Debate Magazine

The Power of Empathy, Politics and Palestine

Posted on the 08 March 2015 by Mikelumish @IsraelThrives

Lissa Johnson is a clinical psychologist with an interest in the psychology of ideology and politics, and the philosophy and politics of psychology. Occasionally she writes for New Matilda.
Her most recent piece was about empathy and in particular why we appear to display more of it for animals used in the recently exposed greyhound baiting scandal than for  a young aboriginal woman who died last year after falling ill while in police custody  for a petty reason.
An introduction and link to the article follows but towards the end of the piece is this odd observation that demanded a comment on the power of propaganda and its impact on people like Lissa Johnson.. 
In experiments, for instance, people give images of suffering children a wider berth than images of healthy children. Our Government’s secrecy around immigration detention has sought to capitalise on this very tendency, rendering our avoidance of suffering children routine.
Little wonder that Gillian Triggs has been pilloried for making those children the targets of empathy instead.
The Forgotten Children report must be particularly distressing to our Government given that empathy is the emotional wellspring of altruism and altruistic acts.
Empathy produces helping behavior of all kinds, and intergroup empathy and its correlates predict degrees of support for, or opposition to, various social policies, including redistributive social policies, humanitarian aid to Palestinians, military aggression against Palestinians, torture of Iraqis including water torture, beatings, stress positions and humiliating acts, and torture of Muslims in general.

So if you are an opponent of Hamas and other terrorist gangs that milk and oppress Palestinian people or of if you have sympathy for its targets and victims forced into self defence then this is because you are a person without empathy. If you support the regimes that carry out these terrible acts then that is because you are basically an altruistic person who has evolved differently to the cavemen. Killers and altruists are both the work of natural selection and the inference is that we have a choice to evolve to the better angels of our nature.
Interesting. This exposes  a problem with the whole concept of psychology in politics right there for a start.  The psychology depends entirely on the politics of the psychologist.  
This blog's comment.
Posted Friday, March 6, 2015 - 01:25

Thank you Barney*, I was just about to make that point. The power of images and the message ( the mainstays of political propaganda) is overlooked entirely in this article. The animal cruelty was fresh and raw and in your face. It had shock value. It also overlooks the power of emotionally induced disdain or even hatred (such as racism). Lissa Johnson has unwittingly provided a classic example. She demonstrates that she has "empathy" for "Palestinians" but none at all for Israelis.  "Palestinians" subject to "military aggression" (which simply does not happen) and kept in permanent "refugee" status by corrupt "humanitarian aid", often channelled to terrorists,  she interprets as absence of empathy for the people.  On the other hand, the building of dozens of  terrorist attack  tunnels (with cement supplied as "humanitarian aid")  , the launching of thousands of missiles at civilians,  and the kidnapping and murder of children invoke not the slightest suggestion of empathy for the victims at all and it could only be because they are Israeli Jews.This is the common, default position of the fashionable left. It is impossible not to conclude that this emotional and irrational reaction is primarily the result of years of anti-Israel propaganda in main stream media and especially the skilled exploitation of shocking TV images.This is endemic but perhaps the most infamous illustrations are the Netzarim Junction blood libel, (aka the Al Dura Affair) and the dead baby strategy. A straight forward case of induced emotion trumping reason.  
 *But the story about empathy for the animal victims of greyhounds, is about the fact that we watched it and heard it on TV. If Julieka's last hours had been televised there would have been a great outcry. But it was just another brief news story about someone we didn't know who lived a long way from us. We were able to put it aside and get on with our own lives.
Lissa Johnson responded (below) but then the exchange took another odd turn when another commenter entered. 

Swami has identified as an Australian born Muslim but not of a mainstream denomination. The exchanges with him or her and with Lissa Johnson show just how deeply the anti-Israel narrative has burrowed into the bones. That there can be no empathy with Israeli Jews is taken as a given. It does not receive a moment's thought. That they have no feeling for the Arab victim of an appalling crime is also assumed. That they are capable of any crime and collectively responsible for every crime is also taken for granted. This is a reflex that takes no thought. 

The article. 

Dying Like An Animal: The Price Of Empathy And How Governments Use Yours Against You

