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comment by kleinbl00
kleinbl00  ·  604 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Thoughts on sympathy and empathy

The first problem with your reasoning is that you're asserting "there are limits to empathy" as if it's an unassailable maxim, rather than an assumption grounded in nothing. Presume you're right - I can never fully empathize with the experience of an Uyghur in a concentration camp. So fucking what? Can I empathize with an Uyghur in a concentration camp enough to put myself in their shoes?

Oh, but I can understand an Uyghur in a concentration camp, I just can't fully empathize with them. Because understanding and empathy are different things, and somewhere nebulous where we don't know where it is it ceases to be empathy and becomes understanding.

Let's talk Anne Frank. Neither one of us is a fifteen-year-old Jewish girl. We cannot have "perfect" empathy for her experience. But which of us has more "empathy" and which of us has more "understanding?" By blood, I'm an Ashkenazi jew. Never mind that I grew up completely divorced from the Jewish experience, under Nazi rules of engagement I was destined for the camps. But I'm also a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Nordic-lookin' sonofabitch so it probably wouldn't have cost me beer money to get that cleared out. You, on the other hand, have a Polish surname. Maybe you have a better understanding of Anne Frank's experience. But maybe Tomi Lahren has a better grasp of the Anne Frank experience because she was once a 12-year-old girl. I'm sure she would cheerfully subscribe to your reasoning: what you're doing is eliminating the effort and obligation of understanding those with a different experience by arguing it's scientifically impossible (at some nebulous point best left to theory). This explains why Trevor Noah's gutting of her philosophy shouldn't be considered - he can understand with the condition of being a 20-something blonde racist with rich parents but as a black South African he'll never truly empathize with it.

More importantly, though, where's the utility of your discovery? Presume you're right. What does that get you? You're injecting a purity test so that you can stomp other people. It will not surprise you to discover that I've encountered this reasoning before: A white dude living in New Zealand who's been a lifelong member of the Freemasons and who has an MFA in acting from USC told me to "check my privilege" as a way of arguing that JD Vance was full of shit (PROTIP: he is):

You've basically independently discovered intersectionality bingo: not the concept of intersectionality, but the practice of stacking your repression credibility in order to win an argument instead of using logic, reason or evidence. He who is most oppressed wins the discussion because nobody else can truly empathize with their struggle and whatever you're talking about, you can easily make it about struggle.

You have discovered nothing useful here. More than that, what you think you've discovered is useless nonsense. Let's get to the true problem:

    I felt the need to write this, because I've been trying to better understand why some behavior that ostensibly aligns with my ideals feels disingenuous to me.

I will bet you anything it's because you've been watching a few games of intersectionality bingo.

kingmudsy  ·  603 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Man, I hate this comment. mk has an idea you disagree with? Fine. But you jump to personally insulting language, and, I think, a misunderstanding of why they posted this to begin with.

I mean, you read THIS sentence:

    In no way does this mean that we cannot, or should not take offense or react when we witness behavior that causes another harm. It only means that we should be genuine in our offense, and realize that the empathy we share is limited, whereas the sympathy is not.

...and think that he's advocating for a siloing off, and that he's falling into the mindset of white supremacy (and yet, simultaneously, Intersectionality Bingo) where no one gets to have an opinion about anything?

For fuck's sake, he's trying to figure out how he should interact with experiences he hasn't had. The utility of this discovery is to fucking discuss it and suss out how to best do that. Your example of Trevor Noah, Tomi Lahren, and Anne Frank? That's clearly, clearly not the world mk is demanding.

    You are arguing that without perfect experience there cannot be understanding.

He isn't, and I'm not sure why you think he is. He literally says, "[My] understanding can grow, but I am fooling myself if I think that my empathy will continue to expand along with my understanding." If anything, he's putting forward in his reply to your comment that we can't have a perfect understanding of something, but that our limited perspective still has utility and we should be honest about the limitations of our understanding while we "react when we witness behavior that causes another harm."

Hubski is a discussion-based website, and I hate how often the discussions dissolve into a dismissive, "I will bet you anything it's because you've been watching a few games of intersectionality bingo."

kleinbl00  ·  603 days ago  ·  link  ·  

My daughter is going through a phase right now. She'll misuse a word and when we correct her, she'll say "well that's the way I use it." Then we'll explain that the whole purpose of words is to communicate ideas between people and that if they don't agree on what the word means, then they aren't communicating. More than that, when they use a word wrong and insist that their way is right because they want it to be right, they're making everyone else wrong just so they don't have to get along with anyone else.

Of course, she's not yet seven.

MK doesn't have an idea I disagree with: he's redefining words for his convenience so he can judge the behavior of others. And while he may personally put forth a disclaimer saying that he still believes in good behavior, he lets stand that that behavior can be judged only on his terms, and subject to his understanding of the world. Never once does MK say "I" am going to be offended, he uses "we" which means I'm included under this edict, as is the rest of the world.

Culture is controlled through language. Generally it's the conservatives griping about the changes made by liberals: political correctness is their touchstone but really, whenever you tell a group of people their language is offensive that group will lash out.

And in this circumstance, there is no outgroup whose culture is being protected.

Let's say I personally define marriage as being between a man and a woman. If I keep that to myself, do I impact the LGBT community? Certainly not as much as if I strive to repeal equal marriage laws. But in any interaction I have with anyone else, my backwards notion of union are going to color my perspective and theirs. I have an old definition that allows me to embrace a reality that has passed and gives me an anchor to keep myself from being swept into the present. I can define a girl as someone born biologically female - and make a self-righteous stink about bathrooms. Will that affect more than me? Or will my attitude impact everyone I interact with?

