Thank you for taking a few moments to read my article. By and large, I agree with your comment but do want to clear up what are perhaps a couple of misunderstandings that appear to be embedded within it.

You state that one “oversight” of my article is that I fail to grasp that “our subjective experiences serve us well in our practical lives, as does our subjective feelings. We aren’t cyborgs layered with technological marvels providing us with the ability to have objective experiences in our day-to-day existence, so we rely on our best efforts to get things right.” While I totally agree with this statement, I would respectfully disagree with you that it was an oversight on my part. While it has been a while since I wrote the article, my recollection as well as a quick review of it indicates, to my mind at least, that the essay strives to make the case that we could no more live purely “objective” lives than survive without air to breath or water to drink. Indeed, what we commonly refer to as “subjective experience” and “objective experience/observation” are dependent upon each other in ways we can barely begin to fathom. The article was not written in praise of objectivity but rather as a critique of our tendency to treat subjectivity and objectivity as separate or even opposite means of viewing the world.

You also take issue with the following statement within the article: “We don’t want our doctor’s judgment to be too clouded by empathy when she’s making a diagnosis or evaluating our best course of treatment.

You respond: “Not only do we want that, most medical practitioners, humans all, find it overwhelming hard to shutoff their feelings of empathy. It’s the biggest problem faced by the medical community during this pandemic: politicians want them to be objective; but medical staff are overwhelmed by the shear number of patients and their inability to just write off people who they can’t save.”

While I totally agree that as social creatures we find it incredibly difficult if not impossible to completely “shutoff” our “feelings of empathy”, it is nonetheless a problem for a medical professional or anyone else if they too completely identify personally with the suffering of those they are charged with treating. I cannot really be there for you in your time of need if I have become so caught up in your suffering as to effectively make it my own. At that point I am in about as much need of comfort as you are and so will be functionally unable to provide you with the truly compassionate care that you deserve. It is worth noting here that I did not say it was a problem if a doctor was empathic but that “we don’t want our doctor’s judgement to be too clouded by empathy…” It is precisely this scenario the medical profession seeks to avoid by prohibiting doctors from treating members of their own family. When their child is sick being present for the child requires the doctor to put away their medical hat to the best of their ability and instead wear the hat of mother or father. That said, I agree with you that the current pandemic challenges this conventional way of dealing with medical emergencies in that family cannot be present and so medical staff have the added burden of being both treatment provider and surrogate loved one. However, hopefully we can all agree that this is far from an ideal situation for either patients or medical professionals.

Medical staff who are “overwhelmed by the shear number of patients” are of less help than medical professionals who can show sympathy and compassion but maintain enough distance to keep treating one patient after another effectively. It’s a tightrope, to be sure, and one that no one can ever perfectly walk day in and day out, even under the best of circumstances. The current pandemic is anything but the best of circumstances. Walking that tightrope is itself a subjective form of suffering (as well as an objectively verifiable one) that takes a huge toll upon those having to walk it over and over again. However, a doctor or nurse who can only identify with their patient’s pain and suffering (the definition of empathy) and in doing so internalizes too much of it will quickly burn out leaving patients with neither emotional support nor treatment.

US citizen residing in British Columbia, Canada. Degrees include anthropology and environmental studies. Activism, politics, science, nature.

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