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4/9/2014 6:57:38 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
At 4/9/2014 4:17:54 PM, bluesteel wrote:
Do you not feel any empathy for the children who die of starvation in Africa.

That depends on how one defines "empathy." I can certainly desire to help them, but I don't feel much when reading about it.

Did you watch the first 5 min of the movie "Up" and not cry?

I did not cry.

Empathy doesn't necessarily mean breaking down in uncontrollable sobs whenever you hear a sad story, but it does mean using your "theory of mind" to put yourself in someone else's position and feel bad for them.

Which, if you have very little emotional depth to begin with, isn't really all that easy.

The only people who feel no empathy our psychopaths. That is the definition of a psychopath -- one who cannot feel empathy.

In popular media, perhaps.

So no, it's not the case that we "couldn't survive" if we felt empathy for everyone. In fact, as a highly social species, it is very difficult to survive *without* empathy [source: see "Dexter": Season 1-8].


You are citing a TV show.
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4/13/2014 12:33:48 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
I was reading the string of posts which inspired this one, and I just wanted to take a stance against empathy as some wonderful attribute which is objectively good. I lack empathy. This doesn't mean that I lack compassion or understanding, but I have never been able to actually feel what I think someone else is experiencing. I don't think that this is a bad thing. I've always been somewhat socially awkward because of it, but this forced me to actually understand things through reason instead of relying on a viscerally emotive shortcut. I believe that it helped to develop any intelligence which I might possess, because it made understanding a necessity. And, because of this background, I can see one glaringly immense defect in empathy: it isn't universal. Once a social phenomenon called 'othering' occurs, in which someone is ejected from a social group based on a non-conforming characteristic, empathy no longer extends to them.

In middle school, I had a friend who was not an attractive girl. Think Brienne of Tarth from Game of Thrones. But she was still a decent person by any popular metric. Nevertheless, the vast majority of supposedly socially normal people, who could express empathy for one another, had none for her. Ugliness meant othering, and they would toy with her emotions and psyche in ways so cruel that they horrified me. One boy found out that she had a crush on him, strung her along, pretending to invite her to a school dance, and then publicly humiliated her in front of the entire school. Nobody stood up for her, and I was the only one who comforted her afterwards, because their empathy for one another bound them together against anyone outside of their social group, to whom it was utterly blind. We see the same thing on a national level: empathy doesn't apply to those who are 'the enemy'. I have experienced it personally, as both a gay teen and man, and, ironically enough, as a person without empathy.

I see it as a primitive emotion, based on tribal 'us against them' mentalities, and an essential catalyst for racism, nationalism, sexism, and many other vicious collectivist ideologies. People who rely on solely empathy to guide them never develop a detached understanding of the entire big picture, they never bother to examine what, exactly, motivates those who have been cast out of their social group. The degree to which they understand these things is the degree to which they have allowed empathy to be ruled and guided by reason. Enlightened, detached consideration can expand the circle of people to whom empathy applies, but empathy itself is a limiting, and exclusionary, factor in human relations.
"Partout ou vous verrez un autel, la se trouve la civilisation."
- Joseph de Maistre -

"Woe that I live in bitter days,
As God is setting like a sun
And in his place, as lord and slave,
Man raises forth his heinous throne."
- Translation of 'Rhyfel', by Hedd Wyn -

Virtutem videant intabescantque relicta