Monday, October 16, 2017

Trying to Empathize with My Enemies

The Hidden Brain podcast "Tribes and Traitors" has got me thinking about how to empathize with my  enemy, the angry white men who shoot people.

When I take angry white men as a group, I can kind of understand their view.  They are trying to defend themselves and their kind from what they regard as an invasion of dangerous aliens.  The impulse to protect is honorable.  Their reading of how to identify the dangerous people if grossly misplaced.

They err in taking every story of a non-white person doing a bad thing as typical of that group.  They treat similar stories of bad things done by white people as individual actions, not reflective of the group.

Their decision to act by shooting random non-white people draws in part on this sort-of-understandable-but-misplaced impulse to protect.  But it also draws on an impulse, which I think is buried in all of us, to wish to have a good reason to destroy things.

When I try to empathize with Dylann Roof, the Charleston church murderer, in particular, though, I have a harder time.  He is another of those angry white men.  But he did not just open fire on random black people.  He crossed state lines to go to a prominent church.  They welcomed him in to their Bible study.  He took part for an hour.  And then opened fire on these very non-random black people who were doing good.

Love your enemies is a commandment.  Empathize with your enemies is an empirical path to a better society.  But some particular individual enemies have, so far, defeated my attempts at empathy.

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