March 27, 2016

"Does Empathy Make Us Immoral?"

A question asked by Paul Bloom, a Yale psychology professor, quoted by John Tierney in a column titled "Empathy May Be Overrated in an Election, and in a Leader."

According to Bloom, "empathy is biased and parochial":
It favors vulnerable children and animals, and discriminates against unattractive people. You’re more likely to sympathize with someone in your social group rather than an outsider, especially one who looks different...

[E]mpathy can be manipulated to inspire aggression.... “If I want to do terrible things to a group, one tried-and-true way is to arouse empathy for victims of that group,” Dr. Bloom said in an interview. “Often the argument for war is rooted in empathy for victims of the enemy.... Sob stories are not a good way to make public policy... The best leaders have a certain enlightened aloofness. They recognize the suffering of victims of terrorists, but they also recognize that going to war will create future victims. They make policy by taking into account numbers and cost-benefit analyses. They use rational means to achieve good ends.”

47 comments:

rehajm said...

Yah, I've voted for the rational good policy candidate before.

Mostly It hasn't gone well. Someday before it's too late we'll get one of those who does empathy, too, though it may be too late.

ddh said...

"Empathy May Be Overrated . . . in a Leader."

It's another consequence of our beisbol-addled president, who shows little empathy for the victims of dictatorship or terrorism. Similarly, we get to read articles explaining how our country is ungovernable.

khesanh0802 said...

"They recognize the suffering of victims of terrorists, but they also recognize that going to war will create future victims." They also weigh the probability of further victims of terrorism against the actions of war. The author's bias is obvious when he ignores the other side of the equation.

It is this analysis of risk by Donald Trump that is finally getting some attention. There is always risk in the business world. Those who protect themselves, or their organizations, best against risk while still undertaking major projects are the most successful over the long run. Trump has protected himself and his assets very well while continuing to undertake risky projects. It illustrates that he is not the fool many would like to portray him to be.

Butch Too Cool Vargas said...

A few years ago a commenter here mentioned that empathy was only weakly correlated with moral action -- that some research had suggested as such. If that commenter happens to read this and wasn't talking out of his/ her/ xer ass, I'd be very interested in reading that research. Haven't turned it up on my own.

People I work with won't shut up about empathy; it's become a thoughtless watchword and such a conversation ender that I'm pretty sure the claims made for it have to be largely bullshit.

cubanbob said...

They make policy by taking into account numbers and cost-benefit analyses. They use rational means to achieve good ends.”

In other words rationalization under the guise of being rational.

Bob Ellison said...

I don't want to live on this planet anymore.

Fen said...

Things become immoral (sinful) when they are taken out of their proper context. As Empathy has in the last decade. Its become the easy way out of sticky dilemas - we "stand" by Paris and Belgium instead of addressing the cause of those terrorist attacks. We don't want to offend Islam, much less attack it, so we offer our "thoughts and prayers" to the latest round of victims and go back to watching Kardashians, smug in the feeling that we have "done something" about it.

Its really all just Virtue Signalling now - Empathy in service to Narcissism.

rhhardin said...

Empathy as self-entertainment makes you immoral. Say what the news is geared to.

Terry said...

Imagine the horrible place the world would become if psychologists defined what is and what is not moral behavior.

rcocean said...

What a load of BS. Everything can be manipulated. For example, people's empathy for for the poor and persecuted, can be manipulated into favoring illegal immigrants and the foreign over your fellow countrymen.

Empathy can be manipulated to serve the power elite and the desire for cheap labor.

Oso Negro said...

It isn't empathy or even charity that is a problem. It is state-mandated charity that is a problem.

Big Mike said...

Well I suppose that it's a good thing that empathy is a bad thing, because empathy is one quality that Barack Obama conspicuously lacks.

OTOH, after about 50 years, once the "golly gee whiz, we elected a black president" glitter wears off, we'll see him as a very poor president. Maybe just above Buchanan, who still has to be regarded as the worst president ever.

traditionalguy said...

Empathy feels the pain of others. As comforting as that sounds, it also distracts one from making good decisions. Political Correctness is mandatory empathy for every faked victim feeling. It screws up any possibility of real life with another.

You do not want a surgeon to have empathy for the body he operates on. That is GP's attitude and screws up good surgeons who must be tacticians.

Joe said...

Headline news: People can be manipulated!

No shit, Sherlock.

Empathy may be overrated, but a lack of empathy is what sociopaths are made of.

A big problem with Dr. Bloom's statements, assuming his quotes are somewhat accurate, is that he's redefined morality using a series of strawman arguments. Thus, me caring more about my children or neighbors than "thousands of war refugees" becomes immoral. I can't do shit about thousands of war refugees, not least of which is that what caused the war is entirely beyond my control, but can can help my children and neighbors.

Even suggesting that we should care more about the abstract than the concrete is an affliction of far too many liberals and taken to its logical conclusion is repellent.

I'll close with the simple observation that Dr. Bloom's quoted arguments are eerily similar to those of sociopaths.

Robert Cook said...

"I don't want to live on this planet anymore."

