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The Kavanaugh Debacle Requires More Reason, Less Empathy

Few events in modern American government can set the internet ablaze like a fight over a Supreme Court vacancy. This rule has certainly held true for Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Many expected Kavanaugh’s nomination to be controversial, but all hoped for more than the “highly partisan show” the televised hearings depicted.

Then came an unsubstantiated sexual assault allegation at the eleventh hour, which left the witch’s partisan brew bubbling and hissing with volatility. Add a touch of midterm speculation, a dash of outright lies, and a visit from Spartacus himself, and the cauldron froths over the rim and down the sides.

One solution to this unstable concoction, we are told, is to find our common humanity and better empathize with the “other side” (i.e., either with Kavanaugh or his accuser, depending on one’s politics). That’s a terrible idea. To be sure, empathy has its uses, but it is incapable of solving the controversy surrounding President Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee.

Most noticeably, excessive empathy clouds judgment. Although empathy is offered as a mechanism to increase awareness of others’ concerns, overindulging in empathy does the opposite–namely by inducing a fixation on one perspective at the exclusion of others.

Empathy’s acolytes tell us that when a person has been harmed or experienced an injustice, the moral imperative–at all costs–is to rectify that injustice and ameliorate the harm. One must not be distracted by any fallout from secondary and tertiary concerns, because the immediate harm, by virtue of its vividness, deserves our our unfettered emotional investment. Never mind, as Paul Bloom discusses in this excellent piece for The Guardian, empathy is “vulnerable to bias.” Writes Bloom: “Neuroscience provides many examples of how empathy picks favourites. Brain areas that correspond to the experience of empathy are sensitive to whether someone is a friend or a foe, part of one’s group or part of an opposing group.”

This is certainly true in Brett Kavanaugh’s case.

Read more at The Federalist. 

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