Monday, April 11, 2011

The Root of All Evil

The UK's Independent explores why the lack of empathy is the root of all evil:

Human cruelty has fascinated and puzzled Baron-Cohen since childhood. When he was seven years old, his father told him the Nazis had turned Jews into lampshades and soap. He also recounted the story of a woman he met who had her hands severed by Nazi doctors and sewn on opposite arms so the thumbs faced outwards. These images stuck in Simon's mind. He couldn't understand how one human could treat another with such cruelty. The explanation that the Nazis were simply evil didn't satisfy him. For Baron-Cohen, science provides a more satisfactory explanation for evil and that explanation is empathy – or rather, lack of empathy.

"Empathy is our ability to identify what someone else is thinking or feeling, and to respond to their thoughts and feelings with an appropriate emotion," writes Baron-Cohen. People who lack empathy see others as mere objects.

Empathy, like height, is a continuous variable, but for convenience, Baron-Cohen splits the continuum into six degrees – seven if you count zero empathy. Answering the empathy quotient (EQ) questionnaire, developed by Baron-Cohen and colleagues, will put you somewhere on the empathy bell curve. People with zero degrees of empathy will be at one end of the bell curve and those with six degrees of empathy at the other end.
Read the whole thing. I'd add though that this is probably one of the things that makes markets ingenious in co-opting the reward systems of "evil" for the benefits of society.

While malice, fraud, and other crimes exist, creating wealth legally within the system is far easier and more sustainable than the alternative. It's possible to profit if your motive is solely greed, but rewards are often greater when you aspire (or at least convincingly say you do) to more.

No comments: