Posts tagged ‘empathy’

Living in a Land of Self-Created Chaos and Fear

One might want to know why we are sending troops to the border, or starting a trade war, or creating a DACA crisis, or ping-ponging on Syria policy, or gutting highly successful EPA programs to cut carbon emissions, or threatening to veto the budget and then not doing it, or going to nuke Korea and then talk, or sanction Russia, and then invite der leader here, or why go to war with states over emission standards, or… Well you get the idea.

Yesterday I wrote about straw men, which I called false crises so that then takes all our time and effort to address, when there was no crisis to begin with. Note that the economy and employment were all trending up before President DFF became president and now we have seen wild swings in the stock market and a looming trade war. People appointed to run different parts of the government appear to have one and only one agenda, dismantle that agency. Chaos ensues, and nothing positive changes. Ethics, which remember how he wanted to drain the swamp, be damned.  See Scott Pruitt slurping at the trough,

Do we have one smart well thought out policy from the DFF’s administration? Rhetorical. And anyone competent is abandoning ship. Did you see the new nominee for Interior? Hates the endangered species act. Let’s kill all the animals. Oh, where is Shakespeare today? Lawyers are fine, but tree huggers die.  I think people wanted change, not chaos. I think that might be the way they vote in November. But note that even if that happens it will take years to repair the damage as the DFF drives the intelligence and experience capital out of government.

But I think there must be some method in the madness. And of course there is. Over the years I have read so many analyses of what makes people think bizarre thoughts and selectively picks their facts to support those bizarre thoughts. Why do seemingly intelligent people make such bizarre and stupid choices?  Why do you (I) marry your (my) first wife.  There was a need there that drives us to do something stupid and to see the world as we want to instead of how it is.

Thomas Edsall did a summary of that this morning in the NYT and if you slug through it, basically liberals are outgoing and do not fear change (or by extension of being outgoing, do not fear change), and conservatives are just the opposite.  I have described that more simply as fearfulness.  Conservatives are more fearful and therefore they “conserve”.  When the world is changing around them, they reinvent reality to maintain the status quo, no matter how unfair, flawed or ineffective. Their fear drives their selfishness and their lack of gratitude for their favored position.

But this all leads to an effect with conservatives, authoritism (intolerance is another way to think about authoritism).  Remember those early discussions years ago about  the partisan divide could be described in the models of a family.  Conservatism is based on a strict father model, while liberalism is more centered on a nurturing parent model.  Well, that is just authoritism and defining the world in strict boundaries that do not change with time.

I go back to the root cause, as I assume it.  Conservatives have two things going on.  They lack empathy, and they are fearful.  Both I think are innate.  It can be changed by experience and upbringing, especially if you are raised in a diverse culture.  But that is not the trends we see developing in increasing economic inequality.  And with that increasing economic inequality comes a world reality that is rapidly changing.  Conservatives not only fear that change, but reinvent reality to say the status quo is just fine.

Remember when I asked you if there was method to their madness?  Of course there is, they are playing the fear card with the fearful.  Fear clouds your thinking. Keep the masses fearing ever-growing threats and you distract them from policies that do not improve their lot.  To me, that is why Red states vote Red even though it hurts their and their children’s future.

Look at how red states have gutted education, damning their children, while the facts show that the better educated coastal urban centers are doing just fine in the changing economy.  The are eating their young because of false political ideology.They are distracted from that reality by fear the hordes at the border, Democrats will rape and pillage, women who have rights might exert their right to be equal, and false facts like President DFF has fixed the economy when it was not broke, don’t let Democrats wreck it again (Bush doesn’t exist).

President DFF is terrified of the Mueller investigation and the looming trade war.  He is hearing his base is unhappy that he is not fulfilling his misbegotten promises.  And those he is fulfilling are not working as expected.  So it is time to gin up the fearful.  If Republicans desert the ship, he is toast.  So we are in for the DFF’s campaign for President, replayed.  But this time I don’t think it is going to play as well.

