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In Two Speeches and an Editorial, Paul Krugman juxtaposed two quotations from President Obama about the importance he placed on empathy with the following sentence from the National Review Online on the same subject.

Empathy is simply a codeword for an inclination toward liberal activism.

Follow me over the fold for the observations of the commenters on one particular implication of Paul Krugman's point, including my own comment.

For the full effect of the juxtaposition, here are the complete quotes in their original context.

President Obama, yesterday:

Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.

President Obama, May 1, 2009:

I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people’s hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving as just decisions and outcomes.

National Review, May 4, 2009:

Empathy is simply a codeword for an inclination toward liberal activism.

The National Review's brusque dismissal of empathy hoisted a red flag in my mind.  I wasn't the first to see that same crimson standard.  Dave from Wisconsin was.

Yep, in the mind of a sociopath, empathy doesn't carry any meaning beyond a political connotation. The Rush Limbaugh show should be named, "How to be a sociopath and feel good about it."

I responded:

Dave from Wisconsin is onto something. If the editorial position of The National Review, which has a strong claim to be the leading magazine of conservative opinion, is that empathy is merely a code word for liberal activism, then a proper response would be to point out that lack of empathy is a criterion for diagnosis of both anti-social personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder. Other diagnostic criteria of these conditions that you and your readers might find of interest include the following, which readers should check against the behavior of their favorite political figures.

For Dissocial Personality Disorder, the World Health Organization's equivalent to Anti-Social Personality Disorder--

  1. Callous unconcern for the feelings of others and lack of the capacity for empathy.
  2. Gross and persistent attitude of irresponsibility and disregard for social norms, rules, and obligations.
  3. Incapacity to maintain enduring relationships.
  4. Very low tolerance to frustration and a low threshold for discharge of aggression, including violence.
  5. Incapacity to experience guilt and to profit from experience, particularly punishment.
  6. Markedly prone to blame others or to offer plausible rationalizations for the behavior bringing the subject into conflict.
  7. Persistent irritability.

Only three criteria need to be satisfied for a diagnosis.

For Narcissistic Personality Disorder--

  1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  3. Believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
  4. Requires excessive admiration
  5. Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
  6. Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
  7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  8. Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her
  9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

At least five criteria must be present for a diagnosis.

A friend of mine (editorial note--actually Kossack G2Geek, not really a friend, but someone I'm a fan of nonetheless) once suggested that people who wish to protest the appearance of a political figure who denigrates empathy as a trait should repeatedly show up with pickets bearing only the diagnostic code for one or both of these disorders (301.7 for ASPD, 301.81 for NPD) and say nothing until someone asks about the numbers. The response might be interesting, to say the least.

As you might have already guessed, those diagnostic criteria were taken from Wikipedia (Dissocial Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder).

Because of length and time constraints (comments that run on too long are not likely to be approved, and I had other things I needed to do), I ended the comment there and left out a point that I thought was important.  It turned out that another commenter made my point for me.  Take it away, Doug F. from Riverside!

From Wikipedia: "Psychopathy was, until 1980, the term used for a personality disorder characterized by an abnormal lack of empathy combined with strongly amoral conduct but masked by an ability to appear outwardly normal." Now it's called Antisocial Personality Disorder, which is "a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others".

I'll resist the temptation to apply this definition to Tea Party types, although you can clearly have a lot of fun with it, although I'm not convinced they appear outwardly normal.

It's enough to observe that this antipathy to empathy does rather put extreme conservatives near the "psychopath" end of the human dial. Although, since a variant of science is involved in the conclusion, conservatives are unlikely to appreciate the thought.

Thank you, Doug, for making the point that these people are ill and need help, something an empathetic person would offer, but will certainly refuse it.

Speaking of people who sneer at empathy and compassion, one person's name in particular was bound to show up, and it did. From mayerron.

So is the National Review saying compassion is a sin? I mean, in the Ayn Rand sense of selfishness being a virtue?

Well played, mayerron, well played.

Originally posted to Neon Vincent's Massage Parlour on Fri Jan 14, 2011 at 08:22 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips for empathy (36+ / 0-)

    As I wrote in Food Fight! Thoughts on liberalism and conservativism inspired by the Preface to Food, Inc.:

    A synthesis of the two concepts of liberals and conservatives would result in liberals and progressives being compassionate people who use reason to find ways to improve the common good.  
    As for what this synthesis means about conservatives, I'll let you draw your own conclusions and post them in the comments.

