The God who brought you out of Egypt

I suppose part of what gets to me about Alabama’s harsh new papers-please law and its crackdown on Sooners is that this is the same state that spent much of the past decade boasting of its fealty to the (Protestant formulation of the) Ten Commandments.

The chief justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, Roy Moore, based his whole public career on refusing to remove a sectarian Ten Commandments monument from the state courthouse. He installed the thing there in the first place as a challenge — daring the courts to order its removal as he knew they would have to, and thus positioning himself to defy that order and to grandstand as the cut-rate Moses of Montgomery. Wikipedia provides a useful summary:

A month after his election, Moore began making plans for a larger monument to the Ten Commandments, reasoning that the Alabama Supreme Court building required something grander than a wooden plaque. His final design involved a 5,280 pound (2400 kg) granite block, three feet wide by three feet deep by four feet tall, covered with quotes from the Declaration of Independence, the national anthem, and various founding fathers. The crowning element would be two large carved tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. High-grade granite from Vermont was ordered and shipped, and Moore found benefactors and a sculptor to complete the job.

On the evening of July 31, 2001, despite some initial installation difficulties and concerns regarding structural support for the monument’s weight, Moore had the completed monument transported to the state judicial building and installed in the central rotunda. The installation was filmed, and videotapes of the event were sold by Coral Ridge Ministries, an evangelical media outlet in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which later used proceeds from the film’s sales to pay Moore’s ensuing legal expenses. Coral Ridge was the operation of the late Reverend D. James Kennedy, a staunch Moore supporter.

The next morning, Moore held a press conference in the central rotunda to officially unveil the monument. In a speech following the unveiling, Moore declared, “Today a cry has gone out across our land for the acknowledgment of that God upon whom this nation and our laws were founded. … May this day mark the restoration of the moral foundation of law to our people and the return to the knowledge of God in our land.”

So extravagant claims of obedient submission to the Ten Commandments are at the core of the very same conservative movement in Alabama that pushed for, passed and signed into law the nation’s harshest statute for the harassment, persecution and prosecution of the stranger and the alien in our midst.

And that shoots past “ironic” to land squarely on “obscene.”

The Ten Commandments, like all of the many laws contained in the Books of Moses, cannot be divorced from the basis for those commandments — the constant and relentless refrain that always accompanies the commandments of the Pentateuch: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt.”

There are two parts to that. The first part is, partly, a declaration of authority — the ultimate declaration of ultimate authority: “I am the Lord your God.” Many believers treat this as nothing but an assertion of authority, as something like the equivalent of God the parent saying, “Because I said so, that’s why.”

But this statement is not only an assertion of authority, it is also an assertion of character. It is not simply, “Because I am your God,” but “Because I am your God.” You must not oppress the poor, this God says, because I am your God and this is what your God is like. You must welcome the stranger, this God says, because I am your God and this is what your God is like.

The commandments, in other words, are not merely edicts from God — inscrutable and ineffable rules to which we must submit. The commandments also teach us about God. They tell us what God is like. And what God likes and dislikes.

This Alabama law is not what God is like. And God does not like such laws.

The second part of “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt” makes an appeal to empathy.* That reminder of oppression and slavery offers a rationale beyond brute authority. Remember when you were oppressed? You didn’t enjoy that very much, did you? So let’s not go around oppressing others either, OK?

This divine appeal to empathy is rather interesting. God commands — those two words suggest that ought to be sufficient, that nothing more needs to be said. But then God says more. God offers reasons why we should heed these commands. God appeals and persuades and argues. God seems to want something more than blind obedience. God seems to want us to understand why these commandments matter, why we should want to heed them.

That reminder of past oppression is also, of course, a reminder of past liberation. It is thus not only an appeal to empathy, but also an appeal to gratitude.  It implies something along the lines of “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt” … so you owe me one. This is part of what Calvin meant by “ethics is gratitude.”

That reminder of liberation also reinforces and repeats the assertion of character. The Exodus was an expression of what God is like. “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt” means also “I am like this — I am the liberator of the oppressed.”

One of the remarkable things about us humans is our ability to turn that which was intended to liberate into tools of oppression. We take a slew of commandments, all of which were presented as “I am the liberator of the oppressed, therefore thou shalt …” and we immediately begin concocting inventive new ways to turn them into devices for oppressing ourselves and others.

