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Valar Qringaomis

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Paul Bloom on Empathy

Rationally Speaking | Official Podcast of New York City Skeptics - Current Episodes - RS142 - Paul Bloom on "The case against empathy"

"Empathy is a very bad moral guide. It's narrow, it's parochial, it's biased. It leads you to help the wrong people. It leads you to focus on the wrong concerns. The argument I make is that we're far better off to use a more cold-blooded cost-benefit calculation and use more distant compassion. We should care about other people, but we shouldn't put ourselves in their shoes...

It's because of empathy that societies and governments care so much more about that little girl stuck in a well than they do about the crisis of climate change. It's because of empathy that often we will enact grotesque laws or engage in unnecessary wars because we feel tremendous empathy for the suffering of some individual we care about.

It's because of empathy that the lives of one or two people often matter so much more than the lives of thousands or millions. It distorts your judgments and this leads to all sorts of mistakes...

Wonderful work done by the neuroscientist Tania Singer and the Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, which nicely pulls apart empathy and compassion. They find, for instance, that when you get people to feel empathy for other people, to put themselves in their shoes, this causes suffering on the part of the empathizer. It causes withdrawal, bad feelings, and burnout.

On the other hand, if you get people to engage in contemplative practices that involve caring about other people, so-called “loving kindness”, without absorbing their pain -- you see the person in pain, you don't feel their pain, you care for them but you don't feel their pain -- this actually leads to increased helping, increased happiness, no burnout...

Empathy is bizarrely innumerate. In that, empathy works by putting yourself in somebody's shoes. If you feel empathy for my suffering, you'll feel my suffering. We have this connection. You could do that with me. Maybe you could do that with another person at the same time, but you can't feel empathy for 10 people or a hundred people or a thousand people...

There's actually no good evidence that people with high empathy are in any sense nicer than people with low empathy. Despite everything you might hear about psychopaths and all of that... it's just not the case that being high empathy makes you more helpful. In fact, it might make you not want to engage with people who are suffering because it's too painful for you.

Nor is it the case that being low empathy makes you cold-blooded and mean. Some of the people who scored lowest on empathy are people with Asperger's syndrome or on the autistic spectrum, and they don't tend to be bad people. They often are caring people, rule-abiding people and so on. They just don't put themselves in the shoes of other people...

If you've just felt humiliated and you're explaining to somebody you care about that you felt humiliated, do you want that person to feel empathy for you in a sense that they themselves now feel humiliated?...

Most people want… what Peter Singer calls warm-glow altruism. They like the buzz...

A book by Linda Paulman. Where she once asked warlords in Africa, I forget exactly where, why they chopped off children's limbs. It was such a grotesque horrible thing to do, and like, why would they do it? The answer, and she got this answer from multiple people, was, "We do it for you. NGOs and American and European organizations don't come to our country unless we give you atrocities. The atrocities energize people"... the NGOs pay taxes to the warlords...

Empathy pushes me to care more about white people than black people, pretty people more than ugly people, Americans more than Mexicans... It cause me to value the one over the ten...

There are far more people who were enraged by the guy killing this African lion than there would have been if he killed an actual African...

One of the psychiatrists -- who was also a murderer played by the woman who played Scully in The X-Files -- turned to the main character and said very carefully, "Great acts of cruelty require an immense capacity for empathy."
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