From FuturePundit: ‘Low Empathy Response Makes Others Seem Less Human?’

Full post here.

This seemed interesting, as it’s been true in my experience:

‘In order to function in a city a greater level of callousness seems necessary. Being parsimonious about your empathy makes the most sense for those who have a larger list of potential candidates for their empathy…’

Try to help everyone and you’ll get taken advantage of too, and be a sap, or a saint.  Also:

‘The difference between pity and disgust is interesting. An elderly body is the fate of everyone and so far it can not be fixed. Becoming elderly is not seen as a moral failing. But becoming a drug addict (rightly or wrongly) is widely seen as a moral failing. It makes sense that people are more disgusted by those who make wrong moral choices.’

That reminded me of this post put up previously on this site: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.

And 1st in the comments was this quotation about living in a city.  It reminded me of my own experience:

‘Having walked the beat several times a week for several years, you begin to recognize faces, and that also changes you. You realize that the problem isn’t lack of resources; the problem is that the people misuse what they have. No amount of giving will fix that, so I no longer give. It’s not cost effective, and often counterproductive.

I think you should be free to give as you see fit, and it’s good to break the ice every now and again once you’ve put on a stoic face or developed a practical hardness because of the realities around you.

I’m a little skeptical of some of the interests potentially lined up at the nexus of psychology, evolutionary psychology and neuroscience as regards political philosophy…there’s a case to be made that these fields hold an appeal to many secular moralists and social engineers…but that’s also probably my own bias.

Related On This Site:  From Bloggingheads: Tamar Szabo Gendler On Philosophy and Cognitive Science

Morality in the emotions? Jesse Prinz argues that neuroscience and the cognitive sciences should move back toward British empiricism and David Hume…yet…with a defense of multiculturalism and Nietzsche thrown in:  Another Note On Jesse Prinz’s “Constructive Sentimentalism”

How does Natural Law Philosophy deal with these problems, and those of knowledge?

At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas Hobbes

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13 thoughts on “From FuturePundit: ‘Low Empathy Response Makes Others Seem Less Human?’

  1. Emotion is best expressed in a balanced way. We should not suppress our emotions, nor allow them to rule our lives. We should live in awareness, appreciating every emotion, but controlling them in order to live our lives to their fullest capabality.

    Life is love.

    Love is balanced emotions.

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    Of course, we are often happy when our emotions are in line with our reason, and reasons, and we need to keep our passions under control. Life is good during these times.

    But it gets very interesting when you take this idea and apply it to say, how people actually behave when they get power, and responsibility, and move into the institutions or careers and incentives available to them. Or also when individuals are treated terribly by others or the group (slavery, gang life, North Korea, POW’s unjust laws etc). Evil begets evil. Or when we’re treated terribly by life itself (tragedy, natural disaster, death and disease, fate).

    Individual liberty is more highly developed in our society than in many other countries and societies.

    Do we want people in politics who see it as a (grim) duty as well as a career…an opportunity to make a name for themselves and their families?…for money and power?…for respect?…to fulfill a commitment to ideas in the arena of ideas (even if the ideas and the person change(s)? for public service?

    How long should the terms be? Don’t groups always seek to maximize advantage and attack other groups…don’t politicans always have one eye on reelection? shouldn’t they be checked given our nature? How do you maintain consent of the governed anyways?

    Sorry to get so off track. Questions abound.

  3. An interesting spin…

    I would say that the reason power leads to corruption, is because evil begets evil. But this is due to the cycle of abuse that has existed on our planet for all of written history. Due to the cycle of abuse, inequality abounds in our current system. Since most people struggle with a feeling of that they do not receive enough, once they begin to receive more they slip into greed. Greed comes from circumstance. We are greedy when we have to fight to secure access to a resource in order to survive. When we have a hard time finding a resource for most of our life and are then exposed to that resource, we almost always go overboard and hoard the particular resource.

    Power is a resource, and this is why politicians act the way they do. Because politicians are moving from a position of no power to a positon of absolute power, they almost always hoard the resource. This manifests itself as dictatorships, fixed elections, assassinations, etc.

