Another take on empathy

August 23, 2011

I was sitting in front of my bowl of muesli this morning , wondering what kind of activity I would still be able to pursue with an ecstatically purring cat on the lap who was waiting to be cuddled and caressed. I had just finished breakfast, the bowl was empty, but my little friend Wendy, who is, as I wrote in another post already, the closest resemblance of any living creature to a teddy bear, was not in the mood to go up and start the days work.

Wendy is lovely cat and the most social cat that I ever have see, She always approaches the other members of the cat family and even visiting cats with high expectations, undeterred by earlier disappointments where her fellow cats put her down and hissed and growled at her.

Wendy’s social character unfortunately doesn’t not include other fellow animals and she will mercilessly torture and kill a captured mouse or a bird. She feels no empathy for her hapless victim. The mice may squeak and the bird chirp in terror and desperation, little Wendy will be unmoved and finish her bloody business leaving only some indigestible body parts like intestines, tails, or bird feathers as evidence on the crime scene.

Empathy can be very selective and its intensity and reach differs. Apparently my cats feel some empathy towards me (for being their most reliable food provider and spending a lot of time with them), but animals in general feel empathy only for their own species, with elephants, dolphins, wales being the most notable exceptions.

Most humans feel empathy only for humans, others restrict their feeling of empathy to a certain race or nationality or only to their nearest friends and relatives (a study on racial empathy by Gutsell/Inzlicht found physical evidence that white people have difficulty empathizing with non-whites).

People, that cannot feel empathy are often described as sociopaths or psychopaths.

Why don’t political leaders feel empathy and scruple, preventing them from starting another war, preventing them from causing misery and death to so many of their fellow humans? Why don’t the air force pilots, the gunners in the attack helicopters, the drone operators, the soldiers of the occupation forces feel empathy?

Why don’t weapons manufacturers and weapons dealers feel empathy? Why are Western nations shipping huge quantities of arms to everybody who can pay or is willing to do their bidding and fight proxy wars? Why does the USA kill Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis, Yemenites, Somalis, Libyans with drone strikes and bombs?

I am told by the corporate media that this are just wars, preemptive wars, humanitarian interventions, this are military actions in defense of our western values of democracy and liberty. Even “liberal media” outlets like the New York Times and Al Jazeera are in lockstep with the government and pundits from left to right inform us about the dreadful consequences of not taking decisive action.

Reading Ethan Bronner’s propaganda pieces about imperiled, vulnerable Israelis and vicious Palestinians gives me an idea about the truth content and the integrity of NY Times reporting. Listening to Al Jazeera’s reports about Gaddafi’s atrocities makes me suspicious. A massacre in Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison, allegedly killing 1,200 inmates is mentioned to justify NATO’s intervention. This was 1996, isn’t it a bit late to react now after 15 years with a bombing campaign?

Concerning Libya (an actual topic):

A fabrication is a fabrication only until you have told it 100 times. After the hundredth repetition it has been transformed into a fact. Sometimes it will maybe need even less repetitions, only 80 or even only 60, to turn a fabrication into a fact. After the transformation into a fact one can refer to the former fabrication as a part of “common knowledge.” Choosing the right media helps a lot: “you’ve seen it on Fox, MSNBC, CNN, YouTube, so it must be true!” Pure and true like crystal clear sparkling bottled water….

I went out to look for additional alternative news sources and applied common sense and logic to the various conflicting and contradictory informations. My findings resulted in the blogpost A Few Notes about Libya, which includes a detailed assessment of the media campaign against Gaddafi, a campaign which was so insidious and deceitful that it would have even made Dick Cheney and George W. Bush blush.

It was a remake of the media campaign that prepared the Iraq invasion, and the scheme worked well again. Didn’t people remember that the Iraq media campaign was, what is now clearly documented and many times proven, crooked and a bunch of lies? Are people really that forgetful?

“The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.” Friedrich Hegel

I cannot rule out, that atrocities were committed by the Libyan army and I cannot rule out, that there were serious misgivings about Gaddafi’s dictatorial attitudes, about cronyism and corruption, but I consider these crucial facts:

The Libyan population has one of the lowest poverty rates in the world (6 percent), a 82 percent literacy rate, and a life expectancy of 77 years (10 percent above the world average).

The fertility rate is 2,88 (comparatively modest for Africa). Women in Libya enjoy a reasonably high status. They have been able to vote since 1964, and Libya has signed the “UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women” (Cedaw). In 2004 it was the first Arab country to adopt an optional protocol allowing women to petition a UN committee about violations of their rights. As part of Gaddafi’s bid to alter society after his takeover in 1969, he promoted a greater role for women, specifically calling on them to join the workforce. Most famous are his female bodyguards, known as the revolutionary nuns.