Remember, he and some Republicans had help from the Russians and FBI Director Comey which allowed him to squeak out the election.  That is not going to work this time.  It is always about the money and who, in the end, fattens your pot.  Conservative ideas have run their course and been outdated by an ever-changing world.  We are now getting a real world example of how failed they are and how corrupt is the Republican Party. November will matter.

It’s the Economy Stupid

Basically much of America is brain-dead. No, they are not like zombies, but definitely mesmerized by conservative propaganda. One writer gave us this yesterday about their favorite source of news:

Fox News continues to market itself as a legitimate news operation, but legitimate news operations don’t spew conspiracy theories, attack African American athletes, mimic President Trump’s fake facts and malicious attacks, ignore actual news when it is not favorable to Trump or fan the flames of xenophobia. It is increasingly difficult to understand why advertisers want their products associated with an outlet that does more to polarize Americans and wage war on objective reality than Fox.

But it makes no difference to point out all this, their eyes glaze over and we get the disruption defense. “President DFF is a different kind of leader and he leads with disruption. Change, ain’t it great?” But as I have opined here before, conservative ideas are failed ideas and once it hits them in their pocketbook, there will be a wake up call. Sadly with a brain-dead Middle America (See Roseanne for the classic example), all that talks, and maybe all that has ever talked is money. Well the money is about to talk.

In an op-ed by Robert Leonard about what is happening in Iowa, he pointed out how pocketbooks in Middle America are starting to feel the pinch from the Disruptor in Chief.

Donald Trump won over 60 percent of the 2016 vote in rural Iowa, where I live, and I haven’t heard much concern from Republicans over the president’s alleged infidelities with a porn actress, his ties to Russia or Jared Kushner’s real estate shenanigans.

Or, for that matter, much concern about the administration scandals about wife beaters, Saudi princes, Ben Carson’s table or Scott Pruitt’s soundproof room. Many people don’t even know these scandals exist — they generally don’t lead in Sean Hannity’s or Tucker Carlson’s world.

Sure, there is a little rumbling about the increased deficit, but not much. Besides, it’s the fault of Congress, in particular the Democrats.

But then it gets interesting:

But people here — Republicans and Democrats alike — are paying great attention to what President Trump is doing economically, especially since he started in on tariffs. We have a strong manufacturing base in our county; when tariffs on aluminum and steel were announced, local manufacturing leaders tried to be diplomatic, praising the Trump tax cuts but saying the steel and aluminum tariffs would hurt their businesses by driving costs up.

One smaller manufacturer — a Trump voter — told me that his costs to produce his product nearly doubled overnight, and that his business has already been hurt by the tariffs. Prices didn’t rise only after the tariffs were announced; they started rising when Mr. Trump floated the idea.

But it’s the farm economy that rural Iowans are paying particular attention to. When the president first proposed a 20 percent import tax on Mexico to pay for his wall, Iowans objected: Mexico is our second-largest export partner after Canada.

Mr. Trump has waffled on the renewable fuel standard before — ethanol is big around here — and Iowa’s entire congressional delegation and the governor’s office pressured him to renew it. We know he will waffle again, and potentially end it.

Most recently, when Mr. Trump imposed $60 billion in tariffs and sanctions against China, the Iowa Soybean Association said his action “poses an immediate and grave threat to their industry and Iowa agriculture.”

And guess what, the Chinese are now raising tariffs on pigs! Iowa is the largest pig raising state in the nation. They are so screwed. The author goes on to opine that this could just be the impetus to turn some Republican heads toward impeachment. I think there is a much larger lesson here.

First and foremost, how do you ignore all that was President DFF when he was a candidate and he said he was going to do exactly what he is doing? My answer here is that the devil is in the details and most Middle America conservatives don’t want to look in the details for fear of what they will find, hence the need for Fox News to either change the subject, or create whole new “facts” so reality can be ignored (in the short-term).

