(part of) You Are Here: Explorations in Search of Current Reality

If some of these writings seem less than coherent, I am so far just trying to find my way. If you see signs of potential, then check in from time to time - I expect to be making more sense as I go along.
See also Tales of the Early Republic, a resource for trying to make some sense of early nineteenth century America


Monday, December 26, 2011

Empathy for the Devil

One obnoxious talking point, or verbal trick, of the "right" these days is the way they often characterize any attempt to understand our international antagonists, such as Muslim extremists, or the USSR in the old days, or "problem" members of society e.g. drug addicts and criminals of various sorts.  Such efforts are often indiscriminately characterized as "being soft", or coddling covered with scorn and ridicule.

On a hunch long ago, googling empathy and "martial arts".  Today I do that and get over 6 million hits (I have concluded from experience that hit counts on google have become meaningless, except maybe for distinguishing "very big" and "very small" numbers).  One early and prominent one is a very short article by a martial artist that stated:

I have found that empathy gives one a clear advantage in martial arts ...

Combat situations are so fast that thinking has to switch into alternate modalities. Reflexed are trained to react to situations and one must be creative and in the moment to deal. Since I was a kid, I was able to better anticipate attacks. It wasn't like mind reading or anything like that, it was more like feelings of what state that person was in. If someone was going to plan to fake you out, you can sense a deceptive vibe. If they were going to try to draw you into attacking in order to counter your moves (a good tactic) you can sense this too. You can especially sense if the person is just going to come at you aggressively. (source: http://empaths.tribe.net/thread/1374bf8b-da65-4ef6-bae1-12a7664b1d7b).
 Understanding the other, and even having empathy, are important tools of the well trained interrogator, and the field CIA agent.

If Neville Chamberlain had had some understanding of Adolph Hitler (through close study of his writings, speeches, and actions), rather than approaching him like any other head of state, the twentieth century might have turned out differently.

Yet for some decades now, novelists and movie makers have supplied, and their consumers have en masse tended to demand "thrillers" in which the protagonist is a sort of black box of pure evil.  The phrase "serial killer" has become box-office and book selling magic.

The great TV series The Wire portrayed high powered criminals as human beings with intensely human motivations, but nonetheless ruthless criminals.  The police in the series worked hard to understand them.  Tremendous sympathy was shown for many low level "punks" -- it was evident both in the way they were portrayed for the viewer, and in many of the police, who nevertheless mostly aimed at finding some way to make them betray one another so as to get the worst people off the street.  A handful could be saved; most could not, and neither the viewer nor the cops were given any illusion about that.

A primary difficulty of human nature, especially troublesome in a democracy is our tendency to paint in black and white.  When the US needed Stalin as an ally to defeat Nazi Germany (and the cold fact is it would have been impossible without that ally), much of the American leadership and people lost our critical judgment regarding Stalin and the USSR.

[to be continued]