June 2, 2010

The Empathy Gap

Just returned from a fun weekend in San Antonio attending my neice's high school graduation. It was a whirlwind trip and a lot of time driving. We had a very nice time, including a great meal on the Riverwalk, and a memorable early morning with my niece and I taking my folks to the airport and then going to get donuts.

Back in Norman, and still resting up from the trip and the semester. I have been thinking about the concept of empathy, or that ability to put yourself in another person's shoes. My niece, btw, is someone who exemplifies that virtue. But I see a lot missing in the empathy area. Take the Miranda gutting ruling from the SCOTUS yesterday. I truly believe that the conservative approach to our world is incredibly lacking in empathy. There is no need to be worried about some defendant being grilled for hours on end without legal help--because only guilty people end up there. That could never happen to someone like me, right? As a friend said facetiously on Facebook, "if you are innocent, no need to worry."

I hear and have heard over the years a lot of talk about conservative Christians being under attack in this country. Seems like I have heard story after story over the last 20 years about the concerted liberal attack on Christians. Most of those stories turn out to not really be true, but the overall mentality of victimization seems to be constant.

But then I look at what they support, and I really believe they don't actually believe they are being attacked. If they did, I think they would see the world around them differently. Why, if you feared the government was after you, would you support less oversight for the police and government and fewer rules for the police? Wouldn't you look at torture and think, "hey, they could turn that on us, if they wanted." Or look at the Miranda ruling and think about how a liberal government might use those expanded police rules on anti-abortion protesters?

But they really don't believe the government is after them. They still think it works for them. So when torture is used, it is used only on non-Christians, and when interrogation rules are eased, it is only for use on guilty criminals and the poor. When Arizona starts asking for papers, it is only for those wetbacks. They really never believe that the government could be used against them.

So there are really two problems here. One is that they don't have a problem with the expansion of government power when it is applied to non-white, non-Christians. And the second is that they don't care what happens to those people.


Lisa said...

The AWESOME restaurant is Acenar. :)

steves said...

I really don't think this was a bad decision. I will post more on it when I get the time.

Monk-in-Training said...

". One is that they don't have a problem with the expansion of government power when it is applied to non-white, non-Christians. And the second is that they don't care what happens to those people."

These two items are the KEY to working with right wing Christians in this area. If you are brown, or worse, non-Christian you are not 'worthy' of consideration - at least politically.

I listened to a recent lecture by Franky Schaeffer the son of Francis Schaeffer discussing how he left political Christianity and was shunned by his former compatriots. It was very interesting and I found his journey pretty similar to my own.

leighton said...

I came across this interesting compilation of conservative condemnation of the ACLU for not intervening on behalf of the five students who were sent home for wearing U.S. flag apparel on Cinco de Mayo, when the ACLU did, in fact, notify the school to remind them of students' free speech rights.

It's an interesting chicken-and-egg question whether lack of empathy is the cause of conservatives believing so many lies about (say) the ACLU, members of pro-gay political movements, nonwhite immigrants, etc., or whether being lied to by every source they trust is the root of empathy's failure. Either way, it's a vicious, self-sustaining cycle.

steves said...

The holding of the Miranda decision, IIRC, was not that any specific warning was required, but that a confession be knowing and voluntary. The history of our country is full of instances where brutal methods were used to extract a confession from a suspect. The latter half of the 20th century saw a gradual shift in terms of the right to counsel and the prohibition against self-incrimination.

In my opinion, the Court should start by looking at what the Constitution says and then build from there. Clearly it says that a person cannot be made to testify or provide information that they committed a crime. Beyond that, the question then becomes what can be used by the police and prosecutor in terms of questioning?

From what I can tell about this opinion, the Court is saying that simply not talking is not enough to end questioning. There must be some affirmative act. Of course, the person can simply remain silent. I don't think this is completely unreasonable. I think almost everyone is familiar with the Miranda warning, though it is clear that the urge to confess is pretty strong in many people.

What we are left with are several ways to end questioning:

1. Say that you do not want to make a statement.

2. Say that you want a lawyer.

In both of these instances, questioning has to stop.

I have mixed feeling about the ACLU, but that is because they take a position on the second amendment that is not supported by most legal scholars and is a kind of "pick and choose which civil rights are ok" approach. That being said, they do a good job on the 1st amendment and do tend to get vilified by the Right for plenty of things they don't actually do.

I don't know what will change this. The NRA has worked with them on several cases, so it is clear that the bad feelings aren't universal among the Right.

Streak said...

The conservative opposition to the ACLU is not based in fact. But then again, I am struggling to find much of what the conservative right rants about that is. Their own victimhood might be a great place to start. But what I see is a complete denial of the facts, so any discussion about what is and what is not is largely moot. These are the same people who have rewritten American history to take out Thomas Jefferson because of a letter he wrote to the Danbury church.

I can see Steves point on the ruling. I am mindful, however, that Sotomayor and others have noted that the original Miranda ruling called for an explicit waiver by the defendant.

leighton said...

I'm not advocating any specific position about the ACLU, though I do think any opposition to (or support for) them should be grounded in what they actually do, rather than in propagandist fantasies.