the alt-right critique of empathy
when i first tried to compose this tweet, i wanted to use the word “assholes” rather than “chauvinists”. many people would use these two words as synonyms, with good reason, but it’s not what i really had in mind.
my impression is that most of the time when you see the words “virtue signalling”, they are deployed the same way as “race traitor”. rather than being a critique of compassionate behavior in general — though you also see that from people who think it will inevitably lead to the establishment of a destructive (welfare) state in a democracy — it is an accusation leveled at white liberals, the arguments for which are anticipated by above podcast.
- 9:24ff. — the host, Indre Viskontas, says: “I’m the kind of person that, when there used to be those ‘long distance’ commercials on TV, you know, when ‘long distance’ was a thing, they made me cry every time. And I used to think that I’m such a sensitive, feeling person and that that must mean I’m a good person. And it’s not like I did anything about that.”
the starting point is that empathy is motivated by narcissism and meant primarily to make the ‘empath’, so to speak, feel, look and most importantly, be identified as a good person.
2. 15:23ff. — the guest, Paul Bloom, cites evidence from experiments: “Empathy is enormously subject to all sorts of biases. We see this in the lab, if you look at empathy in the brain, parts of the brain resonating to the pain of others and it turns out that empathy, not surprisingly, is totally based on; ‘is the person part of my ethnicity?’, ‘do they look like me?’, ‘are they attractive?’, ‘are they safe?’, ‘were they kind to me in the past?’ — those are the people who are treated with empathy. ‘Are they scary?’, ‘is their skin a different color?’, ‘are they strange?’, ‘are they ugly?’, ‘are they disgusting?’ — those shut down empathy. And so empathy-based decisions almost always turn out to be biased in favor of your ingroup.”
in a nutshell, i’d claim that most people who use the words “virtue signalling” acknowledge these things and, as for the latter, consider them good. they’d go on to claim that there is a concerted effort on behalf of certain functional elites — mass media, academia, government — to override this bias and make people more empathetic with members of outgroups by — see above — presenting such behaviors as virtuous, and their opposite as harmful, and that this is a bad thing, because in their social darwinist world view, it is unilateral and not reciprocated and thus a liability for “our” ability to compete with them.
this is not as edgy and more mainstream a belief than i assume they’d like it to be. most commonly, this sentiment is encountered in the shape of the overestimation and critique of foreign aid spending, something along the lines of “why are we feeding african children while our own to unfed, our veterans untreated, our roads unmaintaned” and so on.