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  • Writer's pictureTashroom Ahsan

The Problem of Empathy and a Life of Service

I don’t speak generally. When I do speak, I tend to criticize. Thus I will provide the only criticism that they want to hear: a diagnosis. Please allow me to create a disease so I can give them more medicines. Their disease is their medicine, their narcotic; or rather, they all have an addiction. They’re addicted to themselves. That is their disease. Weil wrote, “the I is the only thing one can offer.” They are promiscuous. They put their “I” into anything. They think they’re right.

Dostoevsky wrote that we can never love our neighbor. He was right. We cannot. We cannot look at our neighbor in the face, in his asymmetrical, bloody face and tell him that he’s beautiful. The only way we could is if we, like they do, whored our “I” into his face, if we transformed him into a mirror for ourselves, or, in essence, if he became “I” by “I” occupying him. To love their neighbors, they colonize them, putting their “I’s” inside of them. That is what “if I were you” means: love through their neighbors to love themselves more, or, in short, empathy.

Empathy is colonization. It feeds the whorish “I” so much fodder that it grows beyond its own body and takes on mankind. They create man in their image. They become God. In this one way, by making man, they become the only one who can love their neighbor, further affirming their divine status—only Jesus could love his neighbor. Now they can too.

By taking another’s mind, we do not “offer” the “I.” We colonize the other, we create him, and we expand the “I.” “I’s” promiscuity is nucleation. We love, loving as an addiction to our own nucleation, to our “I” which we cannot give up. There is no service in empathy, only conquest.

Offering the “I” is the narcaine to their morphine overdoses, to their addiction to themselves, to their empathy. We can offer the “I” in two ways: like Weil and like Achilles. I don’t know much about Weil, but I read 24 books about Achilles. I can talk about him with greater faith and detail.

Achilles stood by the ships, as war raged, for 18 books. He watched the earth swallow the bodies of his neighbors, swallow the walls sheltering his people. He watched Skamandros run red with blood. He simply watched, living in the wrath of being shamed by Agamemnon, leader of men. In Book 9 of the Iliad, an entire embassy came to convince Achilles to save the falling Greeks. Odysseus offers him wealth, gifts, honor, which Achilles ignores because such recompense falters before the shame he suffers. The value of his pain cannot be reckoned with by another. Phoinix tells him a story of salvation, about Meleagros, whose heart, stirred by the burning walls of the city, led him to save men from destruction, begging Achilles to do the same. Achilles ignores him, for saving the walls would plead to defend the unjust Agamemnon who commands the barrier.

Achilles does what no empathetic person would do: ignore the honor in conquering a people who needs you by aiding them. And yet, in Book 16, when Patroklos, the man who stood by Achilles’ wrath watching from the ships, the man through whom Achilles communicates with the world, comes to his doorstep, shedding black tears down his rocky face, he yields. Patroklos stirs Achilles, not by invoking Achilles as a Greek, not by alluding to the city walls, but by offering Achilles a vessel to save the Greeks that does not give up his “I,” but merely his armor. Achilles sends Patroklos, his lover, his communicator, his caretaker, his Patroklos, dressed in Achilles’s very own armor, to his death.

Patroklos perished. His death entirely severs Achilles from mankind. Achilles is unleashed. He can no longer communicate with or act alongside men. Achilles, to his divine mother, says that Patroklos perished in need of his protection, so to hell with everything else, to hell with shame, honor, or empathy; Achilles becomes only duty, the duty of protection, the duty of resentment, the duty of vengeance. Achilles finds divine rage in mankind’s horror, and here, only here, does he save mankind. His “I” is offered to the Greeks the moment he puts on divine armor, because he kills every earthly tether he has, stirred only from the duty of divine vengeance. Achilles does not need man, but man, so brutal, so terrible, needs him so badly that he kills Patroklos and bursts the seals of duty which constrain Achilles. So Achilles, like a god, descends upon grotesque mankind. This is service to humanity.

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