Sorry Billy. You're adorable, but satire has needs.

The National Review's Jonah Goldberg wants you to know that, while he remains a Doughy Pantload, he is not immune to hu-mon feelings, and he really did empathize with Jimmy Kimmel's harrowing story about his son's first day of life, with the heart defect and all the surgery, because Jonah Goldberg is a hu-mon father himself. Jonah Goldberg would never dream of calling Jimmy Kimmel a creepy elitist or telling him to shut up, heavens no! But! Jonah Goldberg also wants to warn us that too much empathy is how Hitler got started, too. Like every conservawanker since Barack Obama said a Supreme Court justice ought to have empathy, Goldberg has deep antipathy to empathy, because feelings are untrustworthy and you may start voting Democratic and going fascist if you share others' feelings, oh, my!

Goldberg cites a liberal Canadian neurologist at Yale, Paul Bloom, who doesn't trust this empathy stuff, not one bit:

Bloom, a liberal transplant from Canada, distrusts empathy because empathy is like a drug. It distorts our perspective, causing us to get all worked up about an individual or group. He compares it to a spotlight that illuminates a specific person or group, plunging everything and everyone else into darkness.

“When some people think about empathy, they think about kindness. I think about war,” Bloom writes. He’s got a point. Look at the Middle East today. Sunni nations empathize with the plight of suffering Sunnis, and that empathy causes them to further hate and demonize Shiites. Many people around the world empathize with the Palestinians, blinding them to the legitimate concerns of Israelis. And vice versa.

Damn, there must be something wrong with our empathy receptors, because when we see suffering victims of war, we tend to get angry at militarists who think bombing or RPG-ing or defenestrating The Enemy is the way to solve things. We weep for the grieving parents and curse the hotheads chanting "Death to _____!" regardless of what language they're chanting in. But never mind us, we know pacifism is impossible and a moral mess in its own way, but at least we can make a monthly donation to Doctors Without Borders.

Needless to say, Goldberg has to cross the River Godwin, with alacrity:

Adolf Hitler was a master of empathy — for ethnic Germans in the Sudetenland, Austria, and elsewhere. The cause of nationalist empathy for the German tribe triggered profound moral blindness for the plight, and even the humanity, of Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs.

You know, the Holocaust just might have had more than one neurological factor at work? It's a thought. But Goldberg wants to assure us he's not just cherry-picking research that agrees with his own skepticism about empathy, because Bloom is a scientist, a "leading scholar of how the mind actually works, not how we wish it would work," and a squishy liberal to boot. Ah, but the real danger of empathy, says Goldberg, is that it may reinforce tribalism, since

Human beings are naturally inclined to sympathize and empathize with people like them. There has never been a society where people didn’t give priority to helping family and friends over strangers.

Bloom warns, "Empathy is biased, pushing us in the direction of parochialism and racism."

Huh. Again, we can see the case, but we don't know that all of political and ethical life can be summed up quite that easily -- empathy is also involved, after all, in finding the common humanity across arbitrary tribal divides, or there wouldn't have been so many white Freedom Riders on the bus with John Lewis, who reminded us yesterday that we're at that anniversary again:

Also too, let's note we can just as well see racism as a disease of broken empathy, where a person's commitment to an in-group (or bias against a hated group) overrides their ability to empathize, as in the study where racists' mirror neurons lit up when they saw video of a white person's hand being poked with a needle, while they remained inactive when seeing a dark-skinned hand poked. The less racial bias subjects had, the more frequently their mirror neurons lit up when seeing people of all races in pain.

Goldberg's point is that we should be suspicious of acting on empathy alone (as if any action were ever based in a single neural mechanism!), because it's "dangerous and can distract us from rational thought and meaningful compassion."

For instance, Goldberg notes, in his emotional recounting of his own son's close call, Jimmy Kimmel's empathy for notional poor people made him say a wrong thing about how healthcare works:

His story about his son aroused a riot of empathy across the nation. And he used that response to make an argument about health-care policy that was largely devoid of any consideration of the facts, trade-offs, or costs of what is the best way to deal with people, including babies, who have pre-existing medical conditions. He was largely wrong on the facts: Babies with dire medical conditions are covered by their parents’ insurance, and when their parents are uninsured, doctors don’t just let the baby die on the table.

All true! But Kimmel was also correct that before the ACA, a baby with a heart defect could grow up to be denied coverage, and -- for an example not mentioned by Kimmel -- a kid with severe medical needs could easily exhaust their lifetime medical benefits before they reached their teens. Oh, but Goldberg conveniently ends his column right after pointing out Kimmel got a couple things wrong and empathy is bad.

Strangely, we don't feel any particular pain at the thought of someone poking Jonah Goldberg with a needle. (OK, we feel kind of bad we wrote that. But not nearly as bad as we did about putting that mustache on little Billy Kimmel. He's still pretty cute even with it...)

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[National Review / Discover]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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