The Paradox of Empathy: Is Good Behaviour Selfish?

Most everyone agrees that a just society promotes equality among its citizens, but blood is spilled over what sort of equality is morally preferable ~ Paul Bloom

Honour is a rather fickle word. As one raised in a country that promotes the individual character, I find the tribalism and public shaming aroused by the misconceptions surrounding honour to be incredibly confronting, particularly since it allows biased men to believe they are permitted or authorised to behave badly, especially towards women. Honour killings, acid throwing, FGM to name a few. Gangs that deal drugs and commit heinous crimes still have a code of “honour” between them and so it raises the question on whether the idea of honour is just moral romanticism. Honour is one of many words – including empathy and love – that we need to question. If we think about extreme political violence and the dehumanisation of groups of people, such as when millions were murdered during the holocaust, it was the false propaganda used against them that targeted empathy – Jews were “bad” because they hurt children and stole money – and so it was empathy that allowed the entire population to believe that they were doing the right thing by killing the “bad” people.

Psychopaths are incredibly successful in manipulating and targeting the empathy in others in order to obtain a desired and often violent outcome, but far greater in our society is the narcissist that – while mostly nonviolent – often target those who are highly empathetic knowing that performing on social cues, they will receive what they desire in return. If a narcissist only cares about admiration, money, sex, and freedom or entertainment, their true character is easily exposed by taking away the very thing they seek and so they become enraged, vengeful and malicious. Narcissists are the individual equivalent to political entities who dehumanise groups, because they do not actually care about others unless they obtain something from them and in the process dehumanise the worth of the other person.

There is a word in Turkish that hasn’t the English equivalent called vicdansız and it translates to someone who is unconscionable, yet, unlike this lack of conscience used to explain psychopaths in criminal law, vicdansız is a type of remorseless behaviour where someone is unable to see their own wrongdoing in all situations, not just criminal and therefore more aligned with narcissism. I realised, however, that an empathetic person who intends to do and seek goodness can actually do more damage without realising, perhaps while assuming they are doing good in much the same way as a narcissist is often unaware. As such, there is a distinction between ethical behaviour and selfish behaviour that needs to be addressed. A good action with selfish intentions does not necessarily undermine the good act, but it resists the authenticity of the act making it ethical, yes, but selfish at the same time. What does that exactly mean?

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Fly Away

Blood-stained feather underneath her arm,

Bitter lick.

Above her tongue.

Smooth, red drink. Thickened barbs.

“Why?” she cries.

Telescopic eyes pierce the vaults of heaven.

Stiffened vanes, clipped wings stretched out to dry.

She tries to fly.

Scissor paws, growling teeth clentched beside her.

Imprisoned. Raped from her destiny.

I pray, drained, embalmed from hope

But I pray, still,

That she flies one day.

Magnificent Medieval Münster

“Ah, excuse me?” I said to the naked man who just walked into the sauna. He spins around, muttering “yes?” and I can see it from the corner of my eye swinging like a grandfather clock, despite trying to look away.

“Do you mind? Cover yourself up please, we are in a public place.”

He responded in bad English. “In Germany, we are no clothes in Sauna, yes?” He seemed genuinely surprised at my discomfort. The first live penis I have ever seen just happened in a sauna in Germany, so surprised was the least of my emotions.

I love saunas. I join gyms that I know has one just to gain access to it, but in Australia we wear swimsuits and cover ourselves with towels. It was pointless trying to make a point about decency, I was after all in his country, so I quickly got up and left, speed-walking back to my hotel room to have a cold shower. The male form is pretty disgusting, although this eighty-something year old man was probably not the best visual introduction to it.

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Feminism and the False Prophetess

There is an assault on the rights of women, a very selective and hidden form of sexism where men who now call themselves feminists are tolerating and approving that women have the right to perform plastic surgery, wear expensive clothing, and have an appetite for social vanity. The rights of a specific type of woman. While freedom is indeed a human right that permits the individual the right to expression without discrimination, can there be permissible limitations when both men and women are undermining the authenticity of the purpose behind the movement?

Contemporary western culture is completely immersed in capitalism, where the acquisition and exchange of commodities has shaped our identity and even our perceptions of reality. When a person acquires commodities that are desirable as regulated by the market, they appear to be a certain type of person and by attaining this image they are happy. This image that we are motivated to reach towards is engineered to appear as desirable by capitalism and thus it regulates social relations and how we understand and define the qualities and characteristics of people. Read More

On Love, King Suleiman, and the Old City of Istanbul

“Mum, he doesn’t speak English?” I sent on WhatsApp with a confused 😕 emoji face. She is trying to set me up as I prepare for my visit to Turkey.

“Sorry,” she responded (#sorrynotsorry). She is desperate to see her youngest daughter marry. Both my parents live in Adana and for them, love is simple, practical. “You complicate everything!” she often says. “You look too deep and think too much!” She  has never understood me when I say I am searching for love, someone that I love and respect, which is a pretty challenging feat given that my standards are almost biblical.

Maybe she is right, that maybe I think too much, but it seems like all the men I meet are liars, superficial and vain, and if not, cowardly and afraid of going against the grain of social cliches, my pessimism only deepened by those who, after being viciously sexist or violent, insincerely apologise before going on to pretend that they are feminists and congratulating themselves as though they are good people. It feels as though I will never meet a man I respect.

I switch off my phone and place it in my bag as I arrange my luggage in the overhead lockers on the plane, on my way to Istanbul. I hate flying. Short flights. Long-haul flights. I quit my job recently because it required me to regularly travel across Australia. This flight was particularly bad, as though the unpleasant and exhausted flight attendants believed that ignoring your requests with an indifferent smile was equal to customer service and I spent half the time worried I might do something wrong that would permit their wrath. Read More

Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

I am troubled with one dilemma: should I be hating all the bad men, or should I be hating the women who support the bad men? When I parallel the core moral of The Handmaid’s Tale to reality today, I find myself realising that evil is in fact plural. Like the paradox of the Beast in the Book of Revelations, a monster who is both controlled by the whore of Babylon while at the same time giving her the power, are people evil only when they are together?

The Handmaid’s Tale is disturbing, disturbingly real and made me, as a woman, feel incredibly uncomfortable. It reminded me of my own experiences and that of so many women, encountering those men who threaten and insult, who made me feel the need to defend or question myself, men who saw me as a sexual object to use for one or two weeks until satisfied, men who made assumptions about me that they turned into fact, men who lie and such men defended by foolish women.

The series is more real than meets the eye.

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