The Residential Library

The sometimes demented, frequently irreverent, and occasionally stupid musings of Ron Hargrove

Against Empathy

By Paul Bloom   [2018]

Popular opinion suggests that empathy is a tool that can cure the world of all the hate and prejudices that are tearing it apart. In reality, empathy causes us to make irrational decisions that can hurt more people than they help.
There are 2 types of empathy:
Emotional empathy is an ability to understand and share the feelings or situation which another person is going through.
Cognitive empathy is understanding what someone else is going through, but not feeling it.

Cognitive empathy is what bullies and con artists have and use. They understand a victim’s weakness and they exploit it.

Empathy is not a good basis for making decisions. Morality, logic and spirituality can all lead to better decisions than empathy. [Editor’s note: I was not convinced that spirituality can lead to better decisions. For that matter, I don’t know about morality either. Logic is the only one that makes sense to me].
The problem with empathy is that it is selective, biased and even dangerous. People tend to be most empathetic toward their neighbors and people who are like themselves. For example, donations flooded in to Sandy Hook, but Sudanese parents who have lost children in similar circumstance get next to nothing. Researchers have found that people are more empathetic even to those who root for the same sports team.
Empathy can be dangerous:
  1. We can feel such strong empathy for a small minority that we make decisions that harm the vast majority.
  2. Empathy is usually focused on short-term results. The Make-A-Wish Foundation is terrible about this. For example, they spent $7,500 in one day to make one kid’s wish come true. The money would have been better spent on life-saving measures for other kids.
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