Empathy Stops At The Empathy-less

Sir Karl Popper, the Austrian-British philosopher, already stated immediately after the collapse of the Nazi regime in his book The Open Society and Its Enemies that tolerance is not always justified. It is, in other words, OKAY to be intolerant sometimes, but under certain conditions.

He described intolerance as the refusal of rational discourse accompanied by a call for and use of violence against dissidents and adherents of other ideologies. If tolerance encounters such a form of intolerance, then, according to Popper, it necessarily leads to the disappearance of tolerance and an increase in intolerance. This principle, known as the Paradox of tolerance, allows only one conclusion for Popper:

Tolerance ends where it meets intolerance.

This principle formulated by Popper is applicable in other areas as well. Indeed, the Corona pandemic brought to the fore the lack of empathy in simultaneously putting one’s own rights first or insisting on preserving one’s own rights to the detriment of others.

The senator with the lesbian daughter

Imagine a politician publicly speaking out against the rights of persons of the opposite sex, sexual orientation, or other ethnicities, and pushing laws that disadvantage these groups of people or opposing laws that ensure their rights. A U.S. senator who lobbied against banning a therapy that would “cure” homosexuals to a heterosexual orientation learned that his own daughter was coming out as a lesbian. This forced him to change his thinking, which resulted in him changing his own bigoted opinion. But not because he suddenly became more tolerant of LGBTQ+ members, but because he was better able to empathize with his own daughter and understand sexual orientation a little better.

This is a phenomenon that we can call lack of empathy. Empathy, in short, is the ability to empathize with the sensations and feelings of another person and to put them above one’s own thought patterns and sensations when the occasion arises.

If one accuses some people (for example, “the left”) of having too much empathy, who want to “save the whole world” and take in refugees, then the exact opposite can be attributed to others. They have too little empathy, and the circle of those included in their own empathy is limited flexibly and according to opportunity. If it is once the foreigners to whom one does not grant empathy, then it is in other situations the politically dissident, the capitalist or the lazy unemployed and the drug addicts.

With Corona, the lack of empathy got new targets. The elderly and people with pre-existing conditions are now seen as perfectly acceptable collateral damage when it comes to not being restricted in their own “rights. I would rather die an old granny, who would have to leave at some point anyway, than be restricted from consuming a schnitzel in a pub or partying in a beer tent.

While these people claim all rights for themselves, they are not willing to fulfill the obligations they have to society. Not to be vaccinated, not to be restricted, but in the case of a COVID disease, to claim for themselves all the benefits of the system, which they do not want to grant to others in this way.

The little Mr. Sharpener

A prime example is FPÖ leader and former Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl. In the past, he has mainly appeared as a proponent of measures against other groups of people. Be it against refugees, drug addicts or political dissenters, it was vaccinated people, people with pre-existing conditions, old people and politicians who became his rights and on whom his hatred was focused during the COVID pandemic. Until today, when it hit him himself: he announced that he, who was previously unvaccinated by his own choice, had tested positive for Corona and was now dependent on the very health care system and these measures that he wanted to deprive others of or fought against.

Kickl’s press release about his illness also continues to reflect his self-denial of his own culpability for the infection. The sentence is worded as if the health authorities were to blame, rather than his own behavior of being positive:

I am sorry to inform you that today I received a message from the health authorities that a PCR test I gave yesterday is positive. This means that I am now a Covid-19 case and have to keep a quarantine for 14 days.

He said that he did not fall ill, but that the health authorities had sent him a message to the effect that the test was positive. He is thus a COVID-19 case and forced to go into quarantine. He thus makes himself an innocent victim of the authorities, who have made him a COVID case. It is not he who has been infected by his unscrupulous behavior, without following the instructions of health experts.

His behavior is consistent with statements by critical care physicians who are increasingly seeing patients who first became COVID cases by refusing vaccination and who, now lying in the ICU, still do not want to believe that they have COVID but that the system of physicians and politics is lying to them.

Such statements are not isolated cases. A 28-year-old Styrian FPÖ functionary even distinguished himself by playing a video game called “Corona baba” (“Goodbye Corona”), with which he made fun of the Corona measures a year ago. Until, yes, it got him himself and he had to be put in intensive care in artificial deep sleep. Now in rehabilitation, through his own experience, he suddenly has the capacity to understand what this pandemic means.

The lack of empathy of these people ends where they themselves are affected. Now many say that we should follow the phrase quoted by Michelle Obama “If they go low, we go high”, i.e. that we do not go down to the discussion level of the political opponent, then this may be a noble goal, but it is completely ineffective and dangerous. Only because Kickl is now ill with COVID I do not hold back and wish him only soon recovery, but I wish him indeed that he nest, but almost I wish him that with the worst possible experiences. He put up with these experiences for others just to preserve his own rights and not to have to restrict himself. And now I am supposed to wish him the best? After all that this person has done to others and said about them? Just to make sure, I am not denying him the best medical treatment we have to offer, I am just wishing him the most “intense” experience of the disease in all facets so that he can make his own first hand opinion. And I wish him to recover from it. But wishing him the best and feeling sorry for him? Really not!

I see it like Popper, who already made his legendary statement on intolerance and tolerance, and I see it the same way with empathy and lack of empathy. In case of doubt, everyone can assure himself of my empathy. With those, where I know their empathy-lessness, my empathy ends. This counterpart must first earn my empathy. It does not get it automatically.

Empathy ends where it meets lack of empathy.

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