You're arguing that since MK is not personally intending to use his ideas to circumscribe my behavior, there's no way my behavior will be circumscribed by his ideas. Yet as I previously discussed, this very approach has been used time and time again in any number of debates that I have personally taken part in. Triangulating to motive is the fastest and easiest way to disregard the actions of others - yeah sure Chick Fil A gives their employees Sundays off they also sponsor anti-gay legislation therefore we don't have to acknowledge anything good that they do.

MK is asserting, with no evidence or discussion, the idea that empathy is a limited commodity. he is further arguing that since empathy is a limited commodity (QED), we should all behave as if we lack it.

Your lack of empathy has hindered your ability to understand how MK's understanding and philosophy hinders his impact on my understanding and philosophy - you are here arguing that MK is allowed to argue that people have limited amounts of empathy but that I'm not allowed to call him out for it. You're trashing one of us. It happens to be the one you disagree with. And your sole contribution to this discussion is to attack me.

kingmudsy  ·  603 days ago  ·  link  ·  

What's the point of the anecdote with your daughter? To compare me and mk to a seven year old? "Words have meaning" would have sufficed. The same anecdote without "Of course, she's not yet seven" would have served your rhetorical purpose. So why include that line? To belittle?

My sole contribution to this conversation is to try and open the fucking dialogue up past, "Your idea is stupid, and you're dumb for saying things that are already a foregone conclusion in my mind," because ilex just made your exact point in a way that doesn't treat mk like an idiot for posting something. Nobody was compared to a seven year old, an overly sensitive liberal, or a white nationalist.

kleinbl00  ·  603 days ago  ·  link  ·  

All the arguments you say I could have made simply I've made:

    An attempt at empathy is a necessity for understanding and empathy for the imperfection of the attempt is essential to bridge the misunderstandings inherent in any diverse society.

You either did not see them, did not understand them or did not acknowledge them until I brought up my six-year-old daughter. Why did I include it? To either aid, encourage or force you to acknowledge my point.

Your argument before is that I'm a meanie and I have no point. Your argument after is that I'm a meanie.


The point stands that definitions proscribe behavior and whether or not mk wants to proscribe my behavior, his attempt at redefining words has that effect. More than that, I'm the only one arguing that empathy is not an inherently limited commodity despite the fact that mk offers no evidence or discussion to back up his assertion.

mk's core argument is that we must use emotions other than empathy to shape our behavior because there isn't enough empathy to go around. ilex is arguing that we should be nice to people, veen is arguing that other definitions are more important and katakowsj is bringing up a book on the Dalai Lama. I'm the only one making a counter-argument of mk's core point and now, in addition to attacking me for disputing his right to shape my behavior through definition, you're attacking me for not responding to your obscenities kindly enough.

veen  ·  604 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I read somewhere that empathy is not what we need - but compassion is. Understand, be sensitive to the hurt and pain of others, and then strive to bring solutions into the world.

katakowsj  ·  603 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Agreed. I see compassion as the understanding of pain occurring and taking action to alleviate it. I tend to see empathy and sympathy as passive while compassion is an active process that can be very empowering.

Too often, I think intended empathy and/or sympathy can devolve into pity. No alleviation of pain occurs for anyone.

I’ve read the Dalai Lama’s “Book of Joy” a year or so ago. It was there I think I remember reading similar discussion about compassion and our need to foster compassion to alleviate more pain in ourselves and those around us.

kleinbl00  ·  603 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Here's where I get itchy.

We've got four terms being bandied around here: empathy, sympathy, understanding and compassion. We've got one concern: helping others. We're all agreed: help others. But simply by indulging in the semantic argument about what each of the four terms means, we're creating a hierarchy of help. This term has been elevated over that term, this term is worse than that other term, and this other term becomes yet another term which everyone knows that everyone knows is bad ("Too often, I think intended empathy and/or sympathy can devolve into pity. No alleviation of pain occurs for anyone. ")

The mere fact that we're arguing about what each of four terms means that none of these terms are settled. None of these terms have a commonly-accepted definition, at least as far as their application to mercy. Yet here we are, arguing that one is good and another is bad and we should feel entirely okay for judging someone else on their practice of empathy instead of pity or sympathy instead of understanding or not using enough compassion but practicing too much empathy and

give me a fucking break.

Here's where this started:

    I felt the need to write this, because I've been trying to better understand why some behavior that ostensibly aligns with my ideals feels disingenuous to me.

That's mk wondering whether he is morally pure in feeling judgmental over someone doing something he agrees with.

Yes? No? Maybe? I know that this sort of hair-splitting does no one any fucking good, I know that any time a group of people argues whether or not they're allowed to pass judgement over another it better be over deeds not words and I know that he who first argues definitions loses and this is one big fat loser of an argument.

You know what? If you feed the homeless you're doing good. If you restrict access to abortions you're doing bad. Is the good outweighing the bad? Most of the time, probably; I've had to learn an absolute fuckton about abortion in the United States lately for reasons we don't need to get into here and what I can tell you is that the fuckin' day-after pill is rapidly mooting the whole fuckin' discussion. I can also tell you we're talking about the Salvation Army and that I can further tell you I don't give them money because one of those bell-swinging jackholes stood idly by and watched someone steal my fucking bicycle and you're goddamn right I'm painting the whole of an organization for the actions of one dumb shit volunteer in Marina Del Ray and that's neither sympathetic, empathetic, compassionate or understanding and I give no fucks because charity oughtta make me feel good and all I can think whenever I see those assholes and their red pails is the dick who watched my bike ride away.

Don't make charity feel bad. Don't cut up the world so you can judge someone for being charitable. Don't squint your eyes so you can stand in judgment over someone attempting to make the world a better place just so you can question their motives. There's little enough to go around.

kleinbl00  ·  604 days ago  ·  link  ·  

You read it here. It was full to the gills with bullshit.