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Are you rational or self-interested, PM?

“We mustn’t let empathy cloud our judgement.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull urged the Australian people not to get all “misty-eyed” about the fate of refugees held in off-shore detention. He followed this urging with the above statement, after learning that the late Nauru refugee, Omid, had died as a consequence of setting himself on fire.

Turnbull urged us to stay “rational” when considering these matters.

However, if you think he’s only talking about the plight of refugees we continue to torture, think again.

Turnbull isn’t the first to expound the false dichotomy of empathy and judgement: determination not to allow empathy for raped and molested children to cloud their rational judgement is one of the factors that enables the Catholic church hierarchy to shelter perpetrators of these crimes.

Note how in these examples from church and state “rational” in both cases reflects the institution’s best interests.

It’s remarkable how the “rational” so frequently coincides with self-interest.

There’s nothing wrong with being rational. It’s a human attribute and a useful one. Like so many other useful and admirable human attributes, the rational has been co-opted by the self-serving to justify (rationalise) cruelty, and contempt for anyone considered “other.”

Empathy, on the other hand, rarely equates to self-interest. For a start, empathy asks that we imaginatively walk a mile in another’s shoes, an act entirely at odds with interest only in the self.

There is no either/or in the matter of empathy and judgement. No legitimate judgement can be made without empathy. Empathy is what tempers decisions that are otherwise entirely self-serving.

Turnbull’s attitude is a core belief of today’s LNP. If you think it applies only to refugees you’re dreaming. It is the default position of the present-day Liberal towards anyone considered in some way less worthy. It’s why they won’t tackle negative gearing. It’s why they fund private schools and want to strip public schools of all assistance. It’s why they don’t care if you can’t afford private medical insurance and suffer horribly as a consequence. The LNP will not let empathy cloud their judgement not only of refugees, but of every citizen in this country who suffers as a consequence of their self-interested (rational) policies.

Rational or self-interested? You decide.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.


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  1. Terry2

    Now there has been a second self-immolation on Nauru

    These people have been consistently lied to and punished for the mistake they made some years ago of paying a people smuggler to take them to Australia.

    We have adopted deception and legal fictions to tell them that they are being ‘processed & resettled’ ; that they are not in ‘detention’ , that they can walk through the gates anytime as long as they return at night curfew ; they are denied access to their mobile telephones or to the internet and yet we continue to say that they are not indefinitely detained.

    Is it any wonder that these people reach the point of desperation ?

    So very, very sad.

  2. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    This LNP bunch will reap what they sow.

    They sow uncaring policies and acts that damage human beings in detention, on welfare, in fear of declining living standards and future prospects for their kids, and then when such LNPigs lose the election on 2 July 2016, everybody will not only celebrate the election of the new Alliance Government, but they will celebrate the disappointment and the LNPigs’ fear of retribution.

    Bring on the fully enforceable Federal ICAC and hit them where it hurts most.

  3. Kronomex

    If it doesn’t involve money, power and control then the LNP don’t care.

  4. townsvilleblog

    Will these people finally get the message that hundreds of Australians want to bring them to Australia, but hundreds of thousands of Australians don’t want any more Islamic refugees?

  5. Douglas Pye

    May I suggest that a search based on ” Adam Smith ” could reveal a wealth of information pertaining to the current Australian Conservative Government and it’s pursuits .

    A look at ‘The Adam Smith Institute of Australia’ is a bit of an eyeopener … re the current Chairman.?…

    Based way back upon the writings of Smith in the late 1700’s and flourishing World Wide today …. ‘ The Adam Smith Institute ‘ exerts significant influence upon Conservative Politics over the World!

    Drill down and notice that our worthy P.M. borrowed his Tech Revolution and his Entrepreneur philosophy directly from (?) … none other than The Adam Smith Institute ….. down the rabbit hole!! .

    Meanwhile …. back to meditation ….. 😉 …..