Second is to understand how empathy, or lack thereof, plays a major role in how Republicans are Republicans. They easily shut out the rest of the world, and even their fellow citizens if they are doing fine. Then they define the rest as part of the problem so they do not have to examine those pesky details. I find it interesting, as Mr. Leonard pointed out, they still blame Democrats when they hold everything in government. It is classic denial.

I think empathy or the lack thereof is innate. We are born that way. I think if you really want to understand the real politics behind Republicans and Democrats, it is about empathy. Democrats say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Republicans say, “I deserved what I have, and look at all those lazy slugs around me that want something for free.” There was an interesting piece the other day about the fact that maybe gratitude may be a virtue highly underrated. Well, in Republican land, grateful hell! I earned it! Or God chose me. If you are suffering either you deserve it or God did not anoint you. Explains a lot about Evangelical support of Trump and rejection of real Christian virtues

Maybe that explains the fearfulness studies that show that conservatives tend to be more fearful. There is them and there is us. Lack of empathy is critical to the them part, and a belief that you are in a state of grace and have earned everything you have, allows you to see everyone us as them. I have been struggling to understand my conservative friends fo years and this is what I have witnessed. The most interesting part of all this is that they can have empathy if they experience some of the injustice they deny first hand. But it is very selective and focused on their experience.

So are we lost because they are all born this way*, helped along by Fox and all the right wing noise that  fills their 24/7? Nope. Back to the start of this blog. It is about the money. And President DFF is on his way to wrecking the economy. And changing him out with Mike Pence won’t change much. So sooner or later they are going to vote their pocketbooks. Democrats have to give them a reason to select the other team. That means directly addressing some of Middle America’s economic woes with something better than zones of entrepreneurship. It means Democrats have to throw off the clothes they were robed in by Right Wing noise. We have to make them understand that we understand that if we are going to prosper, they have to prosper to.

No, we are not probably ever going to cure their lack of empathy for their fellowman. Some people are just selfish to the core. But if we can make them start to realize that we are all in this together, and cutting out winners and losers results in losers for all of us, then it really will be a new day. Hope on a Monday.

*There have been some studies that show that if we were a more integrated society and had more first hand experience with “others”, some of our prejudices evaporate. See conservatives who have gay children. It is that personal experience I described above. Liberals don’t seem to need this as much as conservatives do. In many ways we got this experience when we lived in a more egalitarian society rubbing elbows with “others”, and read widely (getting the experiences of a world we could only imagine). But our trends today are away from reading, and growing economic inequality, segregating and isolating us as a society. Then the inmate tendencies run wild.

The Gated Community Syndrome

We all suffer from it in one form or another.  We like to surround ourselves with people we feel comfortable with and it has a tendency to screen out diversity and new ideas.  To further multiply the effect, most of us understand and feel empathy as a function of our own personal experience with the world.  Republicans reliably have must less natural empathy than non-conservatives. They lack compassion. Yet as in the Bill Maher reference, Dick Cheney finds empathy when his own daughter is gay.  Then he gets it, sort of. He just can’t transfer that epiphany to all the other things he has wrong.

In the mundane world of everyday experience we see this in one form or another.  Everyone I know can easily fix our school system, except most of them have never worked there and have no idea about the hurdles that are really out there.  Then there is the common theme running through most conservative thought that if poor people just found jobs and showed a little discipline…  Mitt Romney’s 47% comment captured this clueless belief so well in 2012.  It is reinforced by conservatives own personal experience.  They worked hard and are successful or get along, so why can’t everyone else?  And in that question is the very root of their lack of empathy with those who have worked hard and the system failed them.  But they have no experience with it so it doesn’t exist.