    Here's to being compassionate, reasonable people.

    "The party of ideas has become the party of Beavis and Butthead." ~ Paul Krugman.

    by Neon Vincent on Fri Jan 14, 2011 at 08:21:10 PM PST

    •  I wonder a little bit (12+ / 0-)

      if a diary on more than one person's part might point the way to something that's been on my mind about this. (I've never posted a diary; I suppose at some point I will.) To wit, that, there's more and more evidence that, not only are the 'old Republicans' not the ones most visible now, but that they may be hiding in confusion and fear.

      I got a Christmas card from a friend I sent a card to; 15 years ago I was trying to make it as an actor in NY, and they let me stay in their attic for a few months. I apologized once about my political views to them (the division was mostly that I was pro-abortion); but, basically, we had so much in common --an interest in history, literature, old movies, classical music. And, too, they were ungiving to others. The husband, a retired lawyer, spent all his spare time (he was in his 70's then) helping older people who had no money for lawyers.

      Then he died, and she continued on her own, and we kept in touch. She retired as a librarian, but helps two mornings a week in a soup kitchen. Still a Republican, though she voted for Obama, she doesn't mix with her party anymore.

      I think the above says something about that.  

      "Guns don't kill people. People in states without gun-purchase background checks & waiting periods kill people." --John Fugelsang

      by Artryst on Fri Jan 14, 2011 at 09:56:59 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  i think you ovegeneralize (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Neon Vincent, Amber6541, Oh Mary Oh

    The 2 May 2009 quotes were during the Sotomayor confirmation process.

    So the qoutes on empathy should be seen within the limited context of a judge making decisions. That NR was critical of empathy in that context does not mean that they are against it in all contexts.

    Empathy in most contexts is a good thing.

  •  It's the scarcity model...... (8+ / 0-)

    Glenn Beck & Rush Limbaugh tell their viewers 24/7 that the "elite" look down on them, mock them & want to take their stuff away. Now....Once we get it, we're going to give their share to the poor & unemployed who are too lazy to work. Mainly they seat around on couches waiting for a handout.  

    Education encourages critical thinking.  Limbaugh, Beck & Hannity are all high school graduates.  Therefore, education is also one of the culprits.  

    The government is evil because it gives people a boost when they could use a hand AKA empathy.  And it supersedes states rights.  And it is representative of all the people....the rich and the poor, minorities & majorities.  In some circles, that's considered unAmerican.

    Empathy is an elitist concept....from one of those fancy, backeast colleges.  The idea is to keep people riled up, scared, & not thinking.  Fact finding is discouraged.  Worrying is good.  Buying glocks w/ extended magazines is good, stockpiling gold, and seeds is really good.  It must be exhausting.  Plus....really, really insulting watching the master manipulator/puppet master, Glenn Beck, discuss oligarchy on his chalkboard. How do they stand it?  

    •  I have met far too many people in (3+ / 0-)

      my life who are miserable lowlifes but who consider themselves to be quite superior to the most educated and successful "other."  

      We need to teach people that the environment has a direct bearing on our own benefit. Dalai Lama

      by maggiejean on Fri Jan 14, 2011 at 10:05:38 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I think the concept of elites (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Neon Vincent, Oh Mary Oh

      refers to the idea of some people deciding how other will live their lives.

      So the elites are those who regulate us, decide that we Must buy health insurance, must not use incandescent bulbs, must be in social security, can't allow smoking in my own bar, cannot own a gun.

      The concept of i know better than you so i will decide for you. I will not allow you to choose.

      Some regulation is inevitable in society. But more regulation = less liberty.

      •  You really have a right wing (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Virginia mom, Neon Vincent


        must not use incandescent bulbs

        "elites" are not what you think they are.  

        Trumka: "Absolutely Insane" to Extend Tax Cuts for Millionaires

        by TomP on Sat Jan 15, 2011 at 05:45:28 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Often times rules and regs are made because (0+ / 0-)

        people decline to be responsible in their actions. They are externally imposed because too many people didn't use their internal good sense or weigh the options as well as they might have. So in the sense that external regulation decreases liberty, maybe, but good sense would dictate many of the same actions, ie, using CFL's or LED's rather than incandescents unless you're doing something like starting chicks and are using them for the heat rather than the light. If the only difference is whether the action is taken based on internal or external dictates, is it still imposing on 'liberty'?

        Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

        by FarWestGirl on Sun Jan 16, 2011 at 06:00:56 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Did anyone besides me think of Sarah Palin (9+ / 0-)

    when reading the description of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder?  The "unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment" reminded me of her dismissal of the "lame-stream" media because they won't give her the special treatment she believes she deserves.  She dismisses the Katie Couric interview as though Katie were somehow jealous of her.  There are numerous reports from Alaska blogs that she has always been exploitative and has climbed to power on the backs and over the bodies of those that were once her friends.  She certainly requires excessive admiration because she will do just about anything to stay in the national spotlight.  I like the idea of calling a spade a spade -- or in this case a narcissist a narcissist.  

    Progressive politics WILL prevail

    by Former Chicagoan Now Angeleno on Fri Jan 14, 2011 at 10:09:35 PM PST

    •  As a therapist I've worked with a fair number ... (6+ / 0-)

      ... of people who were very likely diagnosable as Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  (Or at least I attempted to work with them.)

      I can say in all honesty that Sarah Palin strikes me very much like those people in the "vibe" I get whenever I see her.  (It is the reason I can't stand to watch her.  I get an almost physical revulsion.)

      •  Everything I've read about people with NPD (7+ / 0-) that they are very difficult to treat, even when they seek help.  As the page on NPD on says:

        -- Narcissists rarely enter treatment and, once in treatment, progress very slowly. We're talking about two or more years of frequent sessions before the narcissist can acknowledge even that the therapist is sometimes helpful. It's difficult to keep narcissists in treatment long enough for improvement to be made -- and few people, narcissists or not, have the motivation or the money to pursue treatment that produces so little so late.
        -- Because of the influence of third-party payers (insurance companies), there has been a strong trend towards short-term therapy that concentrates on ameliorating acute troubles, such as depression, rather than delving into underlying chronic problems. Narcissists are very reluctant to open up and trust, so it's possible that their NPD is not even recognized by therapists in short-term treatment. Purely anecdotal evidence from correspondents and from observations of people I know indicates that selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors, such as Prozac, aggravate narcissists' grandiosity and lack of social inhibition. It has also been suggested that self-help literature about bolstering self-esteem and getting what you want out of life or that encourages the feeling of victimization has aggravating effects on NPD thinking and behavior.
        -- Most clinical writers seem unaware that narcissists' self-reports are unreliable. This is troubling, considering that lying is the most common complaint about narcissists and that, in many instances, defects of empathy lead narcissists to wildly inaccurate misinterpretations of other people's speech and actions, so that they may believe that they are liked and respected despite a history of callous and exploitative personal interactions.

        Not very encouraging, is it?

        Then there's this passage from the same source about the effect of treatment on psychopaths:

        It has been found that court-ordered psychotherapy for psychopaths actually increases their recidivism rate; apparently treatment teaches psychopaths new ways to exploit other people.

        That's even less encouraging.

        Finally, since you have a background in therapy, you might appreciate this comment to Krugman's post:

        At least one commentator here wonders if those lacking empathy differ in their wiring. Decades of doing psychotherapy have convinced me that in those lacking empathy the wiring is the same, but in disuse due to a lack of receiving empathy from others. It works like this: We are born aware of our own feelings, and knowing them makes us sensitive to the feelings of others. If we are raised in an environment in which we do not receive sufficient empathic responses to our outward expression of our feelings, we find the lack of support painful and learn to not express our own feelings and we become unaware of them. The ramifications are many, including a lack of awareness of and connection with certain emotions of others (lack of empathy), a lack of feeling for how the world around us works (there is a reason why the economists with empathy on the left tend to be more correct in their analyses!), a fruitless struggle for self-esteem in the emotionally deprived (only self-awareness can really make one feel OK about oneself, because then one can truly know that others simply misunderstand. Trying to feel more OK by messaging one's ego doesn't work in the long run.)

        Our society is being devastated by emotionally damaged people in positions of power. With their lack of empathy, and with their misperceptions of reality and consequent misdirection and fruitless struggles for self-esteem, our culture lacks the insight, wisdom, and the empathic glue that evolution bred into us to hold us together in sharing life's risks. We need a lot of emotional healing and/or a redistribution of power.

        I couldn't agree more.

        "The party of ideas has become the party of Beavis and Butthead." ~ Paul Krugman.

        by Neon Vincent on Fri Jan 14, 2011 at 11:00:08 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Sounds right to me too. (6+ / 0-)

          Another therapist once drew a diagram for me depicting doing counseling for a person with NPD, versus doing counseling with a basically normal emotionally screwed-up person:

          With the basically normal emotionally screwed-up person, there was a very large circle next to a very tiny circle.  The large circle represented the world, and the tiny circle represented the person's sense of himself.  

