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Recognizing Weaponized Empathy
The False Kindness of Idiot Compassion
Kindness is widely considered to be one of humanity’s most important virtues. People generally want to be seen as “nice” and “compassionate.” Unfortunately, this leaves us vulnerable to something called “idiot compassion.”
Author Pema Chodron describes it this way: “In some ways, it’s what’s called enabling. It’s the general tendency to give people what they want because you can’t bear to see them suffering.”
Idiot Compassion is compassion without discernment, a false kindness that can be exploited using a forced morality binary, taking advantage of people’s desire to appear “kind” or “nice.” A self-serving narcissistic veneer of “kindness,” mostly reliant on the actions of others to implement. Words instead of deeds.
Quick refresher: A forced morality binary presents a narrative as having only two valid choices, only one of which is consistent with an inferred moral imperative. This often involves a Motte and Bailey fallacy,” a combination of bait-and-switch and equivocation crafted to avoid nuanced discussion by framing something as a simple binary choice.
This is done by creating false narratives of “perceived consensus” on an issue. It’s conveniently used to shut people up, curtail rational discussion, and hide dissent. Many people may not even realize they are being manipulated.
Some Examples of Weaponized Empathy
Binary: “We're protecting you from dangerous disinformation.”
Reality: Pay particular attention to what is labeled as “disinformation” and by whom, as it’s often merely dissenting viewpoints being silenced.
Immigration and the Border
False Binary: “Don’t be xenophobic. Everyone deserves a chance and should always be welcome here. Putting kids in cages is evil.”
Reality: Any country with finite resources cannot let everyone in, logistically or practically. Expecting immigrants to use legal channels isn’t cruelty.
Homelessness, Mental Health, and Drug Addiction
False Binary: “Housing dignity is a human right. You obviously don’t care about homeless people.”
Reality: Allowing and enabling people to live on the streets is inhumane and destroys our cities and public spaces. Rather than addiction maintenance, mandatory compulsory treatment for addiction and mental illness should be required.
False Binary: “Teenagers must have a safe way to hide things from bad parents.”
Reality: Family matters. Questioning and intervening in your child’s decision-making is both a parental right and an essential responsibility. It’s not dangerous, and it’s certainly not abuse. Dismantling the parental paradigm cannot be our path forward. Informed consent for minors always requires parental involvement.
Age-Appropriate Content Curation
False Binary: “Book banning is evil.”
Reality: Parental discretion regarding content isn’t “banning books.” Any content made available to children should always be rigorously vetted and controlled.
False Binary: “You don't care about the planet.”
Reality: Renewable energy is not currently capable of reliably sustaining power grids. Forcing a premature transition away from fossil fuels is economic suicide.
False Binary: “Celebrate gender diversity and let people be who they are.”
Reality: We cannot dismantle societal norms in the name of comfort for a minuscule percentage of a small percentage of people.
The Bottom Line
Fundamentally, manipulation usually comes back to “You don’t care enough. You must show us that you care more.” The narrative hijacks your empathy. You might then be afraid to ask questions or state a dissenting opinion.
People often say, “Mind your own business.” Shutting up and minding your own business is not a path to a thriving society.
Telling someone they should “Just be a good person” is naive, dismissive, and ultimately unhelpful idiot compassion. Emotions are being exploited.
It makes sense to pay attention and think critically about everything you see and hear. Ask tough questions and demand tough answers. “If it saves or improves one life” is a foolishly impractical metric. Sometimes the most compassionate solutions are harsh realities.
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