Be sure to cut length-wise, not across! (Howzat for empathy?)

Saint Croix said...

We always mock the empathetic Supreme Court Justices. Like "Justice tempered with Murphy." Or when Blackmun became such a blubbery mess. "Poor Joshua!" After Roe, and the pushback from Roe, his judicial opinions became more and more emotional. "I will not tinker with the machinery of death."

On the other hand, when I read Stenberg v. Carhart, I wonder if Breyer, or whatever clerk wrote that opinion, might be a bit on the sociopathic side. Sociopaths are often highly successful, maybe because they are always thinking and never let emotions get in the way. The downside, of course, is that you might write a sentence like this:

D&X can reduce the incidence of a free-floating fetal head that can be difficult to grasp and remove.

It makes me imagine a doctor trying to grasp a baby's head with forceps. And the baby keeps ducking like Muhammad Ali. He is floating in his womb water. And the doctor keeps trying to grab that damn head, so he can yank it off. And it's a slippery, bloody mess. And here is Breyer, trying to put this Jack the Ripper scene from the middle ages into the United States Constitution. I think that goes in the 14th Amendment, don't you?

See, I got no damn empathy, that's my problem. I probably hurt Breyer's feelings. He's crying to himself. "I'm not a sociopath! How he can say that?" He's blubbering in his beer. "Those pro-lifers are so mean!"

Saint Croix said...

When I was young, I used to mock the pro-life movement, because their name is so emotionally manipulative. I felt superior to those angry and crying pro-lifers. I would say, "I'm pro-death!" because I favored abortion rights and the death penalty. And it was a joke, right? Because nobody is pro-death. But the thing about all these damn pro-lifers, with their anger and their crying and their emotional manipulation, is that there is a logical argument at the heart of what they are saying. Are we killing babies? What are we doing? It's a challenge, an intellectual challenge.

I remember when I first read Roe v. Wade. I was hoping that the opinion would stomp all these damn pro-lifers into the ground. I wanted the opinion to be right! And I came to this sentence. "We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins." Oops. So much for my hopes that the pro-life movement would be crushed by the perfect logic of Harry Blackmun. The idea that you need not resolve the infanticide question? Did not work for me at all.

I could see deciding it and being wrong and people getting mad. But to have the attitude that it's irrelevant? In criminal law we talk about depraved heart murder. You don't have the intent to kill anybody. You just don't give a shit if you do.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

Empathy is fine enough, but it is so selectively applies these days.

How much empathy does the Social Justice Brigade feel for small town bakers and pizza parlor owners who want to ply their trade while still holding religious beliefs?

How about male college students whose lives are destroyed by kangaroo courts?

Or Nicholas and Erika Christakis?

Lem said...

So, showing a seemingly stranded bear on a floating block of ice out at sea is immoral?

I always knew Al Gore was a monster.

Lem said...

You’re more likely to sympathize with someone in your social group rather than an outsider, especially one who looks different...

I read most of the money George Clooney makes off his Nespresso commercials, he spends on a satellite that surveils over the border of North and South Sudan to keep an eye on criminal and dictator Omar al-Bashir to track his vicious army in an attempt to warn civilians before attacks occur.

There is always someone sticking out, who doesn't fit the mold ;)

Lem said...

Sob stories are not a good way to make public policy... The best leaders have a certain enlightened aloofness.

I suppose you can always bring in a Ricky Gervais to do an ISIS briefing... or you can just skip them altogether and wait to hear about genocide on the news 'like everybody else'.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Empathy is required to know yourself and win the war.

Sun Tzu talked about this.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Is empathy the same as purposely and using a script appearing empathetic to potential voters in order to manipulate their vote?

What if, amongst the differences between empathy and a successful faking of it, wealthy donors see a more slippery wolf in pinstripes and are turned off, hence costing the opportunity of their influences?

Better questions than these or in the article are Why empathy for the purps and not the victims?

Why no empathy for using dollars and effort looking into empathy research rather than helping someone now, today, instantly, with delay a frightening dead-end of a concept. War refugees for example.

Laslo Spatula said...

Does Empathy make us Immoral?

Look at our current Pope.

Yeah, I am going there.

Empathy without Judgment.

Pronunciations without Perception.

Compassion has been replaced by Virtue Signaling.

This World needs a healthy Dose of 'Fuck You'.


I am Laslo.

Eric Landgraf said...

ACTUALLY THE CBA IS A LOT LESS THan THE PR FLACKS REPRESENT. The WH staff and the Pentagon can and do cook the numbers and spin the pitch to generate the outcome that they have desired all along. Rumsfeld and Cheney were and are Masters at this art. As is the neocon mafia at the Weekly Standard. Both parties do it and they do it every day.


I am afraid that both parties and all factions care more about their personal jihads then they do about pursuing truth, justice and the American way. I am being accurate and truthful because I lived it.

Qwinn said...

How much empathy do leftists have for the 50 million dead of malaria that they caused by getting DDT banned just before the disease had been almost completely wiped out?

It's a bigger body count than Hitler or Stalin, but as far as I can tell their empathy for all those Black Lives is zero, and they never Mattered to the left for a second.

