“We mustn’t let empathy cloud our judgement.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull urged the Australian people not to get all “misty-eyed” about the fate of refugees held in off-shore detention. He followed this urging with the above statement, after learning that the late Nauru refugee, Omid, had died as a consequence of setting himself on fire.
Turnbull urged us to stay “rational” when considering these matters.
However, if you think he’s only talking about the plight of refugees we continue to torture, think again.
Turnbull isn’t the first to expound the false dichotomy of empathy and judgement: determination not to allow empathy for raped and molested children to cloud their rational judgement is one of the factors that enables the Catholic church hierarchy to shelter perpetrators of these crimes.
Note how in these examples from church and state “rational” in both cases reflects the institution’s best interests.
It’s remarkable how the “rational” so frequently coincides with self-interest.
There’s nothing wrong with being rational. It’s a human attribute and a useful one. Like so many other useful and admirable human attributes, the rational has been co-opted by the self-serving to justify (rationalise) cruelty, and contempt for anyone considered “other.”
Empathy, on the other hand, rarely equates to self-interest. For a start, empathy asks that we imaginatively walk a mile in another’s shoes, an act entirely at odds with interest only in the self.
There is no either/or in the matter of empathy and judgement. No legitimate judgement can be made without empathy. Empathy is what tempers decisions that are otherwise entirely self-serving.
Turnbull’s attitude is a core belief of today’s LNP. If you think it applies only to refugees you’re dreaming. It is the default position of the present-day Liberal towards anyone considered in some way less worthy. It’s why they won’t tackle negative gearing. It’s why they fund private schools and want to strip public schools of all assistance. It’s why they don’t care if you can’t afford private medical insurance and suffer horribly as a consequence. The LNP will not let empathy cloud their judgement not only of refugees, but of every citizen in this country who suffers as a consequence of their self-interested (rational) policies.
Rational or self-interested? You decide.