That also is not what God is like.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

* That word empathy has, astonishingly, been turned into a partisan and contentious term. That’s astonishing because it required one group of people to surrender their claim to it — to voluntarily position themselves as being against the idea of our shared humanity. That stance is so outlandish that it leaves me gasping and grasping for a response. I’m not eager to accuse an entire political party of being sociopaths, but what can one say when members of that party, unchallenged by their fellows, rush forward unprompted to declare themselves proud enemies of empathy and proud advocates of sociopathy? They’re accusing themselves of something truly appalling, should we take them at their word? Or should we patiently attempt to explain that this isn’t really something that anyone wants to say about themselves, even while they push an agenda increasingly demonstrating that maybe in their case it is?

  • Guest-again

    Oops – not 1997, 2007.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    Americans living within the U.S. often have no idea what it is like to
    even attempt to enter the U.S. these days as a non-American.

    Yeah – I was thinking of taking a holiday to the US for a while, but have decided not to. At least not while getting into the country is so damn hard.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    While not nearly so severe, one of my favorite webcomic artists, Taroll Hunt (Canadian) was denied entrance to the US last year because he lacked a work visa.

    Note that all he was doing was going to a convention for a few days to sell collected editions of his comic (Goblins); something he’d apparently done several times before without incident.  From what I recall he was rather upset at how rude the people who stopped him were about it too, since they spent a lot of time being very insistent that he was somehow ‘stealing work from Americans’.

    Which is ridiculous, being the artist/writer of a webcomic is a unique position, no one else can fill it precisely the same way and Taroll’s work is a 2-person show (he and his wife Danielle); so if you want Goblins stuff, they’re the only people to see in the entire world.

    *sigh*

    I should note that he DID have a Visa – just not a work visa.

    What upset me the most about that incident was the way a few fans reacted though – They were upset Taroll was denied entry… and instead of blaming it on Fortress America mentality; they blamed it on “illegals”.

    Obvious double standard is obvious.

    Blergh.

    At least the comic remains awesome.

  • Tonio

    While I share your repugnance at stories like yours and Guest-Again’s, I also urge caution at how we treat them. They can easily be misinterpreted as meaning, “OMG, even white Europeans are being harassed.” I wonder if the more perceptive folks at INS know that the tougher policies originated in racist pandering by politicians, but use zero-tolerance enforcement just to cover their own asses. Years ago I read about massive corruption among the patrols at the Mexican border, taking bribes from the employers who exploit the laborers.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    I’m sure that’s the case overall – but the way he was treated on a personal level suggests something a bit more.

    Which isn’t to say I’m saying “OMG it’s happening to white people!”

    It’s more “This is bullshit regardless of who it happens to, this is a story I am personally aware of.”  (The double-standard bit was in reference to that subsection of fans having a double-standard between a Canadian and Mexican/Central/South Americans)

  • Guest-again

    ‘I also urge caution at how we treat them. They can easily be
    misinterpreted as meaning, “OMG, even white Europeans are being
    harassed.”’
    Actually, I was attempting to show that the difference between them (everybody who wants to come to Fortress America) and us (well, the Real Americans among us, that is) has been growing.

    Someone from Iceland overstayed her visa in 1994 for 3 weeks – and the result is to haul her away in chains. From Iceland – where we don’t have a problem with illegal immigrants (let’s be honest – if all 450,000 or so Icelanders came to the U.S., we wouldn’t really notice it – that is less than the growth of 5 years in one county where I lived in Northern Virginia, after all).

    I do understand the point – but mine was something a bit different, if not explicit. Europeans, with their guaranteed multi week vacations, essentially universal health care, violent crime rates a fraction of those found in the U.S., among a number of other quantitatively measurable advantages to living in Europe, are not trying to overstay their visa to take American jobs away. And yet, that is how they are treated at the border. The woman from Iceland was flying first class, as noted in the State Department cable (unclassified cable, I might add), to go shopping in NYC.