There is a ton of data demonstrating that conservative and liberals are not different just in their  political beliefs but in both their psychological and anatomical make up of their brains.  In the reference above about their lack of compassion, there is glimmer into the real threat of the Right Wing base that now supports Donald Trump. Facts don’t matter, authoritarianism  does.  And speaking of Donald Trump, he and his family live in the ultimate gated community uninformed by the reality that most of us inhabit.  As was pointed out the other day by Richard Cohen in the Washington Post, Trump may actually believe all his lies.

But his family is a case study.  His son, Trump Jr. gave us, “If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.” Roger Cohen of the NYT took this idea apart this morning, but I will give a simpler way to look at it.  If your freedom and happiness depended on crossing the street and you know that 12 people a day die crossing the street, would you cross the street?  Of course you would, you would just be careful about it.  But the comment speaks volumes of Trump Jr.’s understanding of the human condition.  How would he know, the closest he has gotten to natives are the porters on his killing trips to Africa.

So let’s turn our attention to Donald’s daughter Ivanka who is lauded for pushing her dad to announce a child care plan.  So far so good, but here comes the problem with the “gated people”.  They are clueless about what is the real need, and that there have been plenty of attempts to do this in more realistic terms (tax credit versus tax deduction) killed by the very party they are part of.  She introduced her dad by saying that he was the only one who was thinking about this and we need to move on it.  Clearly she missed the much larger program of tax credits to help all people not just those who deduct on their income taxes offered by President Obama, or the much more comprehensive one offered by Hillary ages ago that recognized that it is not just women who raise children any more.

My point is very simple.  They have a conservative brain reinforced by the gated community* in which they live.  There was a time when a fearful mind served us well, but in a world where change is accelerating, it tends to hold to the status quo which is stagnation in the here and now. They have no clue about the real world or real people’s problems and that is why conservative ideas have failed us.  They don’t address the problems of most people.

Their ideology is not consistent with reality.  And facts don’t matter because they don’t have the empathy that allows them to believe the facts.  They only know what they have experienced first hand and they careful filter that.  Those of us with a liberal mind (I came from a completely conservative family) may not have the worldly experience to challenge our ideas, but we have the capacity to read and empathize.  It is no surprise that the Trumps or most conservatives are not great readers of great literature.  The value of a liberal education is that it exposes you to the human condition, even more so in great fiction. Shakespeare was the greatest psychologist that ever lived.

There is hope however.  If Dick Cheney can learn to be tolerant of gays through personal experience, there is no guessing how far conservatives can go if they were forced to rub elbows with the rest of us.  Have you ever wondered why most modern urban centers are liberal?  We are forced to meet our neighbors and diversity becomes so much less scary.  We see the plight of our neighbors and get a sense that we are all in this together.  Fareed Zakaria in his GPS show chronicled how Singapore where there is a mass mix of cultures and races have overcome the problems we see because they actually legislate against gated communities.

And the largest gated community is represented by economic inequality that allows us to separate our selves from the huddled masses and live in a bubble world where everyone around us reinforces our fantasy universe.  The Trumps truly epitomize this trend and we should wake up.  The far Right are his white mob and they are enthrall with authoritarianism where they have switched off their brains. Facts don’t matter and they are a true threat to democracy and freedom defined by our Constitution.  The problems they want to fix are not the real problems, they are, and we are approaching a turning point in this country’s history.  Please vote.

*Full Disclosure:  I live in a gated community albeit one that keeps the deer out of my grapes.  I guess I could mingle more with the deer to understand their need to destroy my vineyard, but then where would the wine come from that gives me the patience to listen?

And Here at Home …

I don’t have to look very far afield to find our own home grown racism and sense of entitlement.  I live about 45 miles east of Sacramento in a white conservative community* that can be down right scary when you consider the level of ignorance that abounds.  But we do have a lot of poor people and that may be our saving grace.  Growing up with someone who has a lot less makes you at least aware and maybe tolerate of the differences.  Not so about 20 miles to my west in a community called El Dorado Hills.

