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Is empathy outdated?
#1

Is empathy outdated?
It's very easy to see why empathy got here.  Small groups of people invested in each other make for a happier more productive community.  But what was the world like when that trait evolved?  In the very recent history thanks to the internet, we went from knowing a few people, to being connected to nearly 8 billion.  On top of a bunch of different animal species. 

A dog gets kicked in Madagascar, some lady in Los Angeles hears about it and feels sad.  To me, it seems like it's become impractical.  People have their happiness tied to the well-being of everyone they hear about.  It is easy to understand why everyone is depressed and sad and angry.  Particularly with the way it has been weaponized by the people who control the information distribution.  

I don't have a point.  Was just thinking about how highly regarded empathy is as a trait, when in practice, it seems like we're tying ourselves together so when one of us drowns we all drown.  Which again, might be fine if we were 6 people, but with 7.5 billion, dogs, cats, whales, chickens, polar bears, rhinos, etc.. there's no chance of anyone not drowning.  And maybe it makes the world a little better place to have us all be sad, but if we're all just going to be sad forever regardless of how good the place is, then that doesn't seem like a good tradeoff.
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#2

Is empathy outdated?
A person who is devoid of all empathy is called a psychopath.

If the world loses empathy, I don't want to be alive.
[Image: dobie.png]Science is the process we've designed to be responsible for generating our best guess as to what the fuck is going on. Girly Man
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#3

Is empathy outdated?
(01-08-2019, 08:24 PM)Dom Wrote: A person who is devoid of all empathy is called a psychopath.

If the world loses empathy, I don't want to be alive.

A person who is devoid of empathy is a sociopath, if I recall correctly. A psychopath is someone who has break from reality.
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#4

Is empathy outdated?
(01-08-2019, 08:24 PM)Dom Wrote: A person who is devoid of all empathy is called a psychopath.

If the world loses empathy, I don't want to be alive.

If you were designing empathy from scratch for the modern world though, would you keep it how it is now?  Everyone at a kids birthday party in Peru is murdered by a local gang. 

Ideally, I think, you just would never hear about it.  I think that's how it was when empathy developed.  Ignorance is bliss and whatnot.  But now that we do hear about it, you will feel deep sadness to no end.  It's just you feeling sad.  A bad result that has no upside in that scenario.  That seems like an unintended consequence, right?  That's what I'm getting at with it being outdated.  It was evolved for a very different social structure.
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#5

Is empathy outdated?
(01-08-2019, 08:33 PM)Yonadav Wrote:
(01-08-2019, 08:24 PM)Dom Wrote: A person who is devoid of all empathy is called a psychopath.

If the world loses empathy, I don't want to be alive.

A person who is devoid of empathy is a sociopath, if I recall correctly. A psychopath is someone who has break from reality.

Quote:Psychopathy and sociopathy are anti-social personality disorders. While both these disorders are the result of an interaction between genetic predispositions and environmental factors, psychopathy is used when the underlying cause leans towards the hereditary.

http://www.diffen.com/difference/Psychop..._Sociopath
[Image: dobie.png]Science is the process we've designed to be responsible for generating our best guess as to what the fuck is going on. Girly Man
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#6

Is empathy outdated?
(01-08-2019, 08:21 PM)jerryg Wrote: It's very easy to see why empathy got here.  Small groups of people invested in each other make for a happier more productive community.  But what was the world like when that trait evolved?  In the very recent history thanks to the internet, we went from knowing a few people, to being connected to nearly 8 billion.  On top of a bunch of different animal species. 

A dog gets kicked in Madagascar, some lady in Los Angeles hears about it and feels sad.  To me, it seems like it's become impractical.  People have their happiness tied to the well-being of everyone they hear about.  It is easy to understand why everyone is depressed and sad and angry.  Particularly with the way it has been weaponized by the people who control the information distribution.  

I don't have a point.  Was just thinking about how highly regarded empathy is as a trait, when in practice, it seems like we're tying ourselves together so when one of us drowns we all drown.  Which again, might be fine if we were 6 people, but with 7.5 billion, dogs, cats, whales, chickens, polar bears, rhinos, etc.. there's no chance of anyone not drowning.  And maybe it makes the world a little better place to have us all be sad, but if we're all just going to be sad forever regardless of how good the place is, then that doesn't seem like a good tradeoff.

We have plenty of cognitive biases that intervene with our empathy. Most of us can shut down our empathy in accordance with our worldview one way or another. So an empathy overload isn't too likely for most people. Arguably, those who refuse to watch the news because of negativity, and always think happy thoughts, and only do happy things, and avoid anything that will make them feel unhappy are training themselves to lack empathy.
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#7

Is empathy outdated?
(01-08-2019, 08:36 PM)jerryg Wrote:
(01-08-2019, 08:24 PM)Dom Wrote: A person who is devoid of all empathy is called a psychopath.

If the world loses empathy, I don't want to be alive.

If you were designing empathy from scratch for the modern world though, would you keep it how it is now?  Everyone at a kids birthday party in Peru is murdered by a local gang. 

Ideally, I think, you just would never hear about it.  I think that's how it was when empathy developed.  Ignorance is bliss and whatnot.  But now that we do hear about it, you will feel deep sadness to no end.  It's just you feeling sad.  A bad result that has no upside in that scenario.  That seems like an unintended consequence, right?  That's what I'm getting at with it being outdated.  It was evolved for a very different social structure.


Without empathy there is nothing at all to stop cruelty. There is no reason for any social programs or the like. Everyone just does whatever they can get away with, without regard to who is hurt.
[Image: dobie.png]Science is the process we've designed to be responsible for generating our best guess as to what the fuck is going on. Girly Man
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#8

Is empathy outdated?
Empathy, like morality, exists on a sliding scale and is dependent on set and setting. 

Now excuse me while I go and hose down the strange kid on my lawn.
Being told you're delusional does not necessarily mean you're mental. 
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#9

Is empathy outdated?
JerryG, I assume you're WallyM? Lol, happy to see you here.
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#10

Is empathy outdated?
(01-08-2019, 08:36 PM)jerryg Wrote:
(01-08-2019, 08:24 PM)Dom Wrote: A person who is devoid of all empathy is called a psychopath.

If the world loses empathy, I don't want to be alive.

If you were designing empathy from scratch for the modern world though, would you keep it how it is now?  Everyone at a kids birthday party in Peru is murdered by a local gang. 

Ideally, I think, you just would never hear about it.  I think that's how it was when empathy developed.  Ignorance is bliss and whatnot.  But now that we do hear about it, you will feel deep sadness to no end.  It's just you feeling sad.  A bad result that has no upside in that scenario.  That seems like an unintended consequence, right?  That's what I'm getting at with it being outdated.  It was evolved for a very different social structure.

I think I sort of understand what you're saying.

Along similar lines, I say this: The atheist argument tends to be that morality is based on empathy which came about as a result of evolution, correct? We need to feel sorry for each other so that we can help each other and grow as a society. It's a survival mechanism. My comment back to that is, what happens then when we get the point in this world where we are so overpopulated that our individual "survival" depends on the exact opposite? And we start to evolve to need to look out for ourselves only in order to survive? Will it be considered moral then to see a person dying on the side of the road and not help them? 

I know this isn't exactly the point you're making, but I think it goes along the same lines, sort of. The question of empathy and whether it really is the "end all be all", and if it has a particular beneficial function, what becomes of it when it is no longer necessary or beneficial?  

This is why I believe a creator- a "moral law giver", if you will, exists. Killing an innocent person is objectively bad, regardless of whether or not anyone feels sorry for that person. And we have an innate, and universal understanding of that.
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#11

Is empathy outdated?
(01-08-2019, 08:21 PM)jerryg Wrote: It's very easy to see why empathy got here.  Small groups of people invested in each other make for a happier more productive community.  But what was the world like when that trait evolved?  In the very recent history thanks to the internet, we went from knowing a few people, to being connected to nearly 8 billion.  On top of a bunch of different animal species. 

A dog gets kicked in Madagascar, some lady in Los Angeles hears about it and feels sad.  To me, it seems like it's become impractical.  People have their happiness tied to the well-being of everyone they hear about.  It is easy to understand why everyone is depressed and sad and angry.  Particularly with the way it has been weaponized by the people who control the information distribution.  

I don't have a point.  Was just thinking about how highly regarded empathy is as a trait, when in practice, it seems like we're tying ourselves together so when one of us drowns we all drown.  Which again, might be fine if we were 6 people, but with 7.5 billion, dogs, cats, whales, chickens, polar bears, rhinos, etc.. there's no chance of anyone not drowning.  And maybe it makes the world a little better place to have us all be sad, but if we're all just going to be sad forever regardless of how good the place is, then that doesn't seem like a good tradeoff.