    (Oops – here is the summary of the incident, which was a diplomatic incident in Iceland, actually, ending withh the U.S. ambassador apologizing to Iceland on TV, if I recall – which will make not a whit of difference in how Icelanders are treated at the border, I might add -
    1. Summary: Erla Osk Arnardottir, an Icelandic women traveling to New York for holiday shopping, was detained in New York December 9-10 by the Department of Homeland Security for a Visa Waiver Program violation. She was returned to Iceland on the next available flight after spending the night in a jail-like detention facility and being transported to and from the airport in shackles and chains. When she returned home, Ms. Arnardottir posted her unpleasant experiences on a local blog, which was immediately picked up by the media. With the press railing for action, the Minister of Foreign Affairs called the Ambassador into her office today to ask for an official apology. (reported SEPTEL) End Summary.’)We don’t care – everyone that isn’t an ‘American’ has become ‘them.’This is no longer theoretical at this point, part of what this post of Fred’s was attempting to show. Many non-Americans are actively avoiding the U.S. at this point, for reasons that are not really clear to people living within the U.S.

    Before, it was possible to excuse such behavior (if excuse can be the right word for the process) by pointing out that American tends to have problems with racism, just like Europeans, etc. That excuse does not apply to someone from Iceland – who, as an ‘illegal,’ was dragged away in chains. We have reached the point where the full power of the state is being used to make a point, and yet, we consider it nothing but business as usual.

    It isn’t. And still, we want to go further in dealing with all those ‘illegals,’ a term that lays bare what needs to be done with them – punish them mercilessly for daring to be ‘illegal.’ Blond haired or not, rich enough to go shopping in NYC for the holidays or not, who had visited before without a mention of having broken a law – 13 years before she was dragged away in chains, denied even the chance to talk to her embassy.

    We aren’t the same nation we were – and yet we believe nothing has changed.

  • Hawker Hurricane

    “But both Ted Kaczynski and Timothy McVeigh _are_ children of immigrants. This is clear evidence that letting foreigners – especially those of different race – into the country creates these kinds of problems.”

    Citation needed.  I looked them up; Ted Kaczynski was NOT a child of immigrants, being 3rd generation American.  I found no information on Timothy McViegh’s status.
    And as pointed out, they’re both Europeans of the pasty white color type.

  • Tonio

    To be clear, I wasn’t accusing either Guest-Again or JJohnson of using the OMG argument, but simply pointing out the risk involved in using stories where white Europeans were the ones victimized. I agree with the points they raised – this treatment is just wrong no matter what ethnicity is involved.

    I remember how the media turned Ryan White into an AIDS poster child, apparently hoping this would sway the bigots who viewed the disease as affecting only “undesirables.” But someone who believed that gays and heroin addicts deserved what they got was likely too mired in hatred to be swayed that way. Or the person would have simply dismissed White as an outlier. I want to avoid enabling the type of hypocrisy that Richard Pryor condemned – he pointed out that a drug epidemic “means white people are doing it.”

  • Anonymous

    I wonder if Clough’s verson of the commandments may not be most appropriate here:

    Thou shalt have one God only; who     Would tax himself to worship two?     God’s image nowhere shalt thou see,     Save haply in the currency:     Swear not at all; since for thy curse     Thine enemy is not the worse:     At church on Sunday to attend     Will help to keep the world thy friend:     Honor thy parents; that is, all     From whom promotion may befall:     Thou shalt not kill; but needst not strive     Officiously to keep alive:     Adultery it is not fit     Or safe, for women, to commit:     Thou shalt not steal; an empty feat,     When ’tis so lucrative to cheat:     False witness not to bear be strict;     And cautious, ere you contradict.     Thou shalt not covet; but tradition     Sanctions the keenest competition.

  • Anonymous

    It would be fun if Disqus allowede you to preview…

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_45W2ZR4OHIJLUGSU3FBIYXHVKY William H

    Attempt to be be honest; an adult cannot believe the statement  “an entire political party of being sociopaths” is “a simple statement of fact”.

    If that sort of hyperbole, encompassing half the population of this country, is thought by you to be cold fact, then you  must in truth suffer from extreme immaturity.  This is the sort of mental discernment and logic I might expect from a 16 year old.

    Ask yourself why it is intolerable to you that others have differing opinions?   

