I finally developed my own terms for the two conflicting definitions. I gave in, and let the doctors and the neurotypicals keep their word "empathy" to mean emotional mind-reading. Okay. I have an empathy disorder. What they have? Is a sympathy disorder. I can't tell what strangers are feeling. You can tell what strangers are feeling; you just don't care. Merry fucking Christmas.
I've been meaning to bring this up for a while; I get around to mentioning it now because of how sick to my stomach I feel, how much hatred for humanity is suddenly choking off my Christmas spirit, reading about the abuse the audience heaped on three former homeless teens who told their stories at a public panel, including now successful blogger, columnist, and author Violet Blue: "Booksmith Community Forum on Homelessness, Aug 24, 2009," un-bylined article on "Hope in Haight" blog.
Edited to add:
I find that I have more to say about this; something that's obvious to me but no, it probably isn't obvious to some of you.
There's a guy I used to hang with in college, a fellow CS grad, fairly right wing back then, now some god's own personal fool for every hoax, prank, and propaganda lie that trickles from various hate groups into the Republican commentariat via WorldNewsDaily. (Reporter Dave Neiwert, America's #1 expert on right wing death squads and death-squad wannabes in America, has written extensively about this: they brag to him, openly, that they learned ages ago that they can make up any lie they want, drop it into WND, watch it bubble up to the front page on page views and comments, watch it get picked up by Glen Beck or Bill O'Reilly from there, watch Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity get forced to comment on it when their listeners who overlap ask them about it, and watch it, from them, go straight onto Fox News and into comments by Republicans in power. They say it works every time.) Ever since we reconnected on Facebook, he bounces this crap off of me, and I serve as the fact check, for him, that 30 seconds on Google would be. It's inefficient, but personal. Anyway, I didn't bring this up to dish on the Aryan Nations or WND or Glen Beck or my friend Doc, I brought this up to introduce my friend Doc and explain something related to homelessness that I just had to explain to him.
You see, in the years since we were in college together, my old friend Doc has ended up on the board of directors of a religious charity that serves the homeless. And it occurred to him, the other day, to ask me why it is that no matter how good they make the services they offer the homeless people in his hometown, no matter how string-free they make them, at least half of the homeless people in his town just flatly refuse to have anything to do with them. He wanted to know if, as someone who's been borderline homeless himself and who sees the world through different eyes from him, I could give him any advice on what his church could be doing differently. As I expected, I bumped my head very quickly into the first hurdle: despite years of working with, and on behalf of, the homeless, he had no better idea than most Americans do of how in the hell anybody, whether it's a teenager or a single mother or a combat veteran, ends up homeless. It was the first thing I had to explain to him:
We threw these people away, because nobody wanted them for anything.
And that is the first thing we have to fix. You can't fix anything for a homeless person, whether it's an unparented or mal-parented homeless teenager trying to stay out of sex work or a homeless woman whose children's father left her for a younger model, or couldn't deal with her health issues, or who ran away because he was out of work too long and lost his own self-respect, or who is in jail, or who is dead, and she's spending 140 hours a week trying to keep her children alive without any help, or whether it's a Vietnam War, Gulf War, Yugoslav Civil War, Afghan War, or Iraq War veteran whose physical and mental health problems render him completely unemployable, you can't fix anything for that person if you can't find them someone who wants them to live, who needs them to live, who has a useful purpose for them.
And ever since Ronald Reagan got elected in November of 1980, we have solved every single problem we've had in America, every problem we've had since Lyndon Johnson's hare-brained idea of fighting a deficit-financed entirely optional land war in Asia, every problem we've had since we used up all but the last trickle of our own oil and oil producers discovered that a shattered, used up US Marine Corps could no longer come and take the oil away from them by force, every problem we've had since then, we have solved by human sacrifice: identifying more people to throw away, and throwing those people away; sending them away to sleep in alleys or under overpasses, to live off of stolen food and handouts and scavenged trash, to slowly rot away of completely untreated health problems. Never mind how much needs to get done and isn't getting done; we can't afford the energy cost or raw materials cost to do those things, so we can't afford to hire people to do them, so the people who would have done them are disposable, destined to end up in human landfills
So, if you're one of them, would you please stop depressing the rest of us by reminding us of this? Would you please go find some place to go where none of us can see you as you slowly freeze, starve, and rot away to death? The rest of us, the fortunate ones, have to get on with our lives somehow. That requires some modicum of morale. We do know, on some level, that the first time we slow down, or the first time we get sick, or the first time something goes seriously wrong, or the first time we end up losing someone we were depending on to survive, that we'll be joining you. But if we think about that too much, it'll happen all that much sooner. And you're bringing us down. That's what we, in America, say to them every day with our actions, with the way we complain about and hate on our homeless.
I didn't have a lot of advice for my friend Doc. Knowing he was a conservative, I appealed to Ronald Reagan. One thing Reagan wasn't wrong about is this: "the only effective anti-poverty program is a job." I reminded Doc that I've seen homeless, mentally ill drug addicts instantly and suddenly sober up, and rise to never seen before (albeit temporary) levels of functionality, when they found a kitten that needed to be rescued. I told him about a news story I saw a while back about a halfway house for about to be released, at best partially rehabbed, female drug addicts that more or less accidentally turned those women's lives around when one of the women staying there came up with the idea of volunteering, during the hours they were confined to their group home, to raise puppies that are destined to be trained as service dogs. What do those stories have in common? Somebody needed them. And we all need that. Maslow was wrong, you know: that need to be needed? It's more profound than the need for food and water and sleep; we can live better with occasional deprivation of food, water, and sleep than we can without having anybody need us, or without being able to meet that need. My suggestion to him was to find jobs that his church needed done, that they couldn't afford to do, and to go to those men and ask them, "can you please help us?" Not to bribe them with food and shelter to do it, not as some paternalistic way to rehab them into a "culture of work;" just tell them, honestly and humbly, "we need you for this; if someone doesn't help us, we're in trouble." Watch them rise up.
We won't do that. Oh, Doc might; he's easily fooled, but he's good people, his heart is in the right place. Or he might not; he's only one man, and the social and economic pressures to do nothing effective are overwhelming. We as a country won't. We took the homeless teens and homeless bums of 1932 and turned them into the Greatest Generation of 1944 by needing them that badly; we won't admit that we need the homeless teens and homeless bums of 2011, because we're not scared enough. So they know damned well that we (at least think that) we don't need them. Providing services to them? Is like taking aspirin to deal with the fact that you have a broken leg you can't afford to get set, or an infected tooth you can't afford to get pulled; it may make life momentarily better, but it doesn't stop the problem from getting worse. I hate painkillers for just that reason; they remind me that I can't get whatever it is that's broken, that's sick, that hurts, I can't get it fixed. I hate homeless services, whether government or private charity, the same way.
And they say I have an empathy disorder.