Richard Dolan said...

Empathy is a fine quality. It's just not the only one. People lacking it are best avoided.

Jupiter said...

"A liberal is a man too broad-minded to take his own side in a quarrel".

Humperdink said...

"Empathy without Judgement" leads to foolishness.

We see it in our church, when people visit and ask for funds. Typically they ask for money for their water or electric bill. We ask for the bill and will pay it directly if they appear credible. It a lot of instances, the utility bill does not surface.

Henry said...

Sympathy is underrated.

Terry said...

The article was actually interesting, until they started talking about what 'research' told psychologists and social scientists about empathy. Most such research is not science. It is the equivalent of asking a group of undergrads what their opinion is on a topic, and then pretending that opinion reveals some deep, eternal truth about humanity. Sometimes it is literally asking a group of undergrads what their opinion is on a topic, and then pretending that opinion reveals some deep, eternal truth about humanity.
Uh, no. I'll pass.
Anyhow, empathy seems to be a trait we appreciate more in others than in ourselves. We want others to feel our pain, we don't want to feel the pain of others. Or their happiness, either, since it is not our own. In the worst case it could be that we want others to feel what we think they should feel. That seems a bit Rawlsian -- we should feel for the poor starving child in a poor country because it could have been us (which is a metaphysical argument, no matter what Rawls has said).

JamesB.BKK said...

@Fen: At this point, one should not blame Islam for the results in Paris, Brussels, Cologne, Stockholm, Malmo, etc. It is what it is and does what it does, as once was well-understood by those inside and outside of it. At this point, one must blame the deluded (or aggressively anti-the-people-already-there) politicians, and therefore those that did and continue to cast votes for them.

Terry said...

I want people to be more empathetic because it is good for me, got it? For me!
I also want people to be less selfish, because it is my best interests.

David said...

Next from Prof. Bloom: "Does empathy make you indecisive?"

If you think like Bloom, yes it does.

n.n said...

Principles before empathy.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Everything I thought I might want to have said to help others appreciate and therefore start gratitude and following that time spent the start running through the Great Road Of Liberty's Earthwise Nirvana an atheistnTolkein did wa way way better in an effort to continue Our enlightenment.

This fact is not to be expected anymore yet not to be seen as some sort of hateful-spawn type steroid.

Guildofcannonballs said...

I have to add typos so people, my salvation, don't feel offended but, as they would to/by/for a clown, merely laugh and then latter contemplate why.

Maybe.

Still.

Guildofcannonballs said...

I just told Barnett, after Dean, or whatever it is when you name your beloved dog Barnett after the man from soxblog.com and occasional host of Salem Hugh Hewitt and Company, NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH MAFIA UNDER PENALTY I DECREE.

Guildofcannonballs said...

https://archive.org/details/los2002-08-10.flac16

Authority is not given you to deny the return of the King, steward.

No caps today given, sorry.

Rhythm and Balls said...

Empathy is immoral for conservatives because they have faulty wiring in their brains that makes them want to empathize with the powerful and corrupt while they abuse the weak and powerless.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Without Steyn I give more credence to my being a continuation of all these evils, hence my labeling him a hero.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Scalia would have, and did, say empathy makes us immortal, if we choose to be, truly be, knowing Christianity.

Guildofcannonballs said...

To empathize with Christ is to become immortal.

Guildofcannonballs said...

That is better than I will ever write.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Wish I woulda started over,
Thanked Him for getting older,
Not made promises unsober.

Dusty pictures on the wall,
Frameless mmories all,
Surely soon some will fall,
And no more standing tall.

Wish I woulda started ove,
Thanked Him for getting older,
Not made promises unsober.

Dusty pictures on the wall, frameless memories all, surely soon some will fall, and no more standing tall.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Bow, get gas.

Some folks thought I blew right passed.

Faded fast, ran out of gas

Yet here I come in back of that ass.

No questions I tell no lies,

Realize Kid Rock is on the rise,

Like a skyscraper, I'm back like smack

And so are the vapors.

And the capers, so I'ma rhyme right,

Jump straight up up into the limelight

In the back of my brain where the pain was,

Now I got more soul than a train does.

Midwestern funking, cars bumping with the amps in the trunking,

You can't fight this feel this beat,

YOU KNOW MY NAME IS ROCK.

YOU KNOW MY NAME IS ROCK.

YOU KNOW MY NAME IS ROCK.

YOU KNOW MY NAME IS ROCK.

K

I

D

is the name.

jr565 said...

"Empathy can be manipulated to inspire aggression.... “If I want to do terrible things to a group, one tried-and-true way is to arouse empathy for victims of that group,” Dr. Bloom said in an interview. “Often the argument for war is rooted in empathy for victims of the enemy.... Sob stories are not a good way to make public policY"

that's basically describing feminism and any left wing socio political argument. Society is victimizing a group. And the people responsible are white cis males who have privilege. And make no mistake, the left is at war with society. It works pretty well to galvanize the students. And their focus on why me must accept things like gender as a social construct as a fact is that we must have empathy for the victimized other.