  • Guest-again

    ‘Attempt to be be honest; an adult cannot believe the statement  “an
    entire political party of being sociopaths” is “a simple statement of
    fact”.’
    Well, can’t say anything about adults (or how to recognize a bit of extrapolation being viewed as exaggeration), but someone with a more than passing familarity with 20th century history could probably name a few political parties/movements.

    For example, Hutu Power – which managed to kill as much as 20% of Rwanda’s population (the number of dead are estimated to be between 500,000 and 1 million) in 1994. This act was committed in part to ‘protect’ real Hutu Rwandans from the not real Tutsi Rwandans – here is a quick summary -
    ‘The assassination of Habyarimana
    in April 1994 set off a violent reaction, resulting in the Hutus’
    conducting mass killings of Tutsis and pro-peace Hutus, who were
    portrayed as “traitors” and “collaborationists”. This genocide had been
    planned by members of the Hutu power group known as the Akazu,
    many of whom occupied positions at top levels of the national
    government; the execution of the genocide was supported and coordinated
    by the national government as well as by local military and civil
    officials and mass media. Alongside the military, primary
    responsibility for the killings themselves rests with two Hutu militias
    that had been organized for this purpose by political parties: the Interahamwe and the Impuzamugambi, although once the genocide was underway a great number of Hutu civilians took part in the murders.’
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rwandan_Genocide

    Also in the mid-90s, there was the violent expression of the nationalist Greater Serbia movement involving several political parties, all of which participated in war, and none of which opposed acts of genocide. For more history about this, another quick overview at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greater_Serbia#Yugoslav_wars

    Stretching back a bit further, there was the Khmer Rouge, or Mao, or Stalin, or … well, no need to Godwin this discussion.

    And as a note – it is delusional to suggest that half of Americans belong to any political party. However, I still remain confident that a deep and wide majority of Americans will reject any political party that has members espousing the idea that a raped woman has no legal rights after her papers are determined to not be in correct order (do read the post from our host preceding this one). That view is intolerable, un-American, and utterly vile. I also reject anyone’s beliefs that can hold such an utterly sociopathic view of how America functions. It does not require much discernment to recognize evil, at least when one has a historical perspective, one that often comes with maturity.

  • hf

    Notice how your first sentence there makes no grammatical sense? You should take that as a clue that the quote doesn’t say what you want it to say.

  • Tonio

    In fairness to William H, it’s very reasonable to read the quote as accusing all members of the political party of being sociopaths. But that still doesn’t justify the defensiveness of the response.

    Part of the problem may be that many people react to “sociopath” as though it was a synonym for “psychopath,” with all the attendant stereotypes about the mentally ill. I don’t know if Fred made this next point or if came from one of the Slacktivistas, but there may also be confusion between “empathy” and “sympathy.” My own theory is that the empathy-bashers are deliberately exploiting the word confusion, so as to straw-man their opponents into coddlers of career criminals and welfare cheats and any other race euphemism they can throw in there.

  • Anonymous

    It’s also quite debatable if HALF of the US is actualy Republican in party affiliation.  Most of the numbers I’ve heard used say one-quarter (with another quarter going to the Dems, and the remaining half being Independends, undecideds, or apathetics.)

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I thank JJohnson for the show of support.  In reference to some other comments, I am familiar with alexithymia and it is a trait I am certain that I possess.  And yes, I have seen Death Note.  I was wondering when someone would bring it up.  Keikaku dōri.

    I want to give a few examples of things that I have done involving empathy or the lack thereof: 
     
    A few years ago my father was on a ladder which had been secured improperly and collapsed under him, causing him to fall over two stories.  The fall broke his nose, wrenched his shoulder out of its socket, and fractured his spine.  It was a minor miracle that his spinal fracture was not serious (as far as spinal injuries go) and with a few titanium studs and some grafted tissue from a cadaver he was able to maintain full mobility and feeling.  The nose was a fairly routine fix.  His shoulder turned out to be the most serious damage though, as his muscles around it were shredded to bits.  He now has to do daily physical therapy to maintain flexibility in it.  In the period recovering from the fall, it was even worse because the shoulder was still healing, and the therapy was very painful for him since it was essentially deliberately pulling the internal wound back open every time it tried to mend itself together, lest it heal into a completely inflexible slab of muscle.  He needed help at this stage, because the pain of moving his arm that far was more than he could force himself to do on his own.  My mother tried helping him, but she could not stand to see her husband in pain, and could not bring herself to do, it was just too painful for her to watch.  Conversely, in addition to his physical pain, it made my father uncomfortable to ask his wife to do something that she was uncomfortable with, made worse by him feeling guilty that it was his condition that troubled her so.