All this was of course before the NATO war and every quality of life parameter will be significantly lower now — probably lower forever.

The protests against Gaddafi were dwarfed by daily (later nightly) demonstrations for him in Green Spare. Why should the majority of Libyans have been against Gaddafi, when he had kept Libya free from outside influence and exploitation for 42 years. He had not been bought and bribed, he had not sold out to Western corporations!

The rebels are represented by the Transitional National Council (TNC), lead mainly by former government officials who were ousted because of corruption or infighting. The rebel army consists of jihadist fighters from Afghanistan and Iraq, radical islamists, beduin tribes who see an opportunity to settle old scores with rival clans, and opportunists who gladly take the inpouring funds from NATO, the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar.

Even rebel commanders admit that some of their fighters have al-Qaeda links. The main fighting force is the Islamic Libya Fighting Group, which is a Libyan “mujahadeen” force. There are other interests of course represented too: one powerful person in the military leadership is General Khalifa Hifter, an US-based exile with CIA ties.

A draft 14-page “constitutional declaration,” states that: “Libya is a democratic and independent state, the people are the source of authority, Tripoli is the capital, Islam is the religion and Islamic sharia is the principal source of legislation.”

The rebels began rolling back the participation of women as their size increased. Enas Eldrasy, a 23-year old therapist, did quit the rebels saying: “when the revolution started, women had a role, but it disappeared.”

The rebel fighters are desperadoes, they are not representing the population. It is a blatant media lie that this is a popular uprising. The Libyan people didn’t raise up to chase Gaddafi out, it was a terrifying NATO bombing campaign which destroyed most of the military infrastructure and also hit many civilian targets, it was the heavy bombardment by naval artillery, it were NATO commandos aiding and training rebel fighters.

After a fact-finding tour to Libya in June former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney condemned the NATO bombing. She had witnessed several bombings of Tripoli and said: “Tripoli is under heavy aerial bombardment in all areas, also in civilian areas.”

According to the Libyan Red Crescent NATO bombed 300 civilian targets between February and July, killing or wounding a total of 6,232 Libyans. These targets included the Libyan Down’s Syndrome Society, a school that provided speech therapy, handicrafts and sports sessions for disabled children as well as Tripoli’s Nasser University, Libyan TV installations (killing 3 journalists and injuring 15), homes, schools, medical facilities and food storage warehouses.

Bombing such sites is outlawed by the Geneva Conventions and constitutes war crimes.

NATO uses ammunition, missiles and bombs with depleted uranium. Large parts of Libya will be forever radioactive contaminated (nearly forever – DU has a half-life of 4.6 million years). Why is the use of DU weapons not decried as a war crime and internationally banned? If the use of DU weapons is not a warcrime, what else constitutes a war crime?


NATO’s attacks on Libyan government forces with bombing raids, combat helicopters and artillery and missiles from warships were an intervention in a civil war and were not backed by the UN resolution 1973 authorizing a no-fly zone. Providing the rebels with weapons was a breach of the UN arms embargo.

The attempts to assassinate Gaddafi, his children, and grandchildren was also a violation of the rules of engagement set by the UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973. These UN resolutions didn’t allow for the targeting of Libyan officials, or sanction the murder of Gaddafi and his children and grandchildren and other family members.

The USA and NATO are above the law.


I don’t want to repeat myself and refer to my earlier blog post about Libya for details, but I need to write down the main conclusions that I draw from the collected infos:

Removing Gaddafi from power was deemed necessary because Libya is the African country with the largest oil reserves in Africa and the ninth largest in the world (46 billion barrels). Libya was also one of the few African countries which are self-sufficient and free of Western influence and it has helped many other African countries financially to reduce their reliance on IMF loans.

Gaddafi had planned to fund three ambitious financial projects: the creation of an African investment bank, an African monetary fund and an African central bank. These Africa-centered institutions would have diminished the continents dependence on the IMF and the World Bank — institutions who pressure African nations to privatize natural resources and to allow unlimited access to Western companies.

The USA had an eye on Gaddafi since a long time and only waited for the right pretext to strike. It will be interesting to see how their strategic plan works out. At present it looks like Gaddafi will join Che Guevara, Patrice Lumumba, and Salvador Allende in the shrine of fallen heroes. The six month NATO bombing campaign and a total naval blockade have weakened the Libyan army enough to allow a rebel takeover of Tripoli. Before that the rebels moved into the strategic important towns of Zlitan and Zawiya, after NATO had blanketed the towns with bombs and forced the Libyan army to retreat.