    But the reason this happens over and over is because the system is set up in a way to promote greed. Because of the cycle of abuse, humans no longer trust each other. For this reason we have designed a system that gives huge amounts of power to very few people, in the hopes that someone out there will be wise enough to lead all the idiots out there.

    What needs to be changed is our assumption that humans are idiots. If we could break the cycle of abuse andbegin to live in generosity, we would no longer require leaders at all. We would know that our neighbour is wise and well educated, because in this system we ensure that everyone receives equal free access to all forms of education. In this system, people don’t need others to make decisions for them because they are confident and capable to make them on their own. In this system rules and laws are a minimumbecause people take responsibilty for their own actions. But when laws need to be passed they use the internet and vote on the issues as a community. IS it really that hard to organize a system of voting that does not include elected officials?

    I doubt it…

    But it requires trust. Trust in ourselves, forts, and our neighbour next.

  4. You wrote: “Due to the cycle of abuse, inequality abounds in our current system.”

    I’m inclined to say there is a cycle of abuse (where one’s will is submitted to another), but it takes the will, and free will of individuals to break it. It seems you’re applying that concept to current political system. I would disagree it fits well there.

    You also speak of inequality as the cause of abuse, and that assume you know what equality is. When have people ever been equal?

    Our public education system is a prime example of what I think happens to public goods and resources…eventually the incentives shift for many to not contribute at all (private school), but the beneficiaries (prisoners) are stuck, and the controllers of the public good are working for their own self-interest in an inefficient system (with tax payer money and politicians funding it) according to principles that no longer apply. Inertia sets in.

    The ideas that defined the public good have not sufficiently addressed how people actually behave, nor the times and needs, competition and change that very Nature herself demand of us.

    Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.

    “But the reason this happens over and over is because the system is set up in a way to promote greed.”

    Again, this implies you know of a better system, and that you’re not inherently greedy sometimes yourself (or self-interested). I know I’m no such person.

    “If we could break the cycle of abuse and begin to live in generosity, we would no longer require leaders at all.”

    This is pretty utopian, and we will always require leaders, in war, politics, business. You almost seem to be advocating a communitarian, semi-anarchic set up.

    I”m not liberal because I have no idea what equality, nor absolute equality is. I think egalitarians make impossible demands of our institutions. As an individual, I can try and treat people decently, but some people take advantage of me as a result. I”m interested, but wary, of the new and improved morality (it’s Science!).

    You’re confirming my suspicion that many people attracted to “empathy research” and neuroscience really do want to use it to arrange how everyone lives according to old, communitarian, utopian ideas. That’s a little scary to me, and a threat to personal liberty.

    ++Perhaps I’ll see you at a fort someday…defending our mutual freedoms.

  5. What a huge discussion to try to have in a comment post…

    The reason you cannot imagine equality is because it has never existed. Does that mean it is an impossibility? You say yes. I say no.

    In our current cycle of abuse the systems are very old and well established. We are born into a system of greed. This is the world we know. The cycle of abuse I refer to.

    In this world all of the politicians are already corrupt when we arrive, because they are fighting to enter a system of corruption. The only way to succeed in this political system is to be cut-throat. If not, your throat will be cut, and you will never succeed. So all politicians that are born today act this way. Not because they want to, but because they need to. This same system filters down to all of our institutions. Because they are all run in the same pyrimad fashion, where one person makes all the decisions, and delegates to underlings, who delegate to further underlings, etc. In the educational system, again, the only person who rises to the top is the one who is most cut-thoat. It is a leadership position again, and all leadership positions are similar in this cycle of abuse. They imply that before you received power you had none. So when you receive it you are greedy with it. First because it was very difficult to secure this power. Second because you know everyone else is trying to steal it from you. Third because you have been wanting it so long, once you finally get it you are less likely to want to give it up. And fourth because your predecessor abused their power when they had it, so you do not feel bad about doing the same. Be it education, health, social welfare, corporations or any institution set up with a heirarchical structure from greed, they will all act the same way. Greedily.
    You are confirming my suspicion that many people attracted to “social change” are actually only interested in having everyone else change. You say that you feel greedy sometimes and you know that I do too. Of course I do, sometimes. But when I do I calm my soul and quiet my emotions so that I can instead approach the situation with generosity. REAL change implies that YOU change. If you refuse to accept that you are capable of more, how could humanity ever reach a utopia. It never will when so called pro-changer’s refuse to change themselves.

