Saturday, August 04, 2012

Accused of lacking empathy

A reader asked:
Didn't you have a problem with the family court Judge suggesting that you lacked empathy?
The context for this was a posting trivializing the San Francisco sheriff's wife's bruise. I guess the point is that if I do not sympathize with the wife about the bruise, then maybe the judge was right that I lack empathy, and was justified in taking my kids away.

First, the wife (Lopez) also says that the bruise was trivial. She never complained about it. She did have some other complaints about her husband (Murkarimi, the SF sheriff), but was only talked into photographing the bruise because the lawyer-neighbor-friend gave her an argument that pictures would be needed as blackmail to counteract corruption of the family court.

Someone with strong empathy would understand the Murkarimi-Lopez complaints about how leftist-feminist-LGBT officials are destroying their marriage, and that the marriage and the child are a lot more important than the bruise.

Admittedly, my argument is primarily against the meddling officials having the power to destroy marriage, and is not based on empathy (my capacity to experience the feelings of Murkarimi and Lopez). I don't really care about their feelings. They are left-wing kooks. They say they want to be married, and that is good enough for me. I do not require an inquiry into their feelings in order to have an opinion about their rights.

In my case, there was an allegation of a lack of empathy. I was sent out for several evaluations to see if I had some psychological disorder, as defined by the DSM-IV-TR. Some disorders relate to empathy, such as Asperger syndrome, narcissistic personality disorder
psychopathy, and antisocial personality disorder. All of the psychologists, including Ken Perlmutter, testified that I did not have any of these disorders.

The relevance of the empathy issue was never clear. The law and public policy of California is not to discriminate against the handicapped in family court. Even if I had some psychological disorder, the family court judge is prohibited from taking away my kids just because I have the disorder. See In re Marriage of Carney, Calif. Supreme Court, 1979. Perhaps the court could order that our parenting plan make allowances for what adverse impact the disorder was having on the kids, but that is all.

But no one made any allegation that anything I did had any adverse impact on my kids, whether from lack of empathy or any other cause. Even Perlmutter, the witness with the most negative opinion of me, admitted in his testimony that I was just as good a parent as my ex-wife and he knew of no example where I ever did anything detrimental our kids.

Among child-rearing experts, there is no consensus that it is better for parents to have more empathy. Women are more likely to have a higher-empathy personality type than men, but most of the academic studies say that men make better parents than women.

If empathy were really so important for deciding child custody, then we would have laws telling the family court to give empathy tests, and award the child to the parent with more empathy. But nobody advocates that.

There is not even any agreement on what empathy is. The Wikipedia article on empathy quotes 18 different experts with 18 different definitions. Perlmutter used the term in his report, but he did not use the term consistently, and could never explain what he meant by the term.

Perlmutter asked me if I would take my daughter to any dance class or event she wanted, regardless of distance, expense, or inconvenience. I answered that I had taken her 100s of times to such events, but no, I would not necessarily take her to anything. He put in his report that my answer showed that I lacked empathy.

To me, Perlmutter was just using a buzzword to cover up sloppy reasoning. I know fully well how much my daughter enjoys dance. That was not the question or the issue. If he wanted to argue that my daughter was not getting enough dance somehow, or that I was being unfair to her, or something like that, then he would have to collect some facts and explain why my family needs to look like an episode of the TV show Dance Moms. By saying I lack empathy, he can feign expertise and avoid saying anything substantive.

Judge Heather Morse seems to have gotten her idea of Aspergers from TV shows. TV writers seem to like those characters, as there is currently one on the TV show Alphas. These characters are like comic book characters.

The Jewish-Quaker turned atheist neuroscientist Sam Harris is giving away his ebook on why people should never lie free this week, because a Jewish magazine exposed the famous neuroscientist journalist Jonah Lehrer as lying about quoting Bob Dylan in his latest book. I guess Lehrer and Dylan are Jewish, as well as a lot of New Yorker readers. The article does not related the incident to traditional Jewish ethics. Lehrer's book was probably the biggest-selling science-related book of the last year. The NY Times reviewed it twice, not counting stories about the recent scandal. A NY Times article says that Dylan was a also a "master fabulist", with many lies in his 2004 memoir.

It is funny to see atheists grapple with simple moral questions, and then give contorted rationalizations that carefully avoid religion. If Harris is really so much against lying, then I suggest that he start by talking to his fellow neuroscientists who pathologize Aspergers. One common trait of Aspergers, which you can even learn from the TV shows, is that they tell the truth more than any other group. Psychologists commonly consider truth-telling a symptom of Aspergers. There are many plots on those TV shows (Bones, The Big Bang Theory, Alphas) where the Aspergers character refuses to lie, and the supposedly-normal characters have to withhold info from him or her in order to perpetrate some lie.

Truth-telling is considered to be a sign of low empathy, because many people do not want to hear the truth. Harris discusses that in his book, but argues for telling the truth anyway. There is a movement to remove Aspergers from the DSM-5, but there is money at stake, as a phony diagnosis can be profitable.

Perlmutter attacked me for telling the truth to my kids. When they asked me why I don't do more for them, I told them that I was constrained by their mom and the court, but that I was sending 1000s of dollars in child support. He asked me why I said that, instead of telling that I was just doing what had been determined to be best for them, and omitting the court and the money. I told him that I consider that to be a lie, that I had always been truthful with them, that I believe in being truthful, and that all the research indicates that it is harmful for kids to think that their dad had abandoned them. I did not want my kids to think that I had abandoned them. So he put in his report that this was more evidence that I lacked empathy.

So yes, I do have a problem with the family court judge suggesting that I lacked empathy. There was no evidence for it, nor any explanation as to why it was relevant. It was just prejudice on the part of the judge.


Anonymous said...

but was only talked into photographing the bruise because the lawyer-neighbor-friend gave her an argument that pictures would be needed as blackmail to counteract corruption of the family.

Is this something else that you've made up, or did you read it somewhere ?

Anonymous said...

There are Jews named Smith.

George said...

I meant to say "corruption of the family COURT." Lopez testified that her neighbor Ivory Madison warned her that Murkarimi would use his political connections to get sole custody of their child in the family court, and that she should photograph a bruise save it for possible use in a future divorce case. They would tell Murkarimi not to demand sole custody, or else they would use the picture as evidence of domestic violence.

If Prof. Brewster Smith was Jewish, then I stand corrected. He was a pinko psychologist, anyway.