Monday, September 13, 2010

Right and Wrong

A while ago, in a post about that guy whose disappointment with the Discovery Channel far exceeded the normal level, I included an excerpt from a NewsBusters article written by Melissa Clouthier. That wasn't the only part of the article, however, that caught my attention. With an exasperated sigh, I bookmarked the page and left town for a week, and now that I'm back it's still astounding, so here goes:
From what I can tell, and it's a scientific fact to boot, leftists lack empathy.
"Whoa," I thought at the time, "not only is that sweeping and inflammatory, but its purported veracity is highly dubious!"[1]

She provided a link, at least, which led me to Jeffrey Ellis' The Thinker, a blog I had never heard of. I quickly became a fan.

What I like about the article to which Clouthier links is that, while it discusses an idea many would find offensive, Ellis is clearly concerned about doing so fairly and honestly. In other words, caveats abound:
The source linked to by Pajamas Media is not the study itself, but rather is another article which only reviews Haidt’s research and includes a brief interview with him.
I cannot find any paper describing the study itself, so I’m taking all this with a grain of salt. I can’t confirm that it’s actually good peer-reviewed science versus, say, a politically motivated fluff piece.
He then mentions another study from a few years ago that's sort of along the same lines, and is similarly non-definitive. Ellis' point, basically, is that two separate studies, neither of which are by any means beyond reproach, independently support the same theory: On average, conservatives are more likely to feel empathy than liberals. Maybe it's true, maybe it isn't, but either way it's interesting to think about.

And Melissa Clouthier of NewsBusters somehow turns this into "it's a scientific fact" that "leftists lack empathy." My mind is downright boggled. I'd write it off as sarcasm,[2] except that she spends the rest of the paragraph trying to justify it:
That is, they cannot put themselves in someone elses' shoes and modify behavior based on how they would feel if the behavior was turned toward them. They are rather autistic about their intellectual and social behavior. They'll tar and feather a whole segment of people based on the action of one crazy and not even bat an eye.
I don't particularly care who has more empathy—my own anecdotal experience is that people on both sides are dangerously low—but the evidence is out there that liberals have less, and I do care about how that evidence is presented. There's a wrong way and a right way, and Goofus and Gallant themselves couldn't have done a better job of illustrating the difference.

1. Ha ha, I'm just kidding. What I actually thought was "Bullshit!"
2. Or perhaps it's a sly preview of her eventual point—that conservatives should combat liberals' hysterical over-generalizations by doing the same thing, and then liberals will realize how ridiculous they are and start behaving themselves. Three thoughts: (1) Jonathan Swift would be proud; (2) In what universe is this not already happening? (the part about being ridiculous, that is, not the part about being self-aware); and (3) Wait, what?

1 comment:

  1. Another problem that that eventual study will have to control for is empathic bias. Not everyones veins of empathy run the same courses due to many factors.