  6. z

    Rational or self-interested? You decide? we have decided this is a selfish man who leads a Party use all means to avoid to pay income tax includes offshore corp. and negative gearing, they want get votes as more as possible but do not care about people

  7. townsvilleblog

    We have a man in Queensland, who has broken his back some few years ago and currently has liver cancer he is 51 and Centrelink have told him to go out and look for a job, they wont give him DSP, I say spend our empathy and compassion on Australians first then look around to see who else needs help. Always, we poorer Australina are the “forgotten people” of the country.

  8. jimhaz

    [but hundreds of thousands of Australians don’t want any more Islamic refugees?]

    I am one of those, however there must be time limits on detention – there is a point where selfishness is over-trumped by compassion and embarrassment.

    This outcome of no real change to policy is another Abbott and Murdoch hangover. I am just as disgusted with the ALP. Quite frankly were it not an election and were our politicians not so depraved by the competition game side of politics, they could easily come to a deal to let in the recognised refugees who have been in detention the longest or who face the greatest danger if returned. A bipartisan agreement for say 500 hundred.

    Our refugee policies in being so inhumane, must be ones that adapt to changing circumstances – while the boats numbers are low relax the policy, but when the numbers pick up again as they will, resume with the harsh policies.

    [lack of empathy]

    The business mind learns to bypass empathy by direct experience. Businesses grow only when others lose, and the aim is to make the others lose.
    The competitive mind is similar – you wont find much empathy on the footy field or from schoolyard bullies.

    LNP members are both business minded and ultra competitive – little wonder they fall so easily into a sycophantic trance of worship and obedience to their gods, the materially successful.

  9. Peter F

    Turnaround time for refugees under ALP : three months.

  10. townsvilleblog

    The LNP have paid Cambodia $55 mil for a deal to take refugess but so far only 2 have gone. Send the rest now!

  11. Backyard Bob


    The business mind learns to bypass empathy by direct experience. Businesses grow only when others lose, and the aim is to make the others lose.

    And that’s the primary reason that conservatives that are deeply involved in capitalist-framed politics appear to lack empathy, or for that matter, even sympathy. Capitalism is a quintessentially amoral enterprise. At its core it has to be because it’s an essentially abstract, geometric construct. The way in which we materialise that abstraction will depend on what other values we bring to it.

    Most conservatives who remain intimately tied to capitalist ideation are so in a fairly pure fashion – i.e. largely unadulterated by extraneous moral or ethical considerations. It’s analogous to a religious fundamentalist who cannot and will not entertain rational considerations outside of their “pure” worldview because if they do that worldview will begin to erode. And always keep in the mind that the conservative mind tends to operate within fairly black and white (dualistic) parameters, making it even more difficult for them to accommodate the scales of grey that enter any worldview when empathy and/or sympathy arrive.

    Basically, their brains [egos] create a mental block against such forces. It’s a defensive posture, and one that it ultimately understandable (see how I did the empathy thing there?). This is one of the reasons why adopting an aggressive, proscriptive approach to actual conservatives will almost always have the opposite effect to that desired. It will always send them into a defensive cognitive state that no amount of reason and facts can penetrate or modify.

    A different approach is needed. I’ll just toss that thought out there …..

    Oh, and no-one should ever, ever be dissuaded from the view of reason as the most important force in human cognition because of a stupid utterance by a politician

  12. @RosemaryJ36

    Rational processes tell me that if you deliberately hurt people you are likely to make enemies among them. Empathy tells me that the majority of people when treated with kindness, reciprocate. Common sense tells me friends are better than enemies.

  13. nurses1968

    Jennifer Meyer-Smith
    Why, when Labor, the majority of Micro Parties and a whole range of Independents have indicated they will not deal with the Greens do you just keep on about the Meyer-Smith Alliance?
    It seems as dead as a dodo bird unless you have some info you aren;t divulging

  14. Jennifer Meyer-Smith


    I’ll empathise with your ignorance since Labor has failed to show sense in forming this Alliance.

