[R]esearchers studying the brain can actually see how the various centers controlling certain feelings light up when we observe or imagine the experiences of others. “If you feel bad for someone who is bored, that’s sympathy,” writes Yale psychologist Paul Bloom in his brave and brilliant new book, Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion, “but if you feel bored, that’s empathy.”Link to the whole article.
Bloom, a liberal transplant from Canada, distrusts empathy because empathy is like a drug. It distorts our perspective, causing us to get all worked up about an individual or group. He compares it to a spotlight that illuminates a specific person or group, plunging everything and everyone else into darkness.
“When some people think about empathy, they think about kindness. I think about war,” Bloom writes. He’s got a point. Look at the Middle East today. Sunni nations empathize with the plight of suffering Sunnis, and that empathy causes them to further hate and demonize Shiites. Many people around the world empathize with the Palestinians, blinding them to the legitimate concerns of Israelis. And vice versa.
Adolf Hitler was a master of empathy — for ethnic Germans in the Sudetenland, Austria, and elsewhere. The cause of nationalist empathy for the German tribe triggered profound moral blindness for the plight, and even the humanity, of Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs.
Again, Bloom is a squishy liberal by his own account, but he’s also a leading scholar of how the mind actually works, not how we wish it would work.
Human beings are naturally inclined to sympathize and empathize with people like them. There has never been a society where people didn’t give priority to helping family and friends over strangers. This tends to blind us “to the suffering of those we do not or cannot empathize with,” writes Bloom. “Empathy is biased, pushing us in the direction of parochialism and racism.”
Look at the intractable debate over the phrase “black lives matter.” The slogan itself is a kind of spotlight, argue supporters, highlighting the legitimate complaints of African Americans. But it also blinds them to why others respond to the term by saying “all lives matter.”
I don’t go as far as Bloom in detesting empathy.
Friday, May 5, 2017
"The Dangers of Empathy"
"It can distract us from rational thought and meaningful compassion."