Well, I can feel empathy for a stranger, even enough to pull over and help them fix their car, or donate to a charity because of an ad, and at the same time not die when my help isn't enough. I think there's a middle ground here, where we can feel empathy and act upon it, but still not get wound up inside it so much that we ourselves face an existential crisis when our help isn't enough. This strikes me as a bit of false dichotomy, realistically.

For me, it's about understanding the limits of my control. If I can help fix a situation, I'l try to do so, but I'm not going to tie my own self-worth to a successful outcome when I know that there are factors beyond my control. I'll help where I can, and not beat myself up when my help isn't enough.
"What senses do we lack that we cannot see or hear another world all around us?" -- Frank Herbert
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#12

Is empathy outdated?
(01-08-2019, 08:38 PM)Yonadav Wrote: We have plenty of cognitive biases that intervene with our empathy. Most of us can shut down our empathy in accordance with our worldview one way or another. So an empathy overload isn't too likely for most people. Arguably, those who refuse to watch the news because of negativity, and always think happy thoughts, and only do happy things, and avoid anything that will make them feel unhappy are training themselves to lack empathy.

Agreed.  But that's sort of my point.  We have to correct empathy on a regular basis because of how flawed it is when applied to this vast of a network.
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#13

Is empathy outdated?
(01-08-2019, 10:21 PM)Catholic_Lady Wrote: I know this isn't exactly the point you're making, but I think it goes along the same lines, sort of. The question of empathy and whether it really is the "end all be all", and if it has a particular beneficial function, what becomes of it when it is no longer necessary or beneficial?  

This is why I believe a creator- a "moral law giver", if you will, exists. Killing an innocent person is objectively bad, regardless of whether or not anyone feels sorry for that person. And we have an innate, and universal understanding of that.

You're arguing from effect to cause. That innocent person is no less dead simply because you believe in your god; your belief doesn't change a single thing except your own behavior. Objective reasons for not killing innocents are easily reasoned or found.

Empathy isn't a result of rational calculation of results, it is a wellspring inside a person. Some folk have it, some folk have to learn it, and some folk never learn it. I'd be willing to bet that there is a correspondence in those three groupings between how they came to empathy (or didn't), and where they are in life, because assholes make enemies.
"What senses do we lack that we cannot see or hear another world all around us?" -- Frank Herbert
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#14

Is empathy outdated?
(01-08-2019, 10:22 PM)Thumpalumpacus Wrote: Well, I can feel empathy for a stranger, even enough to pull over and help them fix their car, or donate to a charity because of an ad, and at the same time not die when my help isn't enough. I think there's a middle ground here, where we can feel empathy and act upon it, but still not get wound up inside it so much that we ourselves face an existential crisis when our help isn't enough. This strikes me as a bit of false dichotomy, realistically.

For me, it's about understanding the limits of my control. If I can help fix a situation, I'l try to do so, but I'm not going to tie my own self-worth to a successful outcome when I know that there are factors beyond my control. I'll help where I can, and not beat myself up when my help isn't enough.

Agreed to the first half.  But I'm not talking about self-worth or obligation.  I'm just talking about the emotional response to others suffering, when we live in a time where technology has made other people's suffering a constant in our lives.
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#15

Is empathy outdated?
(01-08-2019, 10:21 PM)Catholic_Lady Wrote: I think I sort of understand what you're saying.

Along similar lines, I say this: The atheist argument tends to be that morality is based on empathy which came about as a result of evolution, correct? We need to feel sorry for each other so that we can help each other and grow as a society. It's a survival mechanism. My comment back to that is, what happens then when we get the point in this world where we are so overpopulated that our individual "survival" depends on the exact opposite? And we start to evolve to need to look out for ourselves only in order to survive? Will it be considered moral then to see a person dying on the side of the road and not help them? 

I know this isn't exactly the point you're making, but I think it goes along the same lines, sort of. The question of empathy and whether it really is the "end all be all", and if it has a particular beneficial function, what becomes of it when it is no longer necessary or beneficial?  

This is why I believe a creator- a "moral law giver", if you will, exists. Killing an innocent person is objectively bad, regardless of whether or not anyone feels sorry for that person. And we have an innate, and universal understanding of that.