          That was a workable situation.  You would work with the person to enlarge his sense of himself, so that over time it became the same size as the large circle -- so he could meet life with courage on an equal basis.

          For the NPD person, on the other hand, the very large circle represents his sense of himself, while the teeny, tiny circle represents the rest of the world.  In this case, therapy is almost impossible because the therapist is just another speck on the tiny little circle -- a tiny little almost-inaudible, almost-unreal voice, like Horton Hears A Who.  Why should the huge circle pay any attention at all to anything on the tiny speck?

          It has been found that court-ordered psychotherapy for psychopaths actually increases their recidivism rate; apparently treatment teaches psychopaths new ways to exploit other people.

          This was the danger of doing domestic violence counseling with sociopaths.  They just gained a much more sophisticated understanding of abuse and psychology to use against future victims.

          At least one commentator here wonders if those lacking empathy differ in their wiring. Decades of doing psychotherapy have convinced me that in those lacking empathy the wiring is the same, but in disuse due to a lack of receiving empathy from others.  [etc.]

          I don't know if I've ever seen it expressed this well.  Overall, this feels right to me too.  (Although I think some people may really just be wired differently too, or have some kind of organic brain difference from the start.)

        •  It is an advantage in many situations... (4+ / 0-)

          Everyone here knows this, but it bears repeating that generosity, empathy, and humility are disadvantages in the upper reaches of the oligarchy.

          This is partly, of course, because of the feedback mechanism by which our societal structures are reshaped by those in power to benefit themselves.

          But having worked in both the legal and in the corporate worlds, I have seen over and over again that the selfish thrive over the generous and empathetic.

          Apparently, god hates phonics.

          by Jim Saul on Sat Jan 15, 2011 at 08:00:29 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Who do you think I was thinking of (5+ / 0-)

      ...when I included that?  Both of the other posters on the same track just brought up anti-social personality disorder.  I added narcissistic personality disorder because anti-social personality disorder wasn't the only personality disorder that has lack of empathy as a symptom.

      You and I aren't alone.  A Google search for "Sarah Palin" and "narcissistic personality disorder" brought up 55,800 results.

      "The party of ideas has become the party of Beavis and Butthead." ~ Paul Krugman.

      by Neon Vincent on Fri Jan 14, 2011 at 10:36:08 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  i've always thought she was (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Neon Vincent, indubitably

      narcissitic. but that term is thrown around so much, i stopped using it.

      Its not just her though. The Narcissist is everywhere,
      particulary in politics.

      And its really hard to tell who in fact is a narcissist and who is just reacting to the environment a narcissist creates.

      So we should be careful not to diagnose people we have
      never met based on from afar observations.

      It is very safe to say that Palin is very self motivated. But so are a lot of Americans.

      Sarah Palin is a self described Political Rogue. And she likes GUNS

      by Krush on Fri Jan 14, 2011 at 11:12:16 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Probably all of us. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Neon Vincent, FarWestGirl

      Just didn't want to bring up her name.

      Being the single intellectual in a village of 1,100 souls ain't much fun, especially when 1,099 of those don't think you're all that smart.--Lucy Marsden

      by Miniaussiefan on Sat Jan 15, 2011 at 06:04:39 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  NPD has been dropped from the DSM. Ironic, no? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Neon Vincent, indubitably

    "Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons."

    by the fan man on Sat Jan 15, 2011 at 04:25:10 AM PST

    •  It will be dropped in the next edition (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      the fan man, indubitably, FarWestGirl

      ...and its sufferers combined with those exhibiting anti-social personality disorder.  If I remember correctly, one of the rationales was that there was a lot of co-morbidity--people being diagnosed with multiple personality disorders--which indicated that the categories weren't clean distinctions, so combining the commonly co-occuring ones would resolve that issue.  The other was that personality disorders did not correspond to the dominant model of personality, the Five-Factor Model.  Using that model, narcissists and sociopaths both end up as pathologically disagreeable people, as agreeability/disagreeability is one of the five factors.

      However, that won't happen for a couple of years, so the diagnosis still exists.

      "The party of ideas has become the party of Beavis and Butthead." ~ Paul Krugman.

      by Neon Vincent on Sat Jan 15, 2011 at 06:25:49 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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