We actually live in El Dorado Hills back in the late 70s and early 80s.  Now it has become yuppieville.  It is home to basically white, rich, and conservative.  It is a place where everyone is in a hurry and everyone is special and entitled.  You don’t see a lot of smiles or eye contact in yuppieville just get out of my way, I am special.  Well the local high school, Oakridge, had a girl’s basketball game the other night and the fans (mostly students) provided us with this (Sacramento Bee):

Racial taunts and body-shaming insults directed at McClatchy High School girls basketball players during a recent playoff game at Oak Ridge High School in El Dorado Hills continue to anger parents from the Sacramento school.

…the taunts came from the Oak Ridge student section during the Feb. 25 game in which Oak Ridge defeated McClatchy, the defending CIF State Division I champion, 40-33 in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.  The taunts included chants of “soy sauce,” “go back to Fiji” and references to “small eyes,” Kumamoto said. In addition, students delivered insults that were not racial, but still hurtful.  “We have one player with a heavier build, and every time she came in they would yell, ‘Outback Steakhouse,’ ” he said. “They would yell, ‘You’re ugly.’ ”

…Aaron Palm, Oak Ridge High’s interim principal, said Wednesday that school and district officials were aware of inappropriate behavior, although he said the racial comments are believed to have come from only one person, whom school officials have not been able to identify.

Of course it wasn’t just one student as the other team will testify to.  But this is a community where everyone is special and rules are for everyone else.  These are the parents from hell, where everyone is above average and it must be someone else’s fault.  I know because I know several teachers in the school district.  Political pressure on the principal is immense.  All in all, it represents some of the best and worst of America.  Oh, and isn’t local control great?

How could you solve this?  I think the answer is quite simple, diversity, economic and racial. One thing we do have a lot of data on is that when people grow up in diverse societies, they develop empathy.  There for the grace of God go I.  Or if they were Christians who actually practiced Christianity (the brave few), the golden rule might apply.  But they have neither and the lack of diversity coupled with their sense of entitlement (money they (students) did not earn), allows them to degrade their fellow human beings.

So no, it is not just ignorant hick from the sticks who can act out his racism by sucker punching a black man escorted from a Trump rally.  It is also a product of our increasing lack of diversity in many of our communities where economic inequality allows us to wall ourselves off from humanity and then make fun of them, well, because they are not special like us.

*Just as an aside, when my son was about 8 or 9, my wife and I took him to an Oakland A’s fan (he has been hooked ever since).  I am a mass transit kind of guy so we drove to Berkley and then took BART to the Coliseum.  The train was full of black, brown, yellow, gray, you name it.  On top of that it was the day of the gay pride parade in SF, so the train was also full of gays, and there was a lesbian couple and one with a lizard on her shoulder.  His eyes were the size of saucers.  He had grown up in a lily white community.  But then like me, he came to love that diversity, all the panache and difference that makes this nation great.  It is probably what makes him a great counselor in a high school today. Celebrate our differences people, they are our strength.

Is Chris Christie a Democrat?

A townhall clip of Christie is getting big views and pundits are wondering if this is what he needs to raise his poll numbers.  The clip catches Christie talking about how our War of Drugs has failed.  He describes being at the funeral of a man who has died from drug abuse and looking across at the man’s three daughters sobbing at the service.  He is thinking we have failed him because he could not get help and here it comes, “There by the grace of God go I.”

Wait a minute.  That is the basis of all liberal thinking.  That we are all in this together and world is an unfair place.  We need to help one another.  That is just the opposite from Republican blame thinking that poor choices and lack of discipline is why you are poor, or addicted, or whatever.  In other words, I deserve what I got and you didn’t earn yours so you deserve your destiny.  I am not wasting my tax dollars on you.  Not quite there by the grace of God go I.

So is Chris Christie becoming liberal?  Hardly.  He still thinks flow down works, and the poor need less help not more.  Republicans only have these great insights when it personally affects them.  They can not extend that to people they don’t know (it is called lack of empathy).  When they do have it, it is flitting.