I think one of the problems with empathy now, is that it gets first billing for a lot of people.  We're sitting at our computer in a home drinking some coffee eating some peanuts reading about dead kids in Syria, and the only thing we have to worry about are the dead kids in Syria.  That might be another aspect empathy wasn't designed for.  The notion that we'd exist in a time when many people don't have any risk to their survival.  As you say, when things get grim, I think our empathy circle will close in.  If I were fighting for my life on a daily basis, that would override my worries about distant suffering.  And if I'm protecting my own, then I'm not losing sleep over protecting others.  So, I think the survival depending on the exact opposite, is actually what it was to begin with.  Survival was about your tribe protecting themselves.  If you need to kill off some other tribe to survive, that's what you do.  Which again goes to my point that I think it had some unfortunate unintended consequences.
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#16

Is empathy outdated?
(01-08-2019, 10:49 PM)jerryg Wrote:
(01-08-2019, 10:21 PM)Catholic_Lady Wrote: I think I sort of understand what you're saying.

Along similar lines, I say this: The atheist argument tends to be that morality is based on empathy which came about as a result of evolution, correct? We need to feel sorry for each other so that we can help each other and grow as a society. It's a survival mechanism. My comment back to that is, what happens then when we get the point in this world where we are so overpopulated that our individual "survival" depends on the exact opposite? And we start to evolve to need to look out for ourselves only in order to survive? Will it be considered moral then to see a person dying on the side of the road and not help them? 

I know this isn't exactly the point you're making, but I think it goes along the same lines, sort of. The question of empathy and whether it really is the "end all be all", and if it has a particular beneficial function, what becomes of it when it is no longer necessary or beneficial?  

This is why I believe a creator- a "moral law giver", if you will, exists. Killing an innocent person is objectively bad, regardless of whether or not anyone feels sorry for that person. And we have an innate, and universal understanding of that.

I think one of the problems with empathy now, is that it gets first billing for a lot of people.  We're sitting at our computer in a home drinking some coffee eating some peanuts reading about dead kids in Syria, and the only thing we have to worry about are the dead kids in Syria.  That might be another aspect empathy wasn't designed for.  The notion that we'd exist in a time when many people don't have any risk to their survival.  As you say, when things get grim, I think our empathy circle will close in.  If I were fighting for my life on a daily basis, that would override my worries about distant suffering.  And if I'm protecting my own, then I'm not losing sleep over protecting others.  So, I think the survival depending on the exact opposite, is actually what it was to begin with.  Survival was about your tribe protecting themselves.  If you need to kill off some other tribe to survive, that's what you do.  Which again goes to my point that I think it had some unfortunate unintended consequences.

You forget that we all have different amounts of empathy, and are calloused in different ways also.

I happen to be cursed with too much empathy, that extends to everything alive. If it suffers, I suffer. I hate it. And it is not under my control. If I just turn my head and look away, it haunts me in my dreams.

It is very unpractical and doesn't even match my thinking on various topics. Empathy is innate, and if it doesn't get squished when you are very young, it has whatever permanent level evolution handed you.

Yes, I would fight for my life and kill if I had to. (Well, not so much now that I am old, but when younger). That's the instinct of survival overriding empathy. The instinct for survival overrides all other attributes you have.
[Image: dobie.png]Science is the process we've designed to be responsible for generating our best guess as to what the fuck is going on. Girly Man
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#17

Is empathy outdated?
(01-08-2019, 10:49 PM)jerryg Wrote:
(01-08-2019, 10:21 PM)Catholic_Lady Wrote: I think I sort of understand what you're saying.

Along similar lines, I say this: The atheist argument tends to be that morality is based on empathy which came about as a result of evolution, correct? We need to feel sorry for each other so that we can help each other and grow as a society. It's a survival mechanism. My comment back to that is, what happens then when we get the point in this world where we are so overpopulated that our individual "survival" depends on the exact opposite? And we start to evolve to need to look out for ourselves only in order to survive? Will it be considered moral then to see a person dying on the side of the road and not help them? 

I know this isn't exactly the point you're making, but I think it goes along the same lines, sort of. The question of empathy and whether it really is the "end all be all", and if it has a particular beneficial function, what becomes of it when it is no longer necessary or beneficial?  

This is why I believe a creator- a "moral law giver", if you will, exists. Killing an innocent person is objectively bad, regardless of whether or not anyone feels sorry for that person. And we have an innate, and universal understanding of that.