The thousands of killed Libyan’s, the destruction of Libya’s infrastructure and the widespread radioactive contamination with deputed uranium could have been avoided by Gaddafi stepping down and scheduling immediate democratic elections supervised by international organizations like the Carter Center. He could have remained some influence as an elder statesman guiding and advising his successors. But such a solution was not fathomable for a man who achieved power by a military coup and ruled for 42 years as a military dictator. This was not a thought Gaddafi would have ever been able to think.

Let me go back again to my initial musings about empathy:

Beside all geopolitical considerations (competition with China), the necessity to grab the worlds dwindling oil resources, and the push of the “military industrial complex” for more wars, did the leaders in Washington not spend any thought about the human costs of the Libyan war?

I have to ask again, why don’t the political leaders feel empathy when they start another war, why don’t the air force pilots, the gunners in the attack helicopters, the drone operators, the soldiers of the occupation forces feel empathy?

Does the US soldier feel any kind of empathy when he uses the Afghan farmer for target practice? The soldier will argue that this farmer was very likely to joy the Taliban after his brothers family was wiped out in a missile strike, so it was necessary and logical to wipe him out too. The soldier will maybe even argue that it will be necessary to wipe out the whole village because the villagers are enraged by the killings and likely to become ardent Taliban supporters.

Aren’t the political and military leaders concerned about their legacy? Aren’t the lobbyist, the propagandists and agitators ashamed, aren’t the soldiers troubled, distressed, traumatized?

The later seem to be indeed troubled, distressed, and traumatized.

32 US soldiers committed suicide in July, the highest number since the Army started releasing monthly figures. That is one soldier per day. The annual number of suicides in the Marine Corps, which doesn’t release monthly figures, is on pace with the Army. More than 1,000 military personnel have taken their own lives since the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. These figures do not include the suicides of veterans, which average 18 per day.

The political leader, the generals and the media agitators though are doing fine.


Footnotes and unsorted tidbits:

Gaddafi will not join Che Guevara, Patrice Lumumba, and Salvador Allende in my shrine of fallen heroes. I don’t condone his dictatorial rule and his iron grip on power, though I give him credit for putting the national interests of Libya before the interests of the international corporations.

He could have avoided the destruction of Libya by stepping down.

US Senator and former presidential contender John McCain tweeted last year: “Late evening with Col. Qadhafi at his ranch in Libya – interesting meeting with an interesting man.” Gaddafi is or was for sure an interesting personality, but I don’t want to spend much more thought on him, he is now irrelevant. I rather direct my attention to the remaining national leaders who stand up against IMF, Word Bank, and the G8 powers.

Will Hugo Chávez, Cristina Fernandez, Daniel Ortega, and the Castro brothers be the remaining keepers of the flame? (I didn’t include Evo Morales, Rafael Correa, and Dilma Rousseff because of their negative environmental record.)

How would Cuba look today, if the Bay of Pigs Invasion would have succeeded? Would it look like Haiti? Would it look like Jamaica?


In August Al Jazeera English launched in New York City on Time Warner Cable, a major step in the network’s goal of expanding further into the U.S. cable market and a chance to reach two million households in the world capital of culture and commerce. The network also became available on Verizon FiOS. Joining the media blitz about Gaddafi’s atrocities has payed of (one knows which way the wind blows, when Hillary Clinton and John McCain are praising Al Jazeera.)


Concerning NY Times reports: I would never pay for this kind of journalism, I only read some reports, because the NY Times paywall is easy to surpass.

I still ponder about an opinion piece of Paul Krugman on August 15 with the title “Oh! What A Lovely War!” It started with the sentence: World War II is the great natural experiment in the effects of large increases in government spending, and as such has always served as an important positive example for those of us who favor an activist approach to a depressed economy (meaning more government spending).

Wanted Krugman to make a case for increased stimulus spending without realizing that his argumentation could also be used for starting more wars? Or does ha actually think that wars help the economy?

This is from a Nobel laureate! An allegedly bright man who nevertheless isn’t able to grasp the idea that a growing economy means more environmental destruction, a man who is not able to envision an economic system that is not based on continuous growth!


Three weeks ago I scanned the headlines in salon.com and read:

Sarah Palin and Barack Obama are in love!

This was inevitable indeed, I thought, she probably will be his mistress, main adviser, and running mate in 2012. A moment later I realized, that I just misread, and the headline in fact was:

Sarah Palin and Barack Obama are in Iowa!

Politics is not that simple…

What a great story it would have been! Cleopatra and Marcus Antonio again.”

They share so many interests. Especially the passion to shoot and kill. Though they have slightly different approaches and Sarah is more the hands on type while Barack prefers to use drones, precisely because of this different approach they would have complemented each other very well. They would have been the perfect killing team!


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment this is why they dont feel empathy, and don;t put down their weapons. sorry state of affairs. great article by the way


  2. Will i close friend you on facebook . com?


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