Empathy as the Headwaters of Cruelty

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Is it really the case that our November car here has no brakes? Is it really the case that this switchback grade we are currently careening down has no guardrails?

The answer to these and all related questions is to be found in the fact that I am about to write one of the most outrageous and controversial things I have ever written. Here goes. Kinda out there.

The slaughter of Israeli infants by Hamas was unconscionable, wicked, appalling, and wrong.

And no, I am not going to qualify anything. You know the rules.

Out on a Limb Here

Color me sentimental, and somewhat old-fashioned, but I view these massive explosive outbursts of bile—in places like London, New York, and Washington—with something that amounts to dismayed astonishment. It is the kind of amazement that knows it shouldn’t be surprised, but still is. I am referring to the tens of thousands of people willing to rally under the banner of open and suppurating hatreds. I am referring to the genocidal glee, the celebrations of slaughter, the calloused and vile fomenting of ethnic malice, and all the crackling envy. All of it requires some sort of an explanation, and so I am going to suggest one below.

These pro-Hamas rallies are nothing but round two of the BLM protests. All this hot lava is coming from the same volcano. Protests like these have revealed that our institutions of higher learning have become little more than magma chambers of ignorant vitriol. All of these people in the streets were educated, if we can still use that term, somewhere, but what they were educated in turned out to be the mores of malignity.

The initial riots in the previous season of chaos erupted after the death of George Floyd, and the hatred there was aimed at the West, and at whites, and at civilization in general. But this particular kind of hatred always runs a surplus, and so it was just a matter of time before the Jews got swept up into it. And so the goons of Hamas obliged by providing the occasion—assaulting Israel, and committing their atrocities. This, of course, was the signal to all midwit poltroons everywhere, reasoning in their simmering rancor as they do, that since Israel obviously suffered these grotesque insults, she must have deserved it.

But where does all of this come from? How can things so manifestly wicked be simply ignored? How can people do this sort of thing in broad daylight, and with cameras everywhere? If you want to be rightly oriented to the discussion that follows, take a look at Joe Rigney’s tweet off to the right there.

The Cruelty of Untethered Empathy

A few years ago, I interviewed Joe Rigney on Man Rampant, and the central point he made at that time caused something of a firestorm. It was as though Joe walked up to the spirit of the age, licked his finger, and tried to touch the eyeball. He got a reaction, in other words. In my more optimistic moments, I like to think that his point caused a firestorm only because it was before numerous mobs took to the streets in order to ratify and seal his point. I speculate further that now the mobs have done their work of confirmation, Joe has been receiving non-stop DMs from old acquaintances saying that they understand his point now. I’ll have to ask him.

As our discussion on Man Rampant defined and framed it, the difference between sympathy and empathy was the difference between objective truth and subjective felt “truth.” When you see someone drowning in the river, the virtue of sympathy requires that you help him. In the metaphor, you help by keeping one foot on the bank and you extend a hand, or throw a rope. The person who is drowning can then be drawn to a safe place. This is because there is such a thing as fixed land, and the one drowning can be drawn out of the river and onto the land. “When my heart is overwhelmed: Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2).

But the demands of empathy require something else, something entirely different. We don’t want a rock that is “higher than I.” Sounds too aristocratic, a denial of diversity, equity, and inclusion. That guy on the rock, just who does he think he is?

So the empathetic one needs to take a header into the river, identifying completely and entirely with the drowning person. The empathetic one offers no judgments, no assessments, no evaluations. The empathy is by definition untethered. Unless you sink to the bottom with him, it is obvious to everyone that you don’t really care.

There are of course some people’s children who never paid much attention in English class, and who simply use empathy and sympathy as loose synonyms. Because we here at Mablog are governed by a spirit of charity, we are prepared to nod at that kind of person benevolently. Our war is with the advocates of a therapeutic totalitarianism, meaning those people who insist that empathy is not empathy at all unless it is untethered from any and all moral considerations. The person being “ministered to” must not come under review or assessment at all.

It follows that if such a person is your client, then they are in the in group, and they are in that in group all the way. Anyone who is playing the role of their adversary—or perhaps we should say persecutor—has to be treated with relentless savagery. This is because that adversary is challenging the victim’s sacrosanct right to be affirmed in absolutely everything. To criticize the victim is to throw a dead cat at the high altar. To be the recipient of empathy in this system is to be utterly and completely beyond criticism. And because we live in a world where trade-offs necessarily happen, this means that anyone who gets in the way of what that recipient of empathy demands is dead meat.

All of this explains why it is that the all-you-need-is-love Christians can be so malicious in their dealings with anyone who gets it their way. It is because the love they speak of is empathy-love, arbitrarily assigned to an approved in-group. It follows that the out-group is made up of orcs.

Say that someone stakes an empathy claim, as Brent Leatherwood has done, being a parent at the school in Nashville which Audrey Hale attacked last March. He can use this empathy position to fight for gun control, as though that were the problem, and also fight to suppress Hale’s journals, which revealed the actual problem—which was a hatred of crackers and little blonde kids. If the journal were released, as it partially has been, it would wreck the empathy-vibe.

Suppose the empathy-claimant is a twelve-year-old girl who was raped by her stepfather. As long as she is affirmed absolutely by an empathetic counselor, she can do whatever she wants to anyone else, including the baby. Chop it up into little pieces—empathy demands it. She can sell the pieces to Planned Parenthood, and all the counselor’s empathetic impulses will do nothing but stroke and flatter her conscience. And an empathetic judge can send the stepfather to the penitentiary for twenty-five years, which turns out to have been unfortunate, because he actually didn’t rape anybody. Empathy toward one is necessary cruelty toward another. But empathy, like Gallio, cares for none of these things (Acts 18:17).