I think one of the problems with empathy now, is that it gets first billing for a lot of people.  We're sitting at our computer in a home drinking some coffee eating some peanuts reading about dead kids in Syria, and the only thing we have to worry about are the dead kids in Syria.  That might be another aspect empathy wasn't designed for.  The notion that we'd exist in a time when many people don't have any risk to their survival.  As you say, when things get grim, I think our empathy circle will close in.  If I were fighting for my life on a daily basis, that would override my worries about distant suffering.  And if I'm protecting my own, then I'm not losing sleep over protecting others.  So, I think the survival depending on the exact opposite, is actually what it was to begin with.  Survival was about your tribe protecting themselves.  If you need to kill off some other tribe to survive, that's what you do.  Which again goes to my point that I think it had some unfortunate unintended consequences.

That's why I think empathy is based on an innate understanding that life is sacred, rather than simply being based off of evolutionary survival mechanisms. It never was and probably never will be part of our survival to care about a random person on the other side of the globe. And yet, we still do.
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#18

Is empathy outdated?
(01-08-2019, 10:32 PM)jerryg Wrote:
(01-08-2019, 08:38 PM)Yonadav Wrote: We have plenty of cognitive biases that intervene with our empathy. Most of us can shut down our empathy in accordance with our worldview one way or another. So an empathy overload isn't too likely for most people. Arguably, those who refuse to watch the news because of negativity, and always think happy thoughts, and only do happy things, and avoid anything that will make them feel unhappy are training themselves to lack empathy.

Agreed.  But that's sort of my point.  We have to correct empathy on a regular basis because of how flawed it is when applied to this vast of a network.

Is it flawed when applied to this vast network? I don't think that it is. The cognitive biases that prevent empathy overload seem to be working a little too well, in my opinion. The echo chamber is a good example. It prevents us from empathizing with anyone whose worldview is other than our own.
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#19

Is empathy outdated?
(01-08-2019, 08:21 PM)jerryg Wrote: In the very recent history thanks to the internet, we went from knowing a few people, to being connected to nearly 8 billion.  On top of a bunch of different animal species.

I don't see this as a problem.  Since we are not experiencing such things directly but only through media accounts, we can moderate our responses.  Second, such accounts are positive in that they help break down the barriers of race, nationality, religion, sex, and even species to whatever extent, so that we become more well-rounded in how we perceive others, even if we are not on-the-spot and so can't do much to help.  (Of course, some people will experience even less empathy from such exposure, but I assume they are a minority.) 

In other words, we can learn to be more empathetic in principle even if we are still just as limited in how we can respond.
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#20

Is empathy outdated?
(01-08-2019, 10:59 PM)Dom Wrote: I happen to be cursed with too much empathy, that extends to everything alive. If it suffers, I suffer. I hate it. And it is not under my control. If I just turn my head and look away, it haunts me in my dreams.

Ugh, solidarity. 

For example, over a year ago a friend of mine, upon hearing I had cats, casually proceeded to tell me his family used to have a pet cat when he was a kid. I made the mistake of asking if they still owned the cat. He proceeded to tell me that once he moved out of the house to go to college, his mom decided she did not wanna take care of the cat anymore and dropped it off at a shelter. It got so depressed it stopped grooming itself and stopped eating. Two weeks later it was euthanized.

I'm not joking when I say I literally cried on my drive home. To this day, that story (and many others about animals and people) still haunts me. When I lay in bed to fall asleep I have to have something on - like a podcast or a TV show I can fall asleep to. Otherwise I'll start thinking of all the horrible things that happen to people/animals and it really affects me.

Anyway, sorry for the tangent. Just wanna say I relate to this so much.
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#21

Is empathy outdated?
(01-08-2019, 11:21 PM)Catholic_Lady Wrote:
(01-08-2019, 10:59 PM)Dom Wrote: I happen to be cursed with too much empathy, that extends to everything alive. If it suffers, I suffer. I hate it. And it is not under my control. If I just turn my head and look away, it haunts me in my dreams.

Ugh, solidarity. 

For example, over a year ago a friend of mine, upon hearing I had cats, casually proceeded to tell me his family used to have a pet cat when he was a kid. I made the mistake of asking if they still owned the cat. He proceeded to tell me that once he moved out of the house to go to college, his mom decided she did not wanna take care of the cat anymore and dropped it off at a shelter. It got so depressed it stopped grooming itself and stopped eating. Two weeks later it was euthanized.