The Pope’s Address to Congress

The Pope gave a wonderful address to Congress.  The general theme was empathy for our fellow man which of course was a problem for most Republicans.  His themes were not a surprise, refugees, economic inequality, the sanctity of life, religious fundamentalism, arms trade, global warming, capital punishment, dialogue over conflict, family, and the poor.  I did have to laugh as the politics of the audience was evidenced by their selective applauding.

He set Republicans up several times.  He said he believed in the dignity of life at every stage at which the Republicans finally got a bone and cheered wildly, and then launched on the inhumanity of capital punishment, which of course they all mostly support.  What a let down for them, consistency of logic. The other bone he threw them was on families and how important the family structure was to our success.  But it was a double-edged sword.  You could take it as the traditional man/woman marriage or to protect even gay marriages and their families. While gay issues were not brought up, he seemed to come down on seeing all humans as fellow travelers and treat them with compassion and respect.  Wonder if Kim Davis was listening?

Clearly on most issues, the Right has moved so far to the right, that empathy and care for their fellow man, unless he is part of the 1%, is non-existent.  I can’t wait to hear how they try to downplay his comments or turn them to more trickle down as a way to help everyone.  I can’t wait to hear how they will tell us how impractical he is to see refugees and immigrants as humans instead of numbers.  I can’t wait for them to tell us that the poor just need to work harder.  And of course, they have already told us they do not take scientific advice from the Pope on global warming, but of course they don’t take scientific advice from scientists either.

Yeah, all and all, it was a very liberal speech because caring about human beings is a liberal thing. Punishing them and blaming them is a conservative thing. Last but not least we will hear that the Pope should stick to spiritual matters.  What is more spiritual than the care of the human spirit and the world we live in?

Oh, and one more thing.  The Pope sent a message specifically to me when he faced the crowd outside of the capital and  said, “ and if there are any among you who do not believe, or cannot pray, I ask you please to send good wishes my way,  Thank you very much and God Bless America“.  Absolutely from this atheist, Pope Francis.  You are an inspiration for goodness in this world. Although I do not believe in your God, I certainly believe in your message. May the wind always be at your back.

Update:  Later I heard the Pope give his message about how praying brings us all together, and then a pundit tell us that without God we cannot be all equal.  Isn’t it sad that they just can’t help themselves to use religion to divide us.  So sad and misunderstanding the whole thrust of Pope Francis message. 

Is the Pope Political and Did (Will) He Choose Sides?

The media are twisting themselves into pretzels trying to present the Pope as the man of all people and not picking sides.  It is not working.  Just listen to his message.  He cares about the common man.  Republicans think the common man did not work hard enough.  He cares about the climate and doing something about climate change.  Republicans think climate change does not exist.  He cares about the gross economic inequality that is springing up everywhere.  Republicans basic philosophy of economics, trickle down, is the basis of economic inequality.

The Pope thinks we are too materialistic.  Republicans think we need more stuff (so do some Democrats).  He thinks we should be much more liberal with refugees. Republicans want to build walls and round-up brown people. And of course he is against abortion and on that one, he and Republicans agree, but the Pope would not use government to force that on those who don’t agree with him.  He (or at least the church) is against gay marriage.  On that one all Republicans (candidates) agree.

So is the Pope a Democrat? No, not really, but he is much closer to them than Republicans.  He has empathy for his fellow man, something foreign to most Republicans as a requirement to hold the beliefs they do.  And in that empathy, some of the things they have in common may go by the way side too.  And maybe someday both will recognize women are equal members of our society.

Anecdotel Thinking

I have argued here many times that Republicans lack empathy.  They simply cannot feel your pain unless they themselves experience that pain first hand.  Then they surround themselves with like minded people that reinforce their belief system and what results is a very skewed view of reality.  Unless of course, shit happens to them.  My favorite example is for a staunch conservative to have a gay son or daughter and all of a sudden, well gays are people too.

