Friday, May 29, 2009

QOTD: EmotiCon Edition

Three for your money today, and we open the bidding with Peggy Noonan's errant stab at defining the concept of empathy:

(Maybe that's what they mean by empathy: Where you come from enters you, and you bring it with you as you rise. But if that's what they mean, then we're all empathetic. We're the most fluid society in human history, but no one ever leaves their zip code in America, we all take it with us. It's part of our pride. And it's not bad, it's good. [parenthesis unclosed in original]
Shaper of recent American domestic history Michael Gerson, fresh from his hometown of Oblivious, shows the limits of Noonan's parochialism with a classic line:
Just imagine the frustration and anger of standing before a federal judge who is predisposed against your claims for racial reasons of any sort.
It's classic because Gerson is speaking here primarily in defense of (and in empathy with) his fellow lily-white American citizens of Ricci v. DeStefano, who are like Gerson, of course, members of the least (by several orders of magnitude) racially-persecuted group in the nation. He really does have to imagine.

From there to David Brooks, who this morning has up one of his weirdly fairly-sensible columns:
...[E]motions are an inherent part of decision-making. Emotions are the processes we use to assign value to different possibilities. Emotions move us toward things and ideas that produce pleasure and away from things and ideas that produce pain.

People without emotions cannot make sensible decisions because they don't know how much anything is worth. People without social emotions like empathy are not objective decision-makers. They are sociopaths who sometimes end up on death row.
Or at the Washington Post or, heck, in the White House.

(Cheap shot? Sure. But in a world of Noonans and Gersons, Bushes and Cheneys, I'm afraid my empathy extends only so far.)