Friday, March 30, 2018

Forever, Empathy

By now you know the narrative. It infests much of the psycho profession and the therapy culture. It tells us that human beings, especially those of the male gender, suffer from abusive and psychopathic tendencies. Said humans can be cured by being put on an empathy drip. That is, by getting in touch with their feminine side.

Think of it this way. If the biggest problem the world faces today is bigotry—aside from climate change, that is— it exists is that we fail to feel the pain we are inflicting on certain groups of people. Thus, bigotry comes from not feeling the right feelings.

And empathy serves another purpose. When the psycho world ponders how people connect with other people, they conjure the notion that we connect by feeling each other’s pains… and perhaps pleasures. They do not recall that Bubba himself became famous by saying that he felt everyone’s pain… and then set about sexually assaulting women… the better to feel their pain.

One might point out our decades long promotion of empathy as the cure for all human, that is, male evils has produced an epidemic of male evils. Wouldn’t you know, failing to respect boys as boys and men as men turns them into little, or big monsters. In the absence of rules of manly behavior men fall back on the default position: they act like brutes, bullies and abusers.

Be that as it may, the psycho profession is doling out empathy like so many communion wafers. It represents the reductio ad absurdum of the obsession with feeling, from the Greek pathos. Amusingly, the term pathos presents numerous permutations, from sympathy and compassion to pitiful and pathetic.

Led by Prof. Paul Bloom, researchers at Yale University have been working to debunk these claims. As reported here and elsewhere, Bloom argued persuasively that when we see someone being beaten, our capacity for empathy makes us want to avenge the slights, on his behalf. Making a public spectacle of beating up men is not likely, it follows, to make men more docile. It is likely to make them more sadistic.

Now, another research study from Yale tells a similar tale. For those who jumped on the empathy train because they believed that psychopaths do not feel empathy, the results are bad news indeed. 

One recalls that therapists reasoned that since psychopaths did not feel empathy, then they could be cured of their abusive treatment of other people by being put on an empathy drip. In this context, psychopathy is defined as an inability to feel other people’s feelings. 

We also note that great leaders are often lacking in empathy. First, you cannot compete effectively in the arena if you share the pain you are trying to inflict on your opponent. Second, sometimes you are faced with a choice, not between good and bad, but between bad and worse. That is, you are faced with a choice, not between war and peace, but between small war and large war. It takes a certain basic insensitivity to fight a small war when you do not know what would happen if you do not.

When we watched the events unfolding on Tienanmen Square in 1989, our capacity for empathy led us to sympathize with the student demonstrators. We lacked sufficient empathy to ask ourselves what the nation's leaders were seeing. Clearly, they were not seeing Woodstock. They were seeing the Red Guards. They were under siege and we failed to empathize with their position.

Anyway, the researchers argue that psychopaths are not incapable of considering the feelings of others. They are disinclined to do so. The abstract says this:

Here, we show that psychopathic individuals have a previously unobserved cognitive deficit that might explain their pattern of destructive and antisocial behavior. We report that psychopathic individuals fail to automatically take the perspective of others, but can deliberately take the perspective of others. These findings suggest that psychopathic individuals have the ability to take the perspective of others but lack the propensity to do so.

Business Insider summarizes the study:

Psychopaths have typically been thought of as lacking in social awareness, but the results of the new study suggest they may simply not automatically empathise with those around them.

If given good enough reason, they are likely to pick up on social cues as well as anyone else.

"Psychopaths can be extremely manipulative, which requires understanding of another's thoughts," said Arielle Baskin-Sommers, a psychology professor and senior author of the study.

"But if they understand the thought of others, why do they inflict so much harm?"

Who says that they inflict so much harm? The psycho profession has decidedly negative feelings toward psychopaths, and these negative feelings, this failure to empathize, has led them to a mischaracterization.

As it happens, psychopaths can read minds. They understand what other people are thinking and feeling. If they did not they would not be able to manipulate them as effectively. And yet, why do we assume that those who manipulate other people always do it to abuse them, to take advantage of them or even to hurt them. Perhaps psychopaths manipulate people in order to get them to do something that is good for them. Or else, what happens if what is bad for one person will be good for someone else. Empathy is anything but the all-purpose panacea that its proponents make it out to be.

1 comment:

Shaun F said...

Three years ago, I was visiting the middle school I attended in the 80s, where my nephews and niece were enrolled. What teachers were doing was bringing an infant into the school and having students gather around in a circle and somehow the teacher used these circumstances to facilitate the teaching of empathy. I saw it.