  6. Yes, this probably too big a conversation to have here…sorry to jump down your throat a bit.

    As to personal issues (greed), I’ll do what I can.

    As to self-interest, I’ll keep pursuing it without trying to hurt others according to my moral lights. They may not be your moral lights, as human goals are many and various. Perhaps we can agree to disagree.

    As to equality, I think you’ll find that when people try and enshrine ideals that maintain equality (command economies, redistributed wealth) in the political and social sphere, such ideas come with a host of other problems and don’t necessarily result in more equality.

    I’m not advocating social change, I’m conservative in most areas (conservare, keep what’s here…and subject those who seek change to good reasons why and to debate).

    You seem to be talking about a quite personal definition of change, and I’m suggesting that perhaps in following those personal ideas into organizing principles (for society, laws, culture etc) you will run into many, many problems that others have run into before. That’s where ideas get interesting…

  7. I love a good debate…

    Since this is exactly what my website is about, maybe you should check it out and let me know what you think of my ideas. I am talking about personal change as well as community change. If the community is set up in a way that promotes education and equality and literally has no leaders from the start, it could succeed. This has never been tried. W ehave never had the technology to allow for it before.

    You say, how could there be no leaders, humans are all different and some are leaders.

    I say there can still be leaders in the community without actually having elected official leaders. Many tribal systems in the past the “leaders” would be the most respected members of society. People would go to them for advice. But if they did not want to take that advice, they were free not to. Those communitites did just fine until the white man arrived with his greed and destroyed them.

    Please, look at my site. It is very well researched and very well presented (or so I would like to think… lol)

  8. The site’s looking good, and I wish you the best, but I think the ideas you are promoting are close to anarcho-socialism, or radically communitarian and they have a long history. The only way you are likely to bring about that vision is by starting your own commune, or radically altering the economic, legal, and political and intellectual structures that have allowed you the freedoms you and me both have. It’s not for lack of trying that such ideas have failed.

    Frankly, I think you are taking the individual as a unit and placing him within a set of principles which do not reflect the range and possibility of actual human behavior, experience, nor people’s actual conflicting goals and incentives. It is a utopian fantasy. The best you could hope for is not inadvertently creating a system in which the baser passions do eventually come to power and care not for your vision of personal and emotional balance.

    I also suspect your romanticization of tribal societies is as much based on your resentiment and identification with those principles you wish all of us to follow (and is mostly part of a Western dialogue).

    You’re free to go and join a tribe if they’ll let you, and uncover its often arbitrary customs, occasional warfare, younger death, and the potential for your fate to be decided by a shaman or with an elder with an axe to grind and his own agenda…

    …and leave behind Western medicine, law, political freedoms, the triumph of the mathematical sciences, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly etc.

    Good luck, and no thanks.

  9. I can’t help but notice that you posted this reply quite quickly. I am also aware that my website contains a very large amount of information and research.

    I have noticed that people who take your viewpoint are not really interested in taking the time to read and understand my idea. They read the first paragraph or two and form their own assumptions based on their own woundedness. Then they spout random quotes of how this has failed countless times with no actual examples of when it has been tried and failed.

    Good luck to you. I am afraid you and your kin will be the death of freedom. It is nearly dead already. Because we would rather let others make decisions for us and then claim it is the “institutions” that are to blame. I am ready to man up and be the better person. I have foith others will join me, even you once you see the rest of us succeeding.

    I wish you all the best in the future!

  10. One final note…

    First of all, know I am not mad at your words. I love a good debate and would like to have this discussion more than anything.

    You refer to my website as “anarcho-socialism”.

    I am curious. Where exactly did you get this? The word is described as:

    “Libertarian socialism is a political philosophy dedicated to opposing coercive forms of authority and social hierarchy, in particular the institutions of capitalism and the state. It has gone by various names: libertarian communism, anarcho-communism, left-anarchism, and sometimes simply anarchism. Libertarian socialists believe in the abolition of privately held means of production and abolition of the state as unnecessary and harmful institutions. Libertarian socialism essentially denies the legitimacy of private property, and is thus a left-libertarian philosophy.”

