Sunday, December 4, 2011

Blast from the past: Pathology on the Right, a commentary on Krugman's "Two speeches and an editorial"

Time to pull out a blast from the past, in this case an essay I posted to Daily Kos back in January of this year, two months before I created this blog. It looks like a good day to re-post it.

Pathology on the Right: A commentary on Krugman's "Two speeches and an editorial"

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. For that, you deserve a cat macro.
Fat Cat goes Galt


  1. How many on T4T fit the sociopath/narcissist profile, I wonder? :)

  2. Too many, including two people I'm connected to in weird ways in particular--someone who shared my last name but has long been banned and someone whose user name I gave to her. The first was merely anti-social; the second has a lot of narcissistic traits. I'm not surprised the latter is a Libertarian while the former was merely a Rush Limbaugh fan.