But I was reading Gail Collins this morning on Texas and their redirecting of Fed HIV funds to abstinence sex education.  Now I guess if you are a normal person who reads anything at all, you know that abstinence sex education simply does not work.  As Gail pointed out in her column, “Texas gets more federal money for abstinence-only sex education than any other state, and that Texas has a teen birthrate that is almost twice as high as California’s, which has completely barred schools from limiting their courses on sex to the advisability of not having any.”  

So why do they continue to do stupid things that don’t work?  Here are some quotes from Gail’s column which should reinforce my argument about anecdotel thinking:

…the sponsor of the motion, a Republican named Stuart Spitzer, told the House that he had been a virgin until he got married at age 29.  “What’s good for me is good for a lot of people,” he said. 

In an interview a few years ago Governor Perry defended the state’s stress on abstinence-only sex education while his interviewer pointed out that Texas had one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country.  “I’m just going to tell you from my own personal life. Abstinence works,” Perry retorted.

It was probably inevitable that once gay Americans started coming out of the closet and revealing that they were everybody’s friends, relatives and next-door neighbors, acceptance would follow. I always think about my mother, a conservative Catholic in Ohio, who had amazing gay caregivers in her later years and wound up riding on a float in Cincinnati’s gay pride parade.

Nobody called for a boycott when the State Legislature required that women seeking to end their pregnancies be informed that life begins at conception  
If male legislators could get pregnant, we’d have a different story. Except, of course, for the ones in Texas who are saving themselves for marriage.

See, my experience, limited as it is, and surrounded by similar like minded people is what informs me on a whole host of issues when I don’t have a clue what I am talking about.  Oh and that science, data, and study thing, that’s just Democrats trying to run the nation into the ground and destroy our moral character.  Right minded people know what is right.  But rejoice people, they now control our Congress and Supreme Court because most of you don’t vote.

It’s Empathy Stupid

The usual refrain is, it’s the economy stupid, and that is without a doubt the driver in who wins an election, at least at the presidential level. If the economy is doing well, the incumbent or the incumbent’s party is going to stay in office. That is why if the economy is still sort of humming in 2016, the Republicans will probably get shellacked at the polls for President. Not so with congressional races. While there are certainly coat tail effects and getting out the vote in presidential elections, people vote more on specific issues in local elections (my opinion).

And that is where the empathy effect takes place. Republicans reliably do not have empathy. It is easy to further cut benefits to the poor because the poor “earned” their station in life. If you work hard and play by the rules you would not be poor. Food stamps, Medicaid, and welfare is a hammock that allows the poor to slack off. It’s that 47% thing. It’s wrong of course, and although you can certainly find the anecdotal case, most of the poor work hard for their meager life.

You see this lack of empathy in their policies which are based upon holding everyone accountable even though they fail to recognize they apply different rules to different segments of our society. Such things as being against the minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, cutting Social Security, deporting all undocumented workers, against single payer health care, denying a woman’s right to choose, or even the attempt to limit access to the polls is really a reflection of a lack of empathy. These are lessor citizens because they fail to work hard and follow the rules like I did, so disenfranchising them is a good thing.

So we get elections that elect totally mindless morons like Steve King, Louie Gohmert, or Michele Bachmann because the nonsense they spew is to a crowd that has no empathy to walk in someone else’s shoes. It’s about blaming, not solving problems. As Nicholas Kristof has written this morning, empathy is hard wired and many experiments indicate that as you gain wealth, you lose empathy. Is it the wealth or the social segregation that engenders it is an open question, but it is clear that a lack of empathy allows our conservative friends and neighbors to ignore a lot of data that counters their beliefs.