    Interesting. This could at first glance look a lot like what I am talking about. But here is where I re-assert that you did not really read my website. If you had you would see there are a couple of key differences…

    First of all “Libertarian socialism is a political philosophy dedicated to opposing coercive forms of authority and social hierarchy… and abolition of the state.” I certainly talk about destroying social hierarchies. That is the crux of my arguement. I do believe that authority is uneccesary and that humans are able to make their own decisions. Laws are a double-edged sword. When you enact a law and tell everyone that they can never do a certain thing you are putting yourself in a position of authority. If your law is truely just, then people will respect you and follow your laws. But what happens when one law that is not quite so just gets introduced? All of a sudden the entire system seems unjust. Even the good laws are no longer respected, because the whole system has been comprimised. People are not stupid and they know an unfair law when they see one. Imagine when there are thousands of unfair laws and only a few legitimate ones. Now the whole system of laws becomes laughable. People no longer care about breaking the rules. It usually seem sto be in their best interest. So instead of the law stopping behaviour, it encourages it and sends it underground. And underground is where it has the greates potential to be abused. Welcome to our world of laws. It has happened in every culture in every continent on our planet. Laws create lawbreakers. Laws do not create justice or peace.

    The number one reason for this is becasue when you have a system of laws you are not only telling people what to do, you are telling them they do not need to use their own moral compass. All the rules are already there for you. No decisions to be made. When confronted with a situation, simply follow the laws and everything will turn out alright. But this implies that nobody is making any decisions for themselves anymore. This implies we are not able to make our own accessment of a situation. So we never do. We just do as we’re told. and when we don’t feel like doing as we are told, we move underground and break the law in secret. Now we feel guilty for what we have done. It doens’t really matter what it is. We are guilty for the action so much, however, we are guilty about getting caught. We don’t want anyone to know that we are evil. So we slide deeper and deeper into secrets. All because of laws. If there were no laws but simply a responsibility shared by the entire community to always act in the most moral way possible, things might just change.

    You probably scoff at this, but I say it is because we have never tried it that we will never know if it could work. The tribes were nice and all, but they do not count as an example of what I am talking about. I am not talking about trying this by candlelight. I am talking about using the most current technologies, ones that are currently top-secret and unavailable to you and me. But technologies that do exist. We use them to power stealth fighters and submarines. What if we used them to build farms, and recycling plants?

    My second issue with your label is, “Libertarian socialists believe in the abolition of privately held means of production .” This is close to what I am sayin g, but the word aboliton and anarchy itself, imply some sort of destruction. My website advocates incorparting the current system in order to take control of existing means of production. By forming a bank and pouring money into securing resources, we are abolishing the private aspect of this production. But the actual production is not abolished. It is altered perhaps, to make it more ecologically sound. It is shared freely by all within the community. But abolished is not the right word.

    And finally, “Libertarian socialism essentially denies the legitimacy of private property.” My website advocates that every person has the right to own property and deserves to be able to personally own housing that is provided to them by the state. No loans, no conditions. You reach a certain age, you receive property which is yours to do whatever you wish with it in the future. Sounds like a fantasy… of course it does. But did you read my page about the perpetual housing machine? Probably not. All I am talking about is using the best of what we have and know and throwing out the rest. It is time. We are capable technologically and consciously. We are just scared. It will be hard work and probably not much fun at first. But it is possible.

  11. Basically what I am saying is that no where in my site do the words “destroy the state” appear. I am not destroying anything. I am talking about changing the pre-existing institutions by using the current system of greed against itself.

    The funny thing about greed is that our world has a loophole. Everything is for sale. If you had enough money you coul dbuy the entire planet. That is what the Rotschild’s did in the 1700’s. They now own it. But they are mean. They are greedy. But they left a huge backdoor open in their greed. They forgot to take the pricetag off. The world is still for sale. And the banks are already set up so that they can print money out of thin air.

    My site talks about forming a bank, printing money out of thin air, completely legally, and buying back our world.

    I really don’t see that as anarchy… Change maybe…

    And I cannot find any periods in history when this has been done before…

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