Empathy and its illusions
Emotional empathy is a smokescreen
Recently over on Quora I answered a question;
I will include the text of the answer in a moment, but there is a different purpose I am writing this other than it being your average crosspost. When I put up the answer almost immediately I received a comment from the asker. The comment came far faster than the amount of time necessary to have read what I actually wrote, which tells me that he wasn’t looking for an answer, but rather a platform from which to lecture.
What transpired in the comment thread was the epitome of the inability to have personal insight, or to self reflect, so I am going to utilize it as a demonstration of something that many people miss about themselves.
You see, people tend to believe that because they have emotional empathy, that they are covered in terms of being a good individual. This is a lie that people like to tell themselves, or simply believe without breaking it down and examining it. Emotional empathy is fine, so long as it isn’t the entire story. When everything is left in its hands, a lot of basic decency is left at the door.
I wrote the post recently speaking about an “us vs them” mentality, and how dangerous it is, and how easy it is to convince yourself that you are in the right, but when you step back you might realize that what you are advocating for is something that will end in horror. This is an example of that thinking. First, the answer itself;
Should those who are incapable of empathy be prohibited from controlling hierarchies?
I assume that you are volunteering to never hold power then? I mean, if you can’t see that your question epitomizes lack of empathy, I really don’t know what to say about that other than, do better.
Emotional empathy as a gatekeeper to anything is a joke.
Neurotypicals. Hear me loudly. You are not as empathetic as you believe yourselves to be, it is just a story you tell yourself.
In reality your emotional empathy is limited, it is rudimentary, it is often defective, and it only applies to people who are like you.
Would you like proof? Try a small sampling of the questions I have curated in the answer to this question;
Given that they wouldn't suffer emotionally, would it be ethical/beneficial (hypothetically assuming near perfect rates of diagnosis) for children age 10 to be screened for psychopathy and publicly labelled before they learn how to hide their nature?
Since exterminating psychopaths is a blessing. Why don't we have the right to hunt and kill them? Let the blood flow from their body and wring it until there is no blood inside and pour it in a jar with their name on it to remember it
Why don't we just change the law to jail psychopaths for the good of society? They are parasites and can be infallibly detected with brain scans. Let them suffer from their own philosophy. Their pain is not society’s problem.
Should psychiatrists and other mental health workers be required to report psychopaths to the proper authorities so they can remove the psychopaths from society? Such as a prison or an island in the middle of an ocean.
Play a game with me, will you? Find some immutable characteristic about you, your sex, your race, your neurotype, hair color, whatever you would like, and apply it in place of psychopath in all those questions.
Starts to read a bit like you would expect something out of the Third Reich’s handbook, doesn’t it? If you said these things about any other type of people, it would be considered to be despicable (or it used to be anyway, more on that in a bit), but psychopaths? They’re evil, lock them up, execute them, remove them from the gene pool, destroy them by any means necessary… for being born. Or, as this question states, make them live as a subclass of humans. Strip their rights, and don’t allow them to function. Again… for being born.
So very empathetic.
How about we look at a snippet of the comments that “empaths” send to me on a regular basis. Forgive the spelling errors, but I don’t change quotations.
“Cause you lack of remorse and lack of empathy so you never gonna be a normal decent human”
“I think that you'r genes must be removed from the human genepool… and that you are a freak of nature, a mistake… the only reason you see yourself as an evolution is because of you'r misplaced narcissistic mindset… its a fucking joke, a dellusion made up in your own twisted mind, you think you are better?… . No you are a subhuman… a real sad case…. There will come a time when the world around you wil tear your mask from your real insecure face!… and you will die alone in a massive depression… . And you know what i mean, dont you….? You will and must pay for all of your pain inflicted upon others… thats the natural path and evolution of a PSYCHOPATH!.”
“As an empath who has learnt the hard way from lizards like yourself, you will never have access to real power the way I do…yes, the power of love given to me by my higher power, and the real courage that comes from that. I do have a handy skill though…I can switch my empathy off completely when I have to deal with people like you…and feel nothing. Yes, for you guys, nothing at all.
