illegal.

    i know: you’re going to say that you’ve got nothing to be guilty *of*.

    but speaking for myself, i don’t want to hear your goodbye.

  49. 49
    Gocart Mozart says:

    From Yahoo answers

    What are the difference between a sociopath and psychopath?

    Best Answer – Chosen by Asker
    A sociopath is defined as someone who is incapable of having empathy for others. Empathy is an important step in child development, which happens around 2-3. You begin to associate that when someone pulls your hair it hurts with the fact that when you pull someone else’s hair, that it hurts them. Furthermore, if you care for that person, then you don’t want to hurt them. If you never associate your own pain with that of others – you don’t empathize with them, then you don’t have any qualms about causing them pain (so long as it causes you pleasure, who cares what it does to anyone else). Sociopaths commonly have had a traumatic even happen around 2-3 when they should be forming empathy.

  50. 50
    Hob says:

    That Becker/Liptak article is childish bullshit. Oh no, a judge interrupted a lawyer! He only “managed to get out two and a half words”! I’d say the article was written by the lawyer in question, except I’ve watched the damn video (something the reporters must be assuming none of their readers have done) and the lawyer, despite the evil position he was defending, was professional enough to take it in stride and answer the judge’s questions– even if that meant he had to wait a few more seconds to make the argument he had in mind. You do not get to argue appeals on behalf of the federal government, even evil ones, by being a thin-skinned six-year-old.

    Also, after reading a lot of cynicism on lefty blogs along the lines of “If Obama picked her then she must be a sell-out to money and power, I bet she’ll vote with Scalia on torture and surveillance cases, isn’t it suspicious that she has no record regarding abuses by the executive branch”… it’s really nice to hear a judge say so bluntly that foreign policy and national security can’t just be waved around as magic excuses.

  51. 51
    Little Dreamer says:

    I couldda done without the BeeGee’s reference. I’m gonna have that stupid song in my head now. ARGH!

  52. 52
    Anne Laurie says:

    We’ll get a senorita while asking for a copy of her green card by someone like Tancredo who dosen’t know the Bronx is part of New York City.

    Oh, Tancredo knows that. He just doesn’t believe that New York City is part of the United States. (‘Course, if the quasi-NYCers you knew best were Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Al D’Amato, and a bunch of high-dollar Wall Street banksters, you might wonder if NYC was really part of the same planet as the rest of us.)

  53. 53
    asiangrrlMN says:

    Well, I did call her a spicy tamale in my blog post about her, so I guess I’m guilty. In my defense, I was mocking the rightwingers when I blogged about her.

    I was watching Rachel, and Rachel was outlining her concerns that Sotomayor isn’t liberal enough. I think that’s the part that is getting lost in the rightwing screech-fest. Sotomayor is pretty moderate, from what I’ve read. I can’t wait to see how lathered up the right gets if Obama appoints a true liberal to the court.

    P.S. I think he used empathy deliberately. I’ve noticed that he tends to anticipate the criticisms he’s going to receive, and then take control by talking about the issue before the right can fling it in his face.

    I haven’t agreed with all his decisions, but it’s refreshing to see him be a step ahead of the Republicans.

  54. 54
    Steeplejack says:

    @JGabriel:

    That was way, way too much. I think I need a holiday, so, me, I’m going back to Massachusetts.

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