By Lissa Johnson
The Power of Empathy, Politics and PalestineKeywords: dr lissa johnsonempathyaboriginal deaths in custodyasylum seekersterrorismtony abbottWant to know why some people are more moved by greyhound baiting, than by an Aboriginal death in custody? Why the Abbott Government restricts media access to images of kids in detention? Why Gillian Triggs has been targeted? Why we’re so easily collectively exploited on issues like terrorism and war? It’s all about the empathy and how governments target yours, writes Dr Lissa Johnson.It was difficult to stomach the reports of animal cruelty in the greyhound racing industry last month.So alarming was the Four Corners coverage of injured rabbits and possums, dying slowly as they screamed in terror and pain, that it made front page news the next day.And rightly so. No living creature in human care should die like that.Which gives pause for thought.I wonder if  Julieka Dhu, a Yamitji woman arrested for unpaid parking fines in Port Hedland last year, experienced something similar as she lay dying in her jail cell.One can only imagine the anguish, horror and helplessness of a slow painful death before others’ eyes while pleading repeatedly for help. What Julieka’s family must feel knowing that she died like that is beyond harrowing to contemplate.For some reason, however, Julieka’s suffering has elicited less of our collective outrage and concern than the suffering of the animals in the Four Corners report.Far less..............................................................................Continues here.First Lissa Johnson's response (which concedes the power of the "main stream media" but not apparently other media. Whether she would include the Arab language internet hate sites and antisemitic propaganda  mills of Hamas and the PA we just don't know. Likely she has not heard of them )
Lissa J
Posted Saturday, March 7, 2015 - 10:10
I agree with the points that people have made about the role of the mainstream media and its magnitude. Thank you for emphasising this. I think that the MSM and government interact with - capitalising on and magnifying - the human tendencies described here.  The degree to which this takes place is likely to vary from person to person and context to context, a whole other topic in itself.On the subject of evolutionary origins, intergroup processes are just one quality thought to have an evolutionary basis, along with others such as physical violence and sexual exploitation, as well as pro-social, co-operative, selfless traits, as people have rightly pointed out.In creating and conducting contemporary societies we decide which of these impulses we value, which serve us and our collective good, and which interfere. I am arguing that as intergroup processes have consequences such as death and human rights violations on the receiving end, they warrant serious consideration.One implication of acknowledging the evolutionary roots of intergroup phenomena, which I hope came across, is that intergroup processes do not necessarily reflect overtly prejudiced or racist attitudes.  They can also reflect largely unconscious processes with a kind of prehistoric power. The aim of becoming collectively aware of them is to help us as societies to rise above them, even in the face of MSM manipulation, if that is what we wish to do...............................................................................Right. Now the exchange with swarmi
Posted Friday, March 6, 2015 - 10:19
@ GeoffOut of curiosity, whatever happened to those Israeli youths who, just before the last Israeli invasion  of Gaza, burnt a young Palestinian to death? Part of their method was to pour petrol down his throat. Do you know what their punishment for this hate/race crime was? And do you empathise with those Israeli youths?But you are correct about how empathy is hostage to our political system. Maybe we will do well to see and understand our social context if we really want to answer what makes us tick. And if you want to believe that the only problem in this world is the Palestian and those who support their cause then maybe your empathy is a little compromised by the exclusive world your mind wanders around. geoffff
Posted Saturday, March 7, 2015 - 00:26
Out of curiosity, whatever happened to those Israeli youths who, just before the last Israeli invasion of Gaza, burnt a young Palestinian to death? Part of their method was to pour petrol down his throat. Do you know what their punishment for this hate/race crime was? And do you empathise with those Israeli youths?
With respect Swarmi, are you serious about these questions, especially the last one? The killers were quickly hunted down, charged with kidnapping and murder, and arraigned. The ring leader (the only "adult") has confessed and re-enacted the crime for the police. All of them were charged as terrorists. It hasn't come to a full trial yet but there is speculation that at least one will attempt a defence of insanity and two  minors will plead guilty to the kidnapping but not the murder.They are all in custody and no matter what happens at the trial that is where they will stay. Of course I have no empathy at all for these killers. Nor do any Israelis who were shocked by the crime. Until the arrests many had difficulty accepting that these thugs could be Jews. Not just Israelis. The shock has been cathartic. The national soul searching as evidenced in the Israeli media has been profound.All of my empathy was and is for the poor boy and his family. All of it. That poor harmless kid.  I know for certain Israelis at every level feel the same. Among some other things, I wrote at the time about the crime and its portrayal,  moral equivalence and the so called cycle of violence here.   swarmi
Posted Sunday, March 8, 2015 - 00:01
@ GeofffI accept your disclaimer. But why are you so surprised I asked? Do you think all Jews are some indivisible whole? Do you speak for all Jews? I would be offended if I was labelled a racist simply on the basis I was born in Australia and this is an obviously racist country. And the majority of us who live here are not racists either.But, when an incident like the race/hate crime committed by some Jewish individuals occurs, it must raise some alarm bells about the society from which it came. The KKK was an extremists group in the US that most Americans despise yet they did come out of American society and its sordid history of slavery.So if you have empathy for the murdered Palestinian youth do you allow yourself the luxury of questioning the society from which this crime emerged?
Posted Sunday, March 8, 2015 - 01:24
So if you have empathy for the murdered Palestinian youth do you allow yourself the luxury of questioning the society from which this crime emerged?
I don't regard it as a luxury but as an Australian I don't feel particularly qualified. As you would expect, there was an avalanche of questioning, commentary, analysis and debate from people who, being Israeli, are enormously better qualified. Frankly there is already more than enough "questioning" from a distance of this society from the profoundly ignorant, not to mention malicious, just waiting for an opportunity.This was a terrible crime. Just as terrible have been  committed in Australia. In fact regrettably they are more common here. These horrible crimes happen everywhere in the world. Rarely do they incite the kind of self examination of the "society"  that this did in Israel. Frankly I think they overdid it. It was almost stereo typical Jewish self flagellation and guilt.  Innocent people taking on the burden of the guilty. Nothing to do with an unhealthy society at all. On the contrary. However since we are talking about questioning societies for violent criminality let us at least be honest. Before this crime, three hitch-hiking Jewish kids were picked up by a couple of Hamas thugs at gun point. One of the kids managed to ring the emergency number. The Israeli police have a recording of the killers whooping with delight as they butchered their victims one by one. In Israel, the crime by Jews provoked universal revulsion and a swift legal response.In the territories, Gaza and parts of Jerusalem the murder of the three Jewish boys provoked celebrations in the streets and general gloating. The PA press published a cartoon depicting  three baited rats hanging from hooks on a stick.I have no doubt at all which society is the healthier. Do you?Is that the kind of questioning you mean?.............................................................................And that was the end of the conversation. Progress? I doubt it. Dr Johnson offers a diagnosis of a very real and dangerous societal illness but does not appear to realize that she has a chronic form of the condition. Cross posted Geoffff's Joint

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