Your skillset is so limited. You should be ashamed of your bravado. But you cannot see that of course now can you? tut tut…so limited, sigh…poor you lol
Your so called power is totally dependent on others. Without other people to leech off, you are nothing, and you and I both know that. Mine comes from my higher power and lives inside me. Something you will never experience. I’ve just never bothered to play your childish cruel games, because they’re so pathetic. so childish, and ultimately infinitely inferior to the lives that real people aspire to live.
Way above your paygrade I’m afraid.
"…I have very painfully learnt to feel nothing for lizards in human bodies, why should one feel anything for a lizard after all?”
“Actually, psychopaths make the lives of everyone around them as absolutely miserable. They need to invent new laws to allow bosses to fire psychopathic employees on the spot without further justification. Much like the schizophrenic who screams, picks his sores until they bleed, and wipes his ass on the carpet, psychopaths have a knack for driving people to the point of insanity with their constant lies, manipulation, etc. Anyone who tolerates such antisocial behavior is insane themselves. The majority need constant surveillance, if not outright institutionalization from birth till death to ensure that the lives of those around them are not completely ruined. You could solve the majority of humanities problems by putting these freaks in their place.”
“9mm round to the head… with clean clean wiped cartridges…. bet the psychopath snake will squirm a little until death… tricks”
“Well, this answer of yours is very cocky for someone that isn't a complete human being. Don’t brag yourself for not feeling that and don’t wanting it, you are a genetic failure of the nature, remember that next time you talk about us like we are “whiny” or inferior.
I know very well how do you think because I had a long relationship with a psychopath and spent years studying about it. I even can guess I understand how you think better than yourselves, because I have all feelings to analyze and understand the difference and their extensions.”
“Excuse me for being rude, but it’s difficult for me to see someone as human when they’re lacking basic empathy. If you can’t feel guilt for doing something wrong, then what stops you from becoming a monster?”
No no, tell me all about your amazing emotional empathy, I’m all ears. Or how about why your neurotype should be the ones who hold power, what exactly makes you so superior. You have my curiosity.
If you cannot read the sarcasm in that sentence, please get your sarcasm meter recalibrated. Explain to me why emotional empathy is so valuable again? Is it because it makes certain that you treat all human beings as humans, and it safeguards against evil? Hm… that seems to be a load of crap.
Neurotypicals believe themselves to not only be emotionally empathetic, but that their emotional empathy somehow elevates them above other humans, and if you don’t have it, you are no longer in the “human” category. Do you seriously not hear the lack of empathy in that way of thinking? Seriously? I have a hard time believing that anyone is that thick.
If your emotional empathy has the amazing properties that I hear about so often, then you would be far better in accepting and being kind to those you don’t understand, don’t agree with, or those that are different from you. And before I hear an outpouring of how loving and accepting you are, this includes people from political factions that you don’t agree with, on both sides of the aisle, because lately I hear a lot of very similar things as those directed at psychopath in the questions above, but now directed at people because you don’t like how they think.
It seems to me that “empathy” is this buzzword that people think is somehow magic. By claiming to have it, it gives you an excuse to basically be a sh*tty human being. You feel empathy for X group, and because you believe that Y group isn’t nice enough to X group, Y group is now the enemy.
That is not empathy. That is authoritarian nonsense. If you actually had empathy, you would try see and understand both sides of an argument and would be able to articulate your response to it in a reasonable well thought out manner, because you would be able to see that it is not an “us vs them” situation, but rather, two groups of equally valuable human beings that have a disagreement. You would also be able to know that any emotional response you have to a position of group of people is probably not a rational way of addressing other humans.
I don’t care how you feel about what you think someone else believes, or what you have been told they believe, or how they feel, or how they experience the world, or how they regard people, or how you assume that they act. That is not empathy, that is tribalism, and tribalism is what is making the world nuts right now. The so-called “empathy” that people have been making such a big deal about is worthless.
You have not cognitively sat down and looked at the world, you are allowing your feelings to dictate it, and that’s fine if that’s what you want to do in your own personal life. I find it to be very narrow minded, but I don’t have to live with you, so I don’t care. You do you.
However, once that nonsense starts making policy, you suddenly think that your way of seeing the world is the right way because of how you feel about it. That is a crap reason, and if you don’t know that, you should. Your feelings, your empathy should not be dictating other people’s lives, that is not how you create a world that actually understands and meets the needs of the individuals within it. It is how you create a so-called “Utopia” which in reality will always be an authoritarian dystopia because humans will always disagree with one another, and the only way to silence dissent is to remove the people that have dissenting opinions or beliefs.