    But don’t you think left Labor (the Right can piss off), the Greens, Progressive micro-parties and sane Independents should ALL act like grown-ups and ensure the LNP defeat and demoralisation for good by forming such a formidable front against the LNP?

  15. nurses1968

    Do you have no concept of the workings of Parties?Who in Labor would you allow to join the Meyer-Smith Alliance?
    Actually, why would you want Labor at all, as you said elsewhere you haven’t considered them in 35 years?

  16. Backyard Bob

    Empathy tells me that the majority of people when treated with kindness, reciprocate.

    And for me this is were empathy can get us into trouble, because there are any number of contexts, at both the individual and national level where this is not true. People will treat you with kindness when you show them empathy if that empathy meets the requirements of prevailing egotistical drives and needs rather than any single, momentary need (as in the case of say, providing shelter and safety for a person temporarily without it).


    1. the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

    2. the imaginative ascribing to an object, as a natural object or work of art, feelings or attitudes present in oneself:

    “By means of empathy, a great painting becomes a mirror of the self.”

    In her article, Jennifer makes what I regard to be an error [of sorts] in psychology:

    For a start, empathy asks that we imaginatively walk a mile in another’s shoes, an act entirely at odds with interest only in the self.

    I appreciate the qualifier “only”, but I’m going to disagree anyway, because, well, it’s me. There’s no such thing as non-self interest. It doesn’t exist. It’s tantamount to a biological impossibility, like drowning yourself (wherein one has the physical ability to stop). Empathy is a 100% self-oriented activity, as are all acts of altruism and philanthropy. This is proved by the conditionality of all such activity. The only people who don’t bring “self” to everything are enlightened Buddhas, and you can decide for yourself whether you think such a thing can exist (and I don’t just mean “Buddhas” plural, even though that’s a legitimate debate).

    You are not being selfless [to any degree] when you are being empathetic. Never, ever. The very motivation and act of being empathetic springs from a self-based, will-to-power agency. In fact, empathy is actually more self-ish than sympathy – to the degree you’re willing to acknowledge a meaningful difference.

    Empathy involves the self entirely. It is the act of projecting the self into the world of another and comparing notes. That dynamic is entirely based on the self’s needs and psychological realities. Again, this is proved by its conditionality. No-one can feel empathy for everyone . It isn’t possible. The greater the distance, the greater the disconnect between one’s psychological and experiential reality and that of another, the less possible is to feel empathy with them. This alone is proof of the self-based origin and nature of empathy (i.e. the more empathy, the more self). This is one of the reasons that the truth or authenticity or utility of empathetic feelings can be problematic – they often involve and and are tightly intertwined with projection.

    Have you ever, for example, had a person express honest-felt empathy for you only for you to think, “Hang on, that’s not how I feel at all. What the hell are you talking about?”

    Now, I’m not for a minute trying to defend what Turnbull said. I don’t think for a second he’s ever given the terms he employed this level of consideration. I’m just saying that we ought not romanticise our empathetic feelings, thereby distorting them and turning them into something they’re not.

    Empathy is an important human cognitive instinct and ability. The suppression of it by other cognitive forces (as we see in “conservative” minds) leads to all manner of harm and injustice. On the other hand, empathetic feelings divorced from rational judgement about them (akin to accepting the truth value of an intuition over facts) can also lead to harm and injustice. There’s no need of any dichotomous construct here.

    Empathy must inform our judgements and reason must inform our empathy. Balance in all things. Ok, now I’ve pacified those Libran urges, I can catch that bus ….

  17. Max Gross

    Repeat after me: the vast majority of asylum seekers are – eventually, despite systemic, politically motivated delays – assessed to be genuine refugees. NOT ILLEGAL!

  18. Athena

    townsvilleblog, take a look at the 16 photo slideshow on this page.

