Updated: Jun 22, 2019
According to the mainstream narrative, what separates Republicans from Democrats, the right from the left, is empathy. Expanding welfare, free college, Medicare for all and affirmative action policies fall under the Democratic Party platform because of their compassion. The GOP opposes these policies due to lack of compassion.
This great lie has been at the epicenter of the left’s talking points and echoed by the media. The portrayal of empathy in politics has been split down party lines and the interpretation of this split by the American people has created an increasingly divisive culture. Many politicians are cashing in on this divide; they need empathy because emotional empathy replaces rational reason.
In reality, empathy makes for bad policy. Empathy is not sympathy. Sympathy does not have to be absent in politics in order to make good policy.
But empathy puts you in someone else’s shoes. It gives you tunnel vision. It compels you to create the rule for the exceptions, not to create the rule which benefits the masses.
Sympathy, on the other hand, allows you to acknowledge and show considerate understanding without clouding your judgment. It allows you to recognize the exception without forgetting about the good of the people as a whole. For example, someone walking across an open bridge falls off. Empathy bans bridges. Sympathy puts in guardrails.
This concept is heavily applicable to many issues but is especially prevalent in the war on poverty. Republicans are allegedly notorious for “not caring” about the poor or struggling working class. Democrats are popular among the economically disadvantaged because of their devotion to increasing federal aid wherever they can.
This stance is cloaked as compassion but has no long-term results. Emotions are compulsive and short-sighted. Emotions and empathy created the massive welfare state that didn’t move the poverty rate an inch.
Instead, the result we’ve seen is more people on government assistance with more incentive to stay on it than work your way off. The more you lean on the federal government the more you need policy that fuels your dependency. In order for empathetic policy to be propped up, the American people need to be held down.
Financial dependency should not be enticing. The counter viewpoint to increased government assistance is not an emotionally empathetic one, it’s rationally sympathetic. It sees the evil of dependency and strives to limit it while also recognizing the hardships people face. Welfare should help those who desperately need it and work as a crutch, not a permanent platform.
A full-time job, purpose, fulfillment, financial autonomy — these are the goals of curbing hand-outs. Seeing lower income individuals overcome economic disparagement from sheer will of the human spirit is what fuels this ideal. Sympathy sees the short-term hardships and answers with long-term solutions.
Emotional appeal is a powerful political tool. Empathy is an influential weapon to target the hearts of people when we should be targeting the minds. Feelings make for foolish policy. Yet, emotion, empathy and feelings are driving our political discourse.
There is, of course, a time and a place for empathy. It is a noble characteristic in your personal life, and it separates man from any other living creature. Our ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes aids in the building of community and humanitarian work. Empathy outside of government relieves dependency on centralized power. It allows us to seek help from our fellow man as the first resort. That’s where empathy belongs — outside of policy.
The empathy trap is hard to resist. It deceptively promises you equality of outcome while giving you a feeling of righteous indignation toward your political adversaries. The ends give you a feeling of hope regardless of the baselessness of the means. However, the hope never comes to fruition and the outcome of equality comes in the form of equal oppression.
Sympathy through rationality doesn’t land in the hearts of individuals like empathetic emotion does, but if we want a sustainable life built on individual liberty and the American spirit, we need to recognize the unempathetic consequences of empathy.
Published on: The Western Journal