    So I ended up helping him with his physical therapy. Lifting his arm slowly above his head, speaking calmly as he grimaced with the pain of it. Warming and loosening his shoulder with my hands before we began, then again after we finished. He said that was actually better for him, precisely because I could help him through that pain without becoming distressed by it myself. It made the pain a lot easier for him to bare, knowing that I would not be put out by it. That I could help him with compassion without letting his own feeling distract mine.

    This afternoon, I was heading out to meet a friend, traveling on foot into downtown. I was a little later getting out the door than I intended to be, and I had to skip lunch. Not having had breakfast, I knew that I should probably get something in my stomach before meeting my friend so hunger would not distract me. I stepped into a gas station convenience store a few blocks from my house and grabbed a packaged sandwich, cut in halves. I opened and discarded the package when I was out the door, stuffed half the sandwich in my face as I walked down the street. I had not gone a block when I saw a man on the street corner of a busy intersection, holding a cardboard sign. As I waited for the walk sign to change, still chewing the last of the sandwich, the man spotted me and began to approach. He started to ask me something, but I could not hear exactly what with my earphones in. Regardless, his intent was pretty clear, and before he could finish speaking, I held the other half of the sandwich to him. He accepted it gratefully and began eating it immediately. I gave him a little thumbs-up as I stepped into the crosswalk.
    Normally I am hesitant about giving money, in part because I am unemployed and I have no idea when I will be able to replace those assets, and in part because I have been taken advantage of before by people who were begging for food money who then turn around and buy drugs off someone down the street, not even bothering to preserve the social fiction by waiting until I am out of sight to do so. But this was not money, this was food. The money had already been committed, and I did not need all the calories from it anyway. Besides, I thought, “What if I were in this guy’s position? I know I would be grateful for half a sandwich.” Call it duty, karma, reciprocity. It is all of those things. I give to others when they need, with the expectation that others will give to me when I need. Maybe not the same people, and maybe there are people who will try to take advantage, but if through some little effort on my part I can give society a little push in the right direction, hopefully that little will be enough that when I am down on my luck others will support me. “Investing goodwill”, so to speak. I sow so that I may reap when I need to, and if others need to and I do not, then others may reap what I sow.
    It is because of this that I sometimes take offense at the idea that someone with low empathy cannot necessarily be a contributing member of society. Maybe I do not feel what others do, but an unhappy society tends to be an unproductive and chaotic one. But no matter how much I do to try and promote a calm and content society, people will still consider me a monster because I do not feel joy when attending a wedding, because the first though I have when I see a baby is “How fragile. Why are the parents so enamored of it?”
    Given that social outlook, sometimes I feel like the best I can do is to die in some socially productive way. That way society can benefit and no longer has to suffer my existence. I just wish that my family was not so attached. The fact that my death would cause them unnecessary emotional trauma is a limiting factor, no matter how irrational their attachment is.  My feelings are irrevelant, their feelings are not, because my death would cause them more trauma than their deaths would cause me.

  • P J Evans

    It’s still LEGAL entry. And, in fact, many of those demonized as ‘illegal aliens’ don’t come in that way. They’re smuggled in (for money) or walk in across deserts and through mountains. (The ones from Europe do come in on visas and not leave. There are a lot of them – but they speak English and are sufficiently ‘white’ to not be conspicuous.)

  • P J Evans

    Because it makes everyone so much safer when you need a passport to leave the country for a few days, and you’re only going to Vancouver. /s

    I think most of the ‘Homeland Security’ measures are theater intended to make people afraid (or more afraid), rather than actual security (which might be better directed at cargo containers).

  • Guest-again

    ‘The ones from Europe do come in on visas and not leave. There are a lot
    of them – but they speak English and are sufficiently ‘white’ to not be
    conspicuous.’
    A lot less than there used to be though, for exactly the same reasons that apply to any person violating the regulations in terms of American residence and employment.

