May 27, 2009

Compassion is for losers

"Empathy triumphs over excellence." That was the headline of one of the articles announcing Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court. "Empathy" was one of the qualities he said he was looking for, throwing everyone for a loop. There was a rash of learned articles about why empathy was a terrible thing in a judge, how it really meant activism, and so on. It was all very surreal. To my untrained eye they might as well have been headlined, "Compassion is For losers," or  "Goodness, go screw yourself". Personally, I like empathy and consider it a great quality in just about anybody. I liked bus conductors if they are empathic. I like policeman if they are empathic. I like scuba-diving teachers if they are empathic. It follows that I like supreme court justice possessed of the quality of empathy is a good thing. Obviously, it's not the only thing. I'd like them to have some legal training. I'd like it if they knew what a gavel is, and how and when to bang it. Imagine! And empathic too! Put it this way:  I tend to avoid people from whom the quality of empathy has been expunged. I wouldn't like an empathy-free bus conductor, for instance. Imagine the hit 'n' runs he'd get into, or the old ladies he'd get caught in his doors, all the prams he'd kick into the street. Same goes for judges. The article that ran under that headline "Empathy triumphs over excellence" was written by none other than John Yoo, the lawyer who told president Bush that it was okay to crush the testicles of a small child if he deemed it appropriate in the fight against terrorism. His answer, if memory sereves, was that it would depend on "why the president felt he needed to do that." A more empathic person might have inquired into the child's feelings on the matter. 

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