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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Does Barack Obama Understand Evil II

This article from Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker is generating a lot of publicity from many in the conservative media. (H/T to Little Green Footballs) First, it is quite long. It is almost the size of a good short story though of course it is non fiction. The article focuses, in detail, on Obama's rise through Chicago politics. The article is so in depth that it allows folks to pick and choose that which they find most interesting. As a Chicagoan myself, I will commend Lizza on getting things in proper context of the cesspool that is our city's politics, and so I recommend reading it as long as you put about a half hour aside. (I wrote a much shorter article on this subject myself)

The article is rather unflattering. It paints Obama as the polar opposite of the "new kind of politician" that he has tried to cultivate. Besides the negative image painted, some in the conservative media have fixated on a quote dug up in the aftermath of 9/11 for an article for the local Hyde Park Herald. (Hyde Park being the neighborhood where Obama maintains his home as well as the area surrounding the University of Chicago)

Even as I hope for some measure of peace and comfort to the bereaved families, I must also hope that we as a nation draw some measure of wisdom from this tragedy. Certain immediate lessons are clear, and we must act upon those lessons decisively. We need to step up security at our airports. We must reexamine the effectiveness of our intelligence networks. And we must be resolute in identifying the perpetrators of these heinous acts and dismantling their organizations of destruction.

We must also engage, however, in the more difficult task of understanding the sources of such madness. The essence of this tragedy, it seems to me, derives from a fundamental absence of empathy on the part of the attackers: an inability to imagine, or connect with, the humanity and suffering of others. Such a failure of empathy, such numbness to the pain of a child or the desperation of a parent, is not innate; nor, history tells us, is it unique to a particular culture, religion, or ethnicity. It may find expression in a particular brand of violence, and may be channeled by particular demagogues or fanatics. Most often, though, it grows out of a climate of poverty and
ignorance, helplessness and despair.

We will have to make sure, despite our rage, that any U.S. military action takes into account the lives of innocent civilians abroad. We will have to be unwavering in opposing bigotry or discrimination directed against neighbors and friends of Middle Eastern descent. Finally, we will have to devote far more attention to the monumental task of raising the hopes and prospects of embittered children across the globe—children not just in the Middle East, but also in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and within our own shores.

Generally, I think that most are making the proverbial mountain of a molehill out of this, however, there is one very troubling aspect to this quote to me. Recently, I wrote a piece entitled Does Barack Obama Understand Evil? Obama does a lot of equivocating between ourselves and our enemies, in my opinion, and it makes me wonder if he understands evil. Some of the things found in this piece make me wonder some more.

First, it is the understatement of the millenia to say that the terrorists lacked empathy. Of course, they lacked empathy. In psychology, we have term for someone who lacks empathy, a sociopath. Sociopaths are of course by nature evil.

What should be bothersome is that Obama attributes their sociopathy to

It may find expression in a particular brand of violence, and may be channeled by particular demagogues or fanatics. Most often, though, it grows out of a climate of poverty and ignorance, helplessness and despair.

Of course, this is nonsense. Sociopathy is derived from extreme selfishness, to the point that no one matters but yourself. As such, sociopaths lose all sense of empathy. Sociopaths span the cross section of social, economic, and racial classes. To attribute the terrorist's lack of empathy to poverty and ignorance totally misconstrues their evil.

These folks are guided by the laser light belief in their twisted ideology. Their ideology demands that others die. As such, the lives of others are totally inconsequential in their minds. If folks need to die in order to achieve their ends so be it. That is the nature of their evil.

Of course, it has been pointed out ad nauseum that many of the terrorists were themselves middle class. UBL was of course fabulously wealthy. Poverty had absolutely nothing to do with their evil. For Obama to attribute their evil to some sort of lack of economic achievement totally misconstrues it. If Barack Obama doesn't understand evil he is totally unprepared to face the villains all over the next President will have to deal with. Clearly, based on this particular piece, one has to wonder if Barack Obama understands evil.


Kim said...

I believe he had similar traits to some of these sociopaths which is why his reaction to them is passe. I have noticed for some time that he misjudges who is friend and who is foe; and as a result displays inappropriate reactions. Take his reaction to Wright, Fledger, Jackson - meek, so meek in distancing himself from these individuals. While the
Bush appeaser comment, Clinton RFK comment, now the New Yorker cover his reaction is inappropriately sensitive and extreme. He wants to befriend tyrannical dictators but won't do a town hall at a military base. His judge of character is from a different framework.

mike volpe said...

I don't want to speculate about what is in his heart. I certainly don't believe that he is himself evil or a sociopath. If I am speculating, I think that he has a similar attitude to many in his former circle of academics. They simply don't believe in concepts of good and evil. They make a lot of moral equivalent judgments. They see people with competing interests not those with bad intentions. That is my opinion of what is going on here.

Anonymous said...

Ah well put... thank you for an interesting article. In my opinion, this 'empathizing with the enemy' is immediately reminiscent of the Ill. Senator's willingness to talk directly to Iran's leader and other oppressors without preconditions.