    There was a fascinating article about NYC and the Irish in the IHT (or NYT) – for the first time in American history, starting somewhere in the mid-2000s, a population of immigrants shrank (including bringing their American born children to Ireland). And the Irish are about as privileged as it gets when talking about illegals, not that the old INS didn’t try its best to stop such activity.

    But it is now very hard to overstay a visa and to get a job and then go home after a few years – and return to the U.S. for any reason, ever again in your life. The now routine fingerprinting for anyone entering the U.S. that is not a citizen helps ensure this, by the way.

    This subject really goes in any number of directions involving Fortress America, but I have known a good number of ‘illegals’ in my life that fit your description – but that was back in what feels like another time and place. They have become quite rare as a group – even including Canadians, who I would venture were the group most likely to be able to pull this off effortlessly in the past. Of course, it is no longer possible to cross that border without a passport (or a strange half breed ‘card’) or being duly entered in a database, so that advantage has also been overwhelmed in the construction of Fortress America.

     

  • Matri

    Sound logical and analytical thought processes with a touch of belief in karma and, despite what you say about yourself, some empathy as well.

    Personally, I find bouts of low empathy useful in certain situations, because it would allow me to look at things objectively instead of emotionally and decide on the absolute best long-term strategy.

    It’s the ones who have no empathy that are the problems. And you will have a hard time convincing me that the republican leadership aren’t prime examples of this.

  • ako

    It is because of this that I sometimes take offense at the idea that
    someone with low empathy cannot necessarily be a contributing member of
    society. Maybe I do not feel what others do, but an unhappy society
    tends to be an unproductive and chaotic one. But no matter how much I do
    to try and promote a calm and content society, people will still
    consider me a monster because I do not feel joy when attending a
    wedding, because the first though I have when I see a baby is “How
    fragile. Why are the parents so enamored of it?”

    I’m sorry people have reacted like that.  The pop-culture idea of a sociopath bears only a passing resemblance to clinical categories, and like most illness/disability related metaphors, it does no favors for people with conditions similar to the one described.  A lot of people like having a catchy one-sentence description to define wrong and evil, and don’t necessarily think through the implications.

    You’re not a monster, the world isn’t better off without you, and you’re clearly doing some real good for people.  Some of your ideas of what’s best for people seem skewed, and that may be for reasons relating to not having a normal sense of empathy (or it may be something else – I don’t know your life).  But if you’re coming to conclusions like “It’s a good thing to give food to that hungry homeless guy” you’re clearly doing something right.

  • Anonymous

    This, interestingly enough, reminded me of a book I recently read called “On Killing.” It was written by a military psychologist who used historical data and hundreds of interviews to compile a realistic view of what it really means to kill someone. Contrary to popular belief, almost no one can just shoot someone and be fine with it.  

    However, he discussed a small group, about 1-2% of the population, who could. He pointed out that these people were no more likely than anyone else to be violent. In civilian life, they seemed to fit just as well as anyone else. But for some reason, some people are just sort of- fine with it.  He pointed out that these people often made some of the best, bravest, and most reliable soldiers. So he was not in any way trying to point to this group as bad people, and distinctly separated this sociopath personality from psychopathic personalities, who usually make horrible soldiers because they can’t take orders and ENJOY killing.So basically, you’d probably make an excellent soldier. And further, a good doctor. The skill you have naturally, of not being bothered by other’s pain, is one that most doctor’s spend a lifetime developing.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_4D32MUDVKZ2PLFGY5GNKS6TTF4 Northwoods

    Those who make a “big show” of it do it to hide their other flaws.  Those of us who do not, realize that we are flawed but choose to do as Jesus would have us do, and how he would have us do it (“so the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing”) *despite* our flaws.  So you might know some Christians who just don’t tell you that first thing.  I was taught to do good first and thank God that I could, rather than announcing loudly that “God made me do it.”

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_4D32MUDVKZ2PLFGY5GNKS6TTF4 Northwoods

    Sometimes being empathetic is painful.  Sometimes I wish I wasn’t born with this gift, because it makes me hurt.  At other times, I thank God that I can share in someone’s joys or sorrows.  It isn’t easy to be empathetic, but God made me this way for a reason.