    Are you really so stupid that you cannot begin to comprehend why people are trying to escape from this? Do you expect us to believe that you wouldn’t be trying to escape if you found yourself in the same position?

    I notice that you refer to yourself as poor and you resent Australian poor being mistreated. Why do you deserve any more respect than anyone else? What makes you so special?

    The majority of refugees integrate into our communities without any trouble. They also start up a lot of businesses and are good for our economy.

    “Humanitarian migrants make twice as much money from their own businesses as people arriving on skilled and family visas, says statistics bureau.”
    “Refugees are not taking Australian jobs, they are creating new ones, according to new government research that reveals humanitarian arrivals are the country’s most entrepreneurial migrants.”

  19. jimhaz


    [This is one of the reasons why adopting an aggressive, proscriptive approach to actual conservatives will almost always have the opposite effect to that desired. It will always send them into a defensive cognitive state that no amount of reason and facts can penetrate or modify]

    Yes, I agree, but it feels like a Catch 22 as without aggression (representing strength) they really just seem to ignore your point of view in any case.

    The way you look at things, reminds me quite a lot of a fellow named Dan Rowden. Here is something he said about shockjocks. I can’t help but feel the average active conservative would be the same – they’d just run roughshod over the “wimpy lefties”.

    “There are a number of arguably reasonable explanations for it, but for me the primary one is really quite simple: power. Human beings crave power and control. It’s hard-wired into us. Where and when we can’t establish power and control for ourselves, in the course of our daily lives, we will look to experience it vicariously. We will look for an external source via which to sublimate this particularly strong and primal desire. This is the seminal psychological reward for people who listen to shock jocks – the vicarious experience of power and control. Shock Jocks get to say most anything they want with relative impunity. They get to treat people and ideas, if not facts, with complete disregard. They get to control the narrative. They get to talk over people, to tell people to shut up, to cut them off then abuse them afterwards – with no risk of consequence and no burden of responsibility. They behave in a manner that the darker and less emotionally secure parts of many of us would like to behave, even if only in some sort of fantasy realm where consequence and responsibility don’t exist. This is all about power and the audience gets to experience that power through the vehicle of the shock jock.”

    [It will always send them into a defensive cognitive state]

    I see myself doing exactly the same thing on the feminist issue. Where I notice exaggerations or extreme one-sidedness that becomes the focal point and the points that I might agree with become buried.

    I have no answers. All I can offer is that progressive writers need to take great care in not exaggerating their points for effect – don’t give any reasons for the more moderate cons to ignore the whole because of a part. I think someone like Tim Flannery really hurt his cause by exaggerating.

  20. townsvilleblog

    Bob, you’ve nailed it again, I take my hat off to a very wise man.

  21. townsvilleblog

    Athena, what makes me so good is that I slaved my guts out for 35 years and paid all my taxes, nearly 40% of corporate Australia can’t say that. I was born here, I am a true Australian, I have worked long and hard and have paid my union dues to this nation. It was not I who murdered two innocent Aussies at the Martin Place siege, I wasn’t involved in the Cronulla riots, I didn’t murder Curtis Cheng in cold blood because I was a Muslim. I am a proud Australian, that’s what makes me so special!

  22. townsvilleblog

    yes, they would be business people wouldn’t they taking advantage of other people is a way of life for these people, Australia was established by hard work, from Aboriginal Australia as much as anyone else, and now these parasites swan in and set up businesses with what money, how can they set up businesses without money, where have they acquired money? from the poppy fields of Afghanistan? or some other dubious source, I have worked legitimate employment, sometimes 2 or 3 jobs at a time, so don’t give me your BS because like hundreds of thousands of Australians we don’t want their pray 5 times a day to Allah here, let them go to other Islamic countries, no, they won’t do that because they are trying to spread the disease world wide, they have already infiltrated Europe and now trying for Australia, well it’s not on…

  23. Jennifer Meyer-Smith


    I respect your comments usually but I think you are over the top with your anti-Muslim attitudes.


    you’ve got your wires crossed – AGAIN.

    I haven’t ever said I haven’t voted Labor in 35 years! I’ve said I’ve progressively felt let down by Labor for over 3 decades since Hawke and Keating turned the party away from Gough’s innovation and onto the road of economic rationalism and later Labor hasn’t had the guts to diverge again.

    If you are going to quote my words of wisdom, get them right! :-/

  24. Athena


    So are all business owners the epitome of evil, or just the Muslim ones? Has it ever occurred to you that people cannot work for businesses unless someone owns the business? Has it ever occurred to you that the activity of carrying on a business generates other jobs around it in other businesses? Where does it say that refugees fleeing for their lives must be penniless? Don’t you think they had jobs and homes and families before bombs flattened everything? They didn’t just crawl out of a swamp.

    You’ve been extremely fortunate and privileged to have access to work for 35 years, access to education for yourself and your children if you have any, access to health care, access to food and clothing, access to clean running water, access to life in a peaceful country, and a myriad of other public services. You’ve never had your home or your town flattened to the ground by an act of war that wasn’t your fault, leaving you in fear for your life, and without hope of any means of supporting yourself and your family because everything has just been wiped out. But rather than be grateful that you have had so many more opportunities and privileges than millions of other people in this world, and that you’ve avoided the horrors that millions of others have endured, you consider yourself to be a special little snowflake who is entitled to more, more, more whilst you trample over everyone else who has not enjoyed the privileges that you have. I know unemployed people and people with disabilities who would dearly love the opportunity to “slave their guts out”. It wouldn’t actually matter how much you got, would it? You’re the type of person who wouldn’t be satisfied, no matter how fortunate you are. You will always be consumed by the thought that somebody owes you something.

  25. diannaart


    I have have been told that Townsvilleblog is simply being ironic.


  26. Jennifer Meyer-Smith


    how do I do your emoji?

  27. townsvilleblog

    Jennifer, I might be over the top, but as far as I know, I’ve told no lies.

  28. townsvilleblog

    Athena, Oh for Christ’s sake spare me the poor refugee story, send them to Columbia or anywhere else but Australia, I ‘ve had a gutful of their snake eyed presence.

  29. townsvilleblog

    diannaart, damn, I’ve been foiled again lol.

  30. Athena

    townsvilleblog, I’ve had a gutful of selfish ignoramuses like you.

  31. townsvilleblog

    And I of ignorant ignoramuses with no common sense like you.

  32. Athena

    Oh advocating torture and inciting irrational hatred passes for common sense now. Glad we cleared that up.

  33. townsvilleblog

    Don’t try to put words in to my mouth, I said nothing of the kind! No wonder you don’t have many friends.

  34. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Duh, townsvilleblog,

    are you accusing me of telling lies?

  35. Rossleigh

    Gee, townvilleblog, I wouldn’t be bringing up common sense after Malcolm Turbull’s assertion on 7:30 last week!

  36. Athena

    Keep digging, townsvilleblog. The depth of that hole you’re creating hasn’t sunk to your IQ yet.

  37. nurses1968

    You know you are correct, I know you are correct and the majority of Australians hold similar views.
    Time for the minority to accept that

  38. Athena

    nurses1968, the majority of Germans believed that the Jews should be exterminated too. I’m sure they all deluded themselves into thinking they were correct too. I find it really disturbing that someone like you is allowed near patients, and very vulnerable ones at that.

  39. nurses1968

    Don’t use that old chestnut on me.
    I take my job very seriously and all patients get the same level of care and attention required.
    It does not {my profession} exclude me from having personal views about the way our country is run and policies involved.
    You just continue on deluding yourself

  40. Athena

    Sure……..of course you do.

  41. Jennifer Meyer-Smith


    I’m a bit sorry for you coz you fight your peers instead of your executive abusers.

    We might join forces one day but don’t bullshit coz it won’t work.

