Which brings us to President Obama’s remark that the lack of empathy makes us “plunge into wars” and “ignore the homeless.” I suspect the opposite is true. Wars reflect our tendency to form biased bonds with group members. If someone threatens a fellow citizen, empathy incites us to support aggressive reprisal. As with sports, we empathize with the home team and revel when the other side takes a blow. Cultivating empathy for the enemy is about as easy as cultivating comfort on a bed of nails. Likewise, empathy is not the key to charity. Getting the affluent to grasp the hardships of homelessness is prohibitively hard, and even when successful it can induce debilitating distress rather than the will to make a difference.

Without empathy, are we not left with cold indifference? Don’t we lose our moral compass? On the contrary, empathy can be the cause of moral inertia and indirection. Fortunately, there is a better guide to good action: attending to injustice.

Here are some examples. Many homeless people are members of denigrated ethnic minorities or suffer from physical or psychological disabilities; their plight is symptomatic of discrimination. Global poverty is worst in nations that have been ravaged by imperialism and exploitation. War exposes innocent people to political instability, poverty, injury, and untimely death. Environmental destruction threatens the lives of other creatures and deprives future generations of vital resources. We don’t need empathy to justify efforts to rid the world of such ills. We need a sense of justice.

Our sense of justice has two components. It begins with principles that tell us when someone has been treated unjustly. For example, we have strictures against killing innocent people; and we have strictures prescribing equal opportunity. These principles are grounded in reason and subject to rational debate. But justice also requires passion. We don’t coolly tabulate inequities—we feel outraged or indignant when they are discovered. Such angry feelings are essential; without anger, we would not be motivated to act.

Jesse Prinz, responding to Paul Bloom’s "Against Empathy" in the Boston Review

Forgetting is an act of negation, of what Lacan distinguishes as Verneinung. That is to say, it does not erase, but merely appends a negation to the signifier of Uncle Max. What is required to read further in Calvin and Hobbes is not this, but the more radical Verwerfung. Where Verneinung takes as a precondition the existence of the object being negated, Verwerfung serves to deny the basic existence of the object, or, more accurately and more radically, its signification. It, as Lacan puts it, “cuts short any manifestation of the symbolic order” (Lacan 323). In Verwerfung it is not that we forget or deny Uncle Max – it is that Uncle Max is radically erased – not merely gone, but never-there, and never-possibly-there.

Philip Sandifer, “When Real Things Happen To Imaginary Tigers,” ImageTexT 3:3 [2007]

In which an academic writer employs precisely the style skewered by Watterson to discuss Calvin & Hobbes: