Sunday, December 21, 2014

Me, myself, and I

Among all the “10 best” lists rolled out before the holidays, the NYT offers a real gem: “The 10 Best Modern Love Columns Ever.” At no. 10 there stands “Somewhere Inside, a Path to #Empathy.” It was written back in 2009 by David Finch, an engineer who tells a most heart-warming story – how his wife, a therapist treating autistic children, diagnosed him with Asperger’s. And then applied unfailing tact and perseverance to bring him out of his mental shell so they could reinvent their faltering marriage. The essay is written with so much self-insight, sensitivity, and sense of humor that the diagnosis seems a bit off the mark.  So #Mr.Finch – unlike his fictional namesake from “Person of Interest” – must have come a long way. As he acknowledges, however, developing a degree of empathy was a hard act – “given that my Aspergerish point of reference is myself in every circumstance. How about, then, all those economists who – like James Buchanan – believe the notion of a “public interest” or “common good” can’t possibly be real; and even politicians like Clement Attlee or Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir must be pursuing their own, self-referential utility? As John Cassidy once showed in the New Yorker (“After the Blowup”), such cases are mostly untreatable. Or perhaps the French graduate students who at the turn of the century called for a "post-autistic economics" have merely lacked what Mr. Finch's wife had in such plentiful supply.