  • Anonymous

    Imagining that you could be in the same position as a guy panhandling is a display of empathy. Understanding about the pain that your mother feels in causing your father pain and also understanding the long-term bad effects to your father of not getting the therapy he needs also show empathy.

    I think you are a big fraud. You have plenty of empathy … probably more than most.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Maybe I am just really good at rationalizing.  As mentioned, I have alexithymia, and thus my own emotions and I are rarely on speaking terms.  So what inclinations I do have tend to be heavily rationalized.  I do not “feel” it strictly.  Seeing another person in pain tends to motivate me to comfort them, but in the same way that seeing a leaky pipe motivates me to tighten its joining valves.  It is all about maintaining the social machine of human interaction to ensure its smooth functioning.  We all depend on the machine, and I have a sense of obligation to ensure the maintenance of the portion of it that I inhabit.  I do not have to “feel” for other people to understand that. 

    Which brings me to another point.  I believe that in any well-structured society, the moral option should always be the pragmatic option.  Take something like environmentalism.  Many people come to support that out of an empathy for nature.  A desire to perserve beauty, or make sure the habitat of cute little critters is not destroyed.  I can see the sentiment of it, but I feel that sentiment alone is insufficient reason to support environmentalism.  However, there are plenty of practical reasons to do so.  Consuming natural resources faster than they can be renewed and producing waste faster than it can be broken down is simply unsustainable, the mathmatics of it are determinant.  I am sure that society will come up with alternatives to a critical resource once that critical resource is exhausted, but that is irresponsible as well.  Removing a resource that we have use for now will deprive us of other optional uses of such resources we might find in the future.  Thus, finding alternatives to such resources before they are exhausted completely strikes me as a better option.  Recycling, alternative fuels, biodegradable disposable products, technologies with reduced emission footprints, etc.  The motivation is pragmatic rather than sentimental. 

    Yes, I have proposed some options before that are horrible in the short term, such as removing newborns from parents and raising them in state facilities.  I never claimed that anyone would enjoy them.  But it would be in the name of eliminating things like family privilege.  I think that a lot of things humans take for granted about “human nature” is more malleable then most people believe.  A generation of two of such institutions would hopefully allow for a more smoothly functioning society with less impetus for social disruption. 

    Another option I had proposed which would require a lot more medical and computer development would be the transhumanism of forced-sympathy.  Everyone having a chip inside their head that, when forming a strong opinion, will network in the perspectives of other people who have a difference to that opinion.  Not precisely mind-control, but deliberately tempering people to have more moderate and carefully weighed opinions.  In this manner, the needs and effectiveness of democracy change dramatically.  The morally questionable option is how to get everyone to participate in it.  Forcing a chip into everyone’s brain might be seen as an ethically questionable move.  It is something that I would be willing to do, but resistance would almost certainly be fierce, and that might defeat the purpose of doing it in the first place.  The most pragmatic option that I have been able to envision so far is the chip implanting spreading as a social movement, begining with small groups of people who allow themselves to be chipped to each other, and gradually expanding from there.  As more people chip into the network, their position as a voting bloc becomes more signifigant, which increases the effect they have on legislation, and more people will be motivated to join. 

    Sorry, this is getting a bit tangential. 

  • ako

    I would advise you to consider a few points about your plan:

    1) To implement the government-raised-children thing, you would have to send armed men to literally tear children out of their parent’s arms, and hunt down all of the parents who went on the run and hid their children.  This means that much of the society would suffer massive trauma, which is not a good way to make things function more smoothly.

    2) If the professional government carer “How to best raise a child” theories are wrong in some way, an entire generation could grow up seriously damaged.  And it is incredibly common for institutions to do a poor job of raising children, even when they are following what they consider best practices. 

    3) If the government comes to take away everyone’s children, most people will consider the government evil and an enemy to be fought.  This is not amenable to a smoothly-functioning society.  It would mean certain massive upheaval and damage in the short-term, in exchange for the possibility of a better-functioning society in the long term, and if you’re wrong, it would be massive upheaval and damage followed by a generation of deeply psychologically scarred institutionally-reared children.

    4) Humans are fairly malleable, but your proposal goes against one of the most basic mammalian instincts.  It’s like trying to solve the obesity crisis by outlawing eating and insisting people only take in nourishment from a stomach tube.  Yes, a few people will be able to adjust to that without too much trouble, but most will fight you, and fight you passionately.

  • Daughter

    It’s not just white immigrants.  Almost every Brazilian I knew when I lived in Boston came into the U.S. that way (overstaying a visa).

  • Caravelle

    What ako said about the pragmatism of taking children from their parents and raising them in state facilities, with added emphasis on how terrible the government is at raising children right now. Frankly, while I can see a future where we know how to raise and educate children right, and I don’t think that having the government do it is totally crazy (although I suspect “raising children right” will turn out to require some kind of parental love, so I doubt things will work out that way), the future society that knows how to raise children perfectly and that has a government that can be exclusively trusted with that task is alien enough and far enough in the future that we can’t speculate on how parents will react to it.

    As for the forced sympathy chip, I can sort of see your intent with it but as described it looks to me as if it will enforce conformity and majority rule more than anything. And the problem is, the majority and the conformists aren’t always right.

  • Rikalous

    The most pragmatic option that I have been able to envision so far is
    the chip implanting spreading as a social movement, begining with small
    groups of people who allow themselves to be chipped to each other, and
    gradually expanding from there.  As more people chip into the network,
    their position as a voting bloc becomes more signifigant, which
    increases the effect they have on legislation, and more people will be
    motivated to join.

    Interesting idea. It would probably take a while before it had any real effect, since the kinds of people who’d want a sympathy chip are probably pretty sympathetic already. I suppose once enough people got chipped, abstaining would be seen as something only a selfish person would do, but you’d have to get a whole lot of non-technophiles comfortable with getting a chip planted in their brain first.

    Sorry, this is getting a bit tangential.

    Oh, we’re all about the tangents over here.

  • Anonymous

    Everyone having a chip inside their head that, when forming a strong
    opinion, will network in the perspectives of other people who have a
    difference to that opinion.  Not precisely mind-control, but
    deliberately tempering people to have more moderate and carefully
    weighed opinions.

    Suppose you have a network of two. One has a strong opinion that everyone is worthy of basic human rights, dignity, and respect. The other has a strong opinion that $group should be exterminated. What’s the moderate opinion? Kill only half of $group? Make it damn near impossible for members of $group to be known as such while retaining the ability to find and keep employment, housing, and physical safety? A-plague-on-both-your-houses gets us nowhere when one of the extreme opinions is the only morally acceptable option.

    Also, I loathe the idea of mucking with my brain chemistry, and altered brain chemistry is not permanent in the way that an implanted chip would be.

  • Anonymous

    I think, FearlessSon, that you might be feeling more empathy than you realize. I’m not sure whether that’s the case, or whether you’re just using your intellect to work around an innate lack of both cognitive and emotional empathy, and I’m reluctant to tell anyone else what they’re feeling as if I know better than they do. However, I do think it’s a possibility that you are feeling empathy but experiencing it in a rationalist way because you’re not in touch with your emotions. 

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Not to derail too mcuh from FS’s main points, but this:

     I am sure that society will come up with alternatives to a critical resource once that critical resource is exhausted,
    Is as optimistic as assuming a drowning man will suddenly evolve gills.  A lot of the time, the ‘alternative’ will be ‘doing without it’.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Not to derail too mcuh from FS’s main points, but this:

     I am sure that society will come up with alternatives to a critical resource once that critical resource is exhausted,
    Is as optimistic as assuming a drowning man will suddenly evolve gills.  A lot of the time, the ‘alternative’ will be ‘doing without it’.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    (Argh, formatting failure.  Sorry, let me try that again.)

    Not to derail too much from FS’s main points, but this:

     I am sure that society will come up with alternatives to a critical resource once that critical resource is exhausted,

    Is as optimistic as assuming a drowning man will suddenly evolve gills.  A lot of the time, the ‘alternative’ will be ‘doing without it’.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Is as optimistic as assuming a drowning man will suddenly evolve gills.  A lot of the time, the ‘alternative’ will be ‘doing without it’.

    Oh, I doubt that a drowning man will ever develop gills, but one who is drowning will desperately clamor toward the surface with a strength and urgency he did not know he possessed. 

    The idea is develop some kind of scuba gear that will prevent drowning before it comes to the point that we realize that we are running out of breath. 


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