Just because you think your heart is in the right place means nothing. Your heart has no business deciding how the rest of the world conducts itself or creating the construct we rely on as society.
Let me be clear with you. If you are of the mindset that this question suggests, this answer is specifically addressed at you. Your “empathy” is garbage if you haven’t bothered doing the work of understanding the world around you without your emotional screening. Emotions don’t change reality, and you feeling good is not my concern. I don’t care if your have fee fees about something, you don’t dictate other people’s lives based on those fee fees. I don’t care if it is empathy, fear, or hatred. None of them have a role to play in determining people’s right to living.
The way you see the world is how you see it. It’s very easy to trick yourself into believing that the rest of the world functions internally just like you, but they don’t. There are many ways to see the world, and you folding into your emotions for clarity is going to convince you further that you are right, and everyone that disagrees with you is wrong. The moment you think that your emotions should be creating the world, what happens when someone who feels the literal opposite from you gets power? Now you’re in the crosshairs, and your argument is going to be what? That’s not fair?
It wasn’t fair when you did it either. Unless you want that to be your future, it’s time to come back to a logical way of weighing the world, and leave your emotions at the door.
It is that way of thinking that ushers in the worst of times. It is extremely easy to convince people to do dastardly things in the name of emotions. You can be convinced of viewing people as inhuman through your emotional pathways, and in fact it is one of the only ways that happens. If you seek to control another human being because of some immutable characteristic, that is not empathy, that is fear and hatred.
Hatred is a powerful tool, and you can be made to hate someone that you lack understanding of very easily. You can also be convinced that hatred is justified because you are safeguarding some other group of people or ideology. Again, that isn’t reasonable, it isn’t empathetic, it is tribalistic, and tribalism is not something to embrace. It doesn’t turn out well.
This is the comment thread that came after;
Athena - how does preventing a minority that has a condition that makes it easy for them to hurt others in the majority from having what is often arbitrary power over them evince a lack of empathy? They’re simply not qualified to act fairly in all instances and should be expected to not do so when they feel like it. I never graduated medical school - would the professional authorities preventing me from performing surgery lack empathy? I don’t think so and I don’t believe you do either.
That is the thinking that comes from precisely the type of person that should never hold power. You are applying gross stereotypes to people that you don’t understand, and are trying to strip their rights as human beings because of an immutable characteristic. If you believe that is what empathy is, that is something that should concern you. If it doesn’t, that is very telling.
I don’t want, nor would I ever take that type of power - the reason is no one has the right to have that type of power - no matter how you were born. But, I don’t expect someone who lacks empathy to ever be able to figure that one out.
And yet, you want exactly that sort of power to decide my rights as an individual. Sounds exactly consistent for the type of person I described in my answer.
In the absence of having the rights of all respected - which would obviate the need for hierarchies and make the question moot - yes, I believe those with empathy are more qualified to be in a leadership position because they are less likely to act arbitrarily at the helm due to their care for others, just as I’m sure you would want to have surgery performed by someone who actually has the qualifications to do it, should you ever need it. I just don’t believe one who has no empathy can be as fair in a leadership position as someone who has empathy. Without fairness, there’s tyranny. That’s not good for my fellow men, women or any other gender - all of whom I care about. But, I don’t expect someone who lacks empathy to understand that.
That is a ridiculous false equivalence and a very poor argument. Your beliefs are exactly, again, why you, or anyone that holds ideas like yours, should never have any power. It is exactly what brings about persecution of others under the guise of “empathy”.
You stand with this notion of empathy, believing yourself to be superior, while demonstrating exactly what you claim is “unfair” in your own thinking and rationality. Obviously there is no insight on your part, so I am ending this conversation. Hopefully you come to see the flaws in your thinking at some point. However, I am not interested in engaging with arguments that are fundamentally flawed at their base.
I ended up having to block the user because he was unwilling to disengage, going so far as to ask the question;
This is an unfortunate, but very telling exchange. It is an excellent example of how people trick themselves into believing that they are kind and good hearted, but in reality are quite tribalistic, and their way of thinking is dangerous.