Justice, meanwhile, always keeps one foot on the bank.

That stepfather in prison is there because empathy absolutely refused to let anyone raise the question of his possible innocence. There is no way to raise the question of his innocence without simultaneously raising the prospect that the stepdaughter was lying, and how would that make her feel? So even to raise the question of possible innocence was to be guilty of the crime yourself.


The biblical view of man is that he is by nature an object of wrath (Eph. 2:3). Is anyone righteous? Not even one (Rom. 3:10). Left to our own devices, we spend our energy hating one another and being hated (Tit. 3:3). Before conversion to Christ, we must be restrained and held back from evil externally. After conversion to Christ, we are constrained internally by the Spirit of God, who enables us to mortify our remaining sinful impulses. Not to put too fine a point on it, man is not basically good.

So when people who do not know Christ rebel against all the external constraints that a civilized order imposes, they have become untethered. Now their false gospel holds that once they are untethered, this liberation will release all the innate goodness of mankind, and we will see the sun rise over a dewy meadow, ten thousand flowers will spontaneously bloom, the fluffy clouds of equity will float overhead, and the age of Aquarius will shine down on all our upturned faces. But first we have to kill all the kulaks.

Mankind is fallen, bent, twisted. It is not prudent or wise to untether any of his emotional states—even the ones we glibly assumed were benevolent. Untethered benevolence will turn savage overnight. Untethered empathy is like dumping out a basket of vipers on the living room floor. If you have a biblical doctrine of man, you will want to see him tethered to the rock of justice. If you have an unbiblical doctrine of man, you will assume that he is a natural-born sweetie pie, and that leaving him to pursue his ethical development in some self-paced way will somehow turn out well. This is the thin mist of naive ethical theory, seeping out from under the door jams of all our major Thinkeries.

Thoughtful Christians have taught us better over the years. C.S. Lewis objected to the humanitarian theory of punishment, doing so because the proposed kindly, “medical” care of the offender was untethered from the demands of justice, resulting in the most appalling treatment of the offender. R.L. Dabney objected to sappy and emotional literature, which he said would produce a generation that was simultaneously sentimental and inhumane. This was because the emotion generated by the reading was untethered from the action of charity that such emotions were created to produce. Chesterton pointed out what reason does when untethered from good sense, when it devolves down into atheistic determinism. Such a man cannot say to a sinner that he should go and sin no more, because the sinner has no choice in the matter. But he can put him in boiling oil because boiling oil is an environment. Whenever you untether things that God designed to go together—like sentiment and facts—one of the first things to show up is appalling cruelty. If you doubt what I say, just look around.

In short, we cannot say that we haven’t been warned.

Muslims Aren’t Christians Either

The energy for all of this is naturally coming from the commies, but the rancid smell of Jew-hate has somehow proven attractive to more than a few on the right.

The right-wing trolls who have been offering their hot takes on all things Israel are people who can be divided into two groups. Some are as wicked as the leftist supporters of Hamas are, and they got that way through untethered empathy also. CRT on the right is just as ugly as the other kind, and so when your untethered empathy throws its lot in with “white people,” that means you get to hate anyone that you perceive to be a threat to your arbitrary precious. I say arbitrary because “white” is a color, not an ethnicity. But facts don’t matter because facts question your felt truth, and the spirit of the age has instructed us all on how bad that is.

The second group are more naive. They are not driven by hatred, but they say stupid things because they have decided that “owning the libs” is somehow a worldview. But of course, it turns out that Jew-hate doesn’t own the libs at all, as the massive Hamas-love protests have shown us. So chalk up the weird alliance of AOC and the dabblers in White Boy Summer to something else. The demons who are driving all this churn in our streets have a long-standing vendetta against the Jews that I think goes back to Mordecai and the first Purim. These demons hate losing, and they hate being laughed at afterwards.

This second sort of right-wing antisemitism (“define antisemitism, Soros-boy! (((!!!)))!,” you know, that kind of thing), anyhow, as I was saying, right-wing antisemitism is one of the most glaring failures to read the room that I have ever seen. It is so ignorant that a sort of grandeur creeps into it.

When Hamas first launched their despicable attack, a number of these ignorati hastened to inform us that we shouldn’t get all worked up about it because the Jews didn’t believe in Jesus. But then, when Israel was on the verge of going into Gaza, I didn’t see any of these same people solemnly intoning that we shouldn’t get all worked up about it because the Muslims didn’t believe in Jesus either. No, this is a “conservatism” that drifts like flotsam. It has no coherent center, and its middle name is reaction. The globalists who are trying to orchestrate everything have these guys well in hand.

A Brief Historical Review of the Territorial Issues

Having alluded to the facts a time or two in this piece, I should conclude by making a brief statement about the territorial aspect of the disputes.

The pro-Hamas contingent complains that too much of Israel is occupied territory, by which they mean all of it, and that the Israeli government is insufficiently attentive to their demands, or to their rockets. My answer to this complaint is that they should have taken the territories that were offered them multiple times back when they were offered, they should not have used their territories to shoot rockets from, they should not have started so many wars and, having started them, should not have lost so many of them.

We shouldn’t over-analyze this.

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