A terminal loss of empathy

I’ve long considered one of my personal strengths to be my ability to empathize with those I disagree with. Now, for the benefit those of you who haven’t yet heard Rush’s monologue on the topic, “empathize” does not at all mean the same thing as “sympathize”. To empathize, means, in a nutshell, the ability to understand the arguments and thought processes of others, even as you might vigorously disagree with them.

The gun control crowd, for example, is a simple case. Get rid of guns, get rid of gun crimes. And legally owned gun is potentially a stolen gun, so, safer to just make gun ownership illegal. I’ve probably oversimplified that somewhat, but I think I generally got the gist, and at any rate, I doubt any of the gun control advocates would actually disagree with either of the two previous statements. Of course, we on the right know full well that “getting rid of guns” simply isn’t that easy, that even if we did somehow manage it, something else would replace them as the weapon of choice, and that in the meantime law-abiding citizens are being placed at a major disadvantage to the better-armed criminal element.

The point of that last paragraph was to demonstrate an exercise in empathy, an explanation as to why the other side thinks their arguments are correct, even as we might strongly hold otherwise.

Unfortunately, I see empathy rapidly becoming a lost art.  Every time you hear — and we have all heard this more times than we care to count — that criticism of President Obama is necessarily rooted in racism, you are hearing a person with no interest in empathy. You are hearing a person who refuses to accept even the possiblity that the opposition is arguing from a rational standpoint.  That person does not know what we’re really thinking, and to all appearances doesn’t want to know.

It is hard to know what to do with such people. How do you deal with a person who seems to be absolutely and irrevocably convinced that you are evil?

But it gets worse.

Lately I’ve become aware of a new breed on the left, what I’ll the Unfathomable Left, a group with a mindset that I have to admit I find entirely baffling.

Personifying the Unfathomable Left is MSNBC’s newest prime-time host, Cenk Uygur.  Just to cite one example of his mindset: Cenk has asserted, without the slightest hint of irony, that Barack Obama is more conservative than Ronald Reagan was.

Just ponder that a moment.  It’s one thing for someone to be far enough left that even Obama does not satisfy their desires for leftward activism.  On that score we here at RedState might even sympathize; few if any viable GOP presidential prospects for 2012 really deliver the level of unabashed conservatism we would like to see.  It is the lot in life of the activist to never be satisfied.  That much one can grasp.

But to trace the recent political history of the United States from 1989 onwards, and decide that it represents such a radical shift to the right that the standard bearer of conservatism of the 1980’s would be on the radical left fringe today…?  Try as I might I cannot wrap my head around it.

And lest one be tempted to chalk Uygur’s point of view about some fairy tale about the Reagan years that might be his only source of knowledge about that era, I note that, the name of his Internet show “The Young Turks” notwithstanding, he is in fact my elder by several weeks.

Even though I never had the opportunity to vote for the man, I remember quite clearly what the Reagan years were like, how he conducted himself in office, what he accomplished, what the criticisms of him were, and so on.  So from where does Cenk Uygur derive such a radically different recollection of that era from my own? We lived through it together. Yet it feels like we spent that time on different planets.

Try as I might, I cannot empathize with Cenk Uygur.

A recent thread I saw, I think it was on Facebook, drove the point home that empathy is slipping my grasp.  A conservative on Twitter made the following observation (from memory, possibly paraphrased): “The Left wants to see the Right censored, while the Right wants to see the Left keep on talking.”

Again, perhaps an oversimplification, but what do you want from 140 characters.  But we understand what it being said here.  How long have we heard the cries from the Left that Fox News needs to be taken down?  How long has the Left taunted us with the idea that they might try to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine, thus badly hamstringing if not outright imploding conservative talk radio?  As for us on the right, sure, we cheered as Keith Olbermann took a fall, but we always wanted it to be — and wouldn’t have been nearly as satisfied if it hadn’t been — the result of MSNBC finally deciding that he was just too much of an albatross for them to endure financially.  And yes, we would like to see federal funding pulled for the likes of NPR and PBS, but anyone really think those institutions will simply blow away in the wind for lack of that source of funding?

Yes, some on the Left are of the mindset that federal funding is the basic way of showing support for something, and that therefore pulling said funding is effectively the same thing as trying to destroy it.  So, if one were to put the above tweet up for comment by a liberal audience, one would expect such arguments to appear.

But what I saw instead when someone actually did just that, however, threw me. There was no discussion, no attempt to point out the flaws in the statement, not even the citing of potential contrary examples like I just did. No, their reaction was unanimous and the mirror image of my reaction to just about anything Cenk Uygur says: “Buh?”

From their point of view, nothing could be any more obvious that the exact opposite of the tweet was the truth of the matter.  So obvious was it, to them, that it didn’t even merit the slightest hint of discussion.  At most, just a general agreement that the more conservatives are allowed to talk, the more rope they produce to hang themselves with (new tone!), which of course explains why the highly expressive Tea Party movement only resulted in driving the independents ever deeper into Democrat hands and thus allowed them to extended their majorities in Congress last year… oh wait.

But my point with that last example is not to poke holes in their logic but to show, again, how empathy has been lost.  They simply cannot grasp our mindset and accept that it is even terrestrial in origin, any more than I can do for an increasing number on their side.

There is another word for a person for whom one has no empathy: enemy.

Nothing lasts forever. Someday, one would hope many centuries distant, even the Great American Experiment will have run its course and given way to something else. Something, one hopes, even better than what this country has had to offer its citizens, but hopefully that will not be our choice to make.

I keep invoking “hopefully” because even now I see the seeds for the eventual fracturing of this nation being planted.  It is partially expressed in the very name of this website, Red State, which stands in contrast to its opposite, the blue states.  While some pundits may try to gloss over the distinction with the glib assertion that most states are just varying shades of purple, that is merely an effect of our more mobile society.  In this day and age people with wildly differing political views could easily be next-door neighbors.  Depending on their level of sociability they might not even know it.  Just a few weeks ago, someone living less than ten blocks away from me had the “honor” of having his crude insult direct at Andrew Breitbart retweeted by Breibart for the world to see.  It was a stark reminder to me how someone can be your neighbor, yet live in an entirely different world.

We, as a nation, are fast entering a very Disunited State.  And it pains me that, for all these words I have written about it, a cure for this condition eludes me. I’d suggest a striving for honesty, but how can we do that when we cannot even agree on what Truth is?  What good does it do to tell the Left to stop lying about racial motivations within the Tea Party when to all appearances they believe in them wholeheartedly?

Annoying advertisements notwithstanding, I have see the true end of America.  It won’t happen next year, it probably won’t happen in our lifetimes, but it will happen, and now I have seen a vision of how it will happen.

Alas, I am out of answers.  I can only hope those yet to come will have more success.