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The War on Empathy

Take a look at the meaning of the word empathy. Ruminate on its definition—“the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” It is the light by which we may call forth the best qualities of our fellow Americans, and in so doing, call forth the best in ourselves. One would not think this could be controversial. But it is. There is something subversive in empathy that makes it threatening to certain social status-quos. Most political coalitions are based, to some degree, on the dehumanization of their opponents. Some find empathy to be antithetical to the pursuit of justice. To others, empathy is the virtue of the morally irresolute. In a time when some politicians relentlessly insult their opponents on Twitter while others encourage their supporters to harass opponents in public places, empathy may not always strike everyone as a self-evident good. It is good to understand why empathy seems to frustrate, disappoint, or even offend its critics, precisely because it is a virtue worth defending.

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The poverty of partisan identity

"Unless democratic habits of thought and action are part of the fiber of a people," the American philosopher John Dewey wrote on the eve of World War II, "political democracy is insecure. It can not stand in isolation. It must be buttressed by the presence of democratic methods in all social relationships." Today, many of our social relationships have been stripped of those methods. Democratic habits are imperiled, if not lost. And many advocates, pundits and politicians point to "identity politics" as the cause.

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I Am Probably a Felon, and So Are You

I have never been in jail. I have never been arrested. But I am probably a felon, and so are you. There are so many laws, too many for even the government to count, and the punishment for being a felon is crushing. Some felonies might sound scarily familiar: taking a sick day when you aren’t sick, telling your friends about a bad company, or getting lost in the woods. Some of these crimes on the books are simply bizarre. One law makes it a crime to sell “Turkey Ham” as “Ham Turkey” or with the words “Turkey” and “Ham” in different fonts (21 USC §461 & 9 CFR §381.171(d)); another makes it a federal crime to handle a crate full of imported primates without wearing waterproof shoes (42 USC §271 & 42 CFR §71.53(i)(6)(iii)(C)).

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