My favorite example is when a Republican sees the light on gay marriage, usually when a son or daughter turns out to be gay. They can no longer deny the reality of the humanity of gay people when it is their kids and it opens up a whole new way of seeing the issue. Yesterday I wrote about two Iraq war snipers. One had 160 kills and for him “It was no big deal”. The other saw the war from the Iraqi point of view, the failure of the war to be justified, and the collateral damage done, “and questions every day whether I will be going to heaven or hell.” One has empathy and one does not.

But to connect the dots this morning, I thought I would give you this example from the news from a Democrat:

Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan has officially changed his stance on abortion—from pro-life to pro-choice. … But the Ohio representative wrote in an op-ed published by the Akron Beacon Journal on Wednesday that his conversations with women across Ohio and the country about the myriad reasons that lead them to have an abortion led him to change his mind.

“These women gave me a better understanding of how complex and difficult certain situations can become. And while there are people of good conscience on both sides of this argument, one thing has become abundantly clear to me: the heavy hand of government must not make this decision for women and families,” Ryan writes.

Empathy and understanding can in fact be learned, but it takes facing real life people and their hurtles and challenges. It is easy to hold on to conservative ideas when you wall yourself off from the reality of life, but not so easy when you walk in their shoes. Or as President Obama so eloquently put it on the minimum wage issue, “You try to live with a family of four on $15,000 a year.” If they had to, the minimum wage raise bill would quickly pass. But see, all those people are loafers.

Why the Partisan Divide on Torture?

Once you look at torture, it is morally reprehensible. So why do Republicans continue to argue that it worked and was justified and most Democrats think it should be banned forever? I have some theories of course or I wouldn’t be writing this.

First is political. Republicans were in charge when we did this, so there is that defensive thing. Never admit you were wrong. It is a sign of weakness, at least in their minds. In my marriage just the opposite is true. Assume you were wrong is probably the appropriate response in most cases. You probably were anyway.

Then there is that patriarchal thing. They are in charge, rule breakers must be punished, mercy is weakness. You hear that from Dick Cheney all the time, although his favorite argument is that they did horrible things to us, so let’s do horrible things to them. So a few innocents get rounded up, it is the price of revenge. I think a fourth grader could find the problems with this logic.

But I think probably what drives them most is evidenced by their attempt to deny the report, in effect, deny the data. Once again our chief bad example Dick Cheney comes to mind. “The report is crap. No I haven’t read it.” They already know what the right answer is and data is irrelevant. See global warming. Oh, and they like simple answers to complex problems. Using the “24” scenario makes perfect sense to them and our popular culture reinforces that it works in almost everything we see. So the gut reigns supreme.

Okay, but what about Democrats? Why do they seem as a group to understand it is morally repugnant and can assimilate the data about it being ineffective? Because Democrats as a group are curious. They are programmed to take chances and embrace change. Republicans are fearful and programmed to resist change. In that resistance, data must be ignored, and in embracing change, data is exciting to indicate new avenues of proceeding.

But what about Senator McCain? Well Republicans (conservatives) can hold on to a lot of their beliefs because they lack the empathy to walk in another’s shoes. Poor are poor because they lack self discipline. Criminals must be punished because they made poor choices and if you had lived a more disciplined life, you would be rich and fat like me. In their world without empathy, the world is a level playing field. But John had to walk in their shoes. He knows first hand what torture is and what you get from it. The data he can accept is his own personal experience. And he has a lot of it.

It’s really kind of sad in a way. It shows that data is not very useful in dealing with conservatives. It shows that change, even in the face of failure (which they deny), is very hard for them. And it probably tells us that to get conservatives to join us in recognizing and dealing effectively with our issues, they have to be personally challenged with them (see the cost of incarceration and their realization that draconian sentencing laws may not be a good idea). It can’t be some extraneous problem because they have no empathy. Again, global warming denial is the best evidence of this. “I don’t see no stink’in global warming. It’s snowing.”

So if you follow all this, I have no idea how we are going to deal with anything effectively as long as we leave conservatives in charge. Just saying …