Empathy for the Devil

On vengeance, pearl-clutching, and who we humanize

Anna Mercury

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Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

In the wake of the war in Gaza, I’ve noticed three dominant reactions among Americans:

There are a lot of people who feel no sympathy for Palestinians. The reasoning behind that tends to go, “Palestinian victims of Israeli bombing in Gaza voted in an evil terrorist organization to rule them. They are therefore terrorist sympathizers and part of the global threat of Islamist militants, ergo they deserve to be slaughtered by the thousands.”

There are a lot of people who feel no sympathy for Israelis. The reasoning behind that tends to go, “Israeli victims of Hamas’ attacks on October 7th deserve no pity, because they are settler-colonizers enacting a brutal regime of occupation and oppression on stolen Palestinian land, backed up by America, which has terrorized the whole world.”

Then, there are a lot of people who are utterly horrified that anyone might not feel sympathy. The reasoning goes, “All Israelis and Palestinians are human beings. Human beings deserve respect, empathy, care, and the resources they need. Any loss of human life, by isolated attack or by war, is a tragedy. I just want peace.”

These three camps are, of course, an oversimplification. I’d guess that most people’s feelings involve more than one of these opinions and contain far more nuance than these classifications allow. For the purposes of this essay, though, we’re going to stick with these three camps, but keep in mind that we’re talking about archetypal trends, not any specific person or group’s opinions.

Extrapolating from these views, we can see three distinct world-views at play.

The first world-view holds that the status quo is good and worth preserving. Western hegemony is seen as necessary or righteous, threats against it are evil, and its power must be defended. The ends justify the means.

The second world-view holds that the status quo is unjust and must be overthrown. Western hegemony is seen as indefensible and wrong, threats to it are good, and its power must be ripped away. The ends justify the means.

The third world-view holds that the ends do not justify the means. Whatever the goal, however noble a goal it may be…

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