    Perhaps you need to have a good long rest until you’re better.

  42. nurses1968

    Jennifer Meyer-Smith
    One thing I do not suffer is delusions
    Are you ready to give the Meyer-Smith Alliance a quiet burial?
    You never did tell me which particular Labr Mps you intended to entice

  43. Athena

    Actually Jennifer said the left. If you need to be told who they are then you really don’t know much about the party you intend to vote for. Nor should you be badgering others to vote for them as you did a few weeks ago.

  44. Athena

    And when nurses1968 has worked out who the Labor right are, she might begin to understand why so many progressives consider the ALP to be Liberal Lite.

  45. nurses1968

    Thanks for answering for Jennifer.
    I think you both need a lesson in politics 1A
    Which politician from any of the parties are going to join the illusory Meyer-Smith Alliance?
    They would be foregoing their membership of their current party, and would face expulsion, lose of preselection and probably political oblvion for the sake of someones delusional dream .
    Check out membership conditions of Labor, Greens and others, then take a cold shower

  46. Athena

    Bwahahaha! Oh dear, obviously nurses1968 must have been asleep during the lecture that covered coalition governments.
    A coalition government is a cabinet of a parliamentary government in which several political parties cooperate, reducing the dominance of any one party within that coalition. The usual reason given for this arrangement is that no party on its own can achieve a majority in the parliament.

    That politics 1A course sounds like it was good value though. Where does it fit into the Australian Qualifications Framework? Can I qualify for Austudy?

  47. Jennifer Meyer-Smith


    Athena has answered your question.

    A further point I’d make is that my repeated call for an Alliance on this and several other social sites is intended to alert Labor people to hear the call for forming the Alliance.

    I’m not expecting them to break away from their party structure. I am expecting them to push for supremacy in their own party while forming the Alliance with a range of other progressive representative powers.

    I’m looking for representative powers for the people and progressive change-makers for the structure of the political and economic system.

    Like Athena said, if you continue to badger as to who specifically I’m calling, then you don’t know your political system well, or worse you’re ignorantly attacking an idea that you have no other answer for.

  48. townsvilleblog

    Jennifer, certainly not, I think you amy be a little oversensitive I would never accuse you of being a liar, you, like everyone else have your own opinion, which, more often than not I agree with.

  49. townsvilleblog

    Rossleigh, I missed the 7:30 Report last week, what did Turdbull have to say regarding common sense?

  50. townsvilleblog

    Athena, You are not a candidate for Mensa if what you have written here is any indication of IQ lol!

  51. townsvilleblog

    nurses1968, Some of them isolate themselves feelinh holier than thou on the subject of humanity, I do feel sorry for the refugees in a way, they should have been moved on to Cambodia 2 and a half years ago by the LNP, so that they could begin their new lives, as long as they are deposited in a peaceful country then they escape from what they are running from, game over.

  52. townsvilleblog

    The irony here is from my reading of the situation, that we all vote Labor, and favor the left wing of same!

  53. diannaart

    Thank you, a question even I can answer 😀

    Jennifer Meyer-SmithMay 3, 2016 at 6:02 pm


    how do I do your emoji?

    Colon :
    then a big pee P


  54. diannaart


    Neo-Cons just lerve to watch progressives beat the crap out of each other.

  55. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    diannaart @ 12pm


  56. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    To Neo-Cons who are about to suffer miserable defeat on 2 July 2016 when The Alliance wins government!

    Imagine the pink bit is my tongue sticking out at you!


  57. diannaart

    Looking forward to it. Jennifer

    Love the sound of sobbing neo-cons after election defeat…

    (with apologies to Francis Ford Coppola)

  58. townsvilleblog

    diannaart, please don’t under sell yourself you are the equal of any one of us…

  59. Arthur Graves

    Interesting though that the LNP are not rational when considering climate change.

  60. townsvilleblog

    Donations from “big oil” would sway their view, I’d say.

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