I'm not joking when I say I literally cried on my drive home. To this day, that story (and many others about animals and people) still haunts me. When I lay in bed to fall asleep I have to have something on - like a podcast or a TV show I can fall asleep to. Otherwise I'll start thinking of all the horrible things that happen to people/animals and it really affects me.

Anyway, sorry for the tangent. Just wanna say I relate to this so much.

Thanks for the image!  Sadcryface 

I cringe when you step on a spider.
[Image: dobie.png]Science is the process we've designed to be responsible for generating our best guess as to what the fuck is going on. Girly Man
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#22

Is empathy outdated?
(01-08-2019, 08:21 PM)jerryg Wrote: To me, it seems like it's become impractical.  

It's not "impractical". Trust me. 
Come on down to one of the places we feed the homeless/indigent every day. 
(I'm only there a day a week, and take my little brother, .. who has more friends there than I ever will). 
You'll find empathy is very practical.
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#23

Is empathy outdated?
(01-08-2019, 11:24 PM)Dom Wrote:
(01-08-2019, 11:21 PM)Catholic_Lady Wrote:
(01-08-2019, 10:59 PM)Dom Wrote: I happen to be cursed with too much empathy, that extends to everything alive. If it suffers, I suffer. I hate it. And it is not under my control. If I just turn my head and look away, it haunts me in my dreams.

Ugh, solidarity. 

For example, over a year ago a friend of mine, upon hearing I had cats, casually proceeded to tell me his family used to have a pet cat when he was a kid. I made the mistake of asking if they still owned the cat. He proceeded to tell me that once he moved out of the house to go to college, his mom decided she did not wanna take care of the cat anymore and dropped it off at a shelter. It got so depressed it stopped grooming itself and stopped eating. Two weeks later it was euthanized.

I'm not joking when I say I literally cried on my drive home. To this day, that story (and many others about animals and people) still haunts me. When I lay in bed to fall asleep I have to have something on - like a podcast or a TV show I can fall asleep to. Otherwise I'll start thinking of all the horrible things that happen to people/animals and it really affects me.

Anyway, sorry for the tangent. Just wanna say I relate to this so much.



Thanks for the image!  Sadcryface 

I cringe when you step on a spider.


Have you never gardened where snails are active year around.  To be a gardener is to play God.  I am personally responsible for so much mollusk death.  They're not entirely extinct in my garden but lets just say I've done some major culling of that herd.
"Talk nonsense, but talk your own nonsense, and I'll kiss you for it. To go wrong in one's own way is better than to go right in someone else's. 
F. D.
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#24

Is empathy outdated?
(01-08-2019, 10:21 PM)Catholic_Lady Wrote:
(01-08-2019, 08:36 PM)jerryg Wrote:
(01-08-2019, 08:24 PM)Dom Wrote: A person who is devoid of all empathy is called a psychopath.

If the world loses empathy, I don't want to be alive.

If you were designing empathy from scratch for the modern world though, would you keep it how it is now?  Everyone at a kids birthday party in Peru is murdered by a local gang. 

Ideally, I think, you just would never hear about it.  I think that's how it was when empathy developed.  Ignorance is bliss and whatnot.  But now that we do hear about it, you will feel deep sadness to no end.  It's just you feeling sad.  A bad result that has no upside in that scenario.  That seems like an unintended consequence, right?  That's what I'm getting at with it being outdated.  It was evolved for a very different social structure.

This is why I believe a creator- a "moral law giver", if you will, exists. Killing an innocent person is objectively bad, regardless of whether or not anyone feels sorry for that person. And we have an innate, and universal understanding of that.

But people have killed and continue to kill "innocent" people.  In the last big genocide in Rwanda, regular people butchered neighbors, colleagues, spouses, parents, friends etc.  Churches proved to be deadliest places to hide with the priests turning over the victims to be killed in one convenient location. The killers were regular folks, not trained killers or even criminal types.  And majority of the Rwandan society considered it good work.  Did they just happen to miss the memo from the "moral law giver"?
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#25

Is empathy outdated?
It's certainly likely that our empathy evolved because it serves a useful function in a social species. Exactly how that works itself out I don't know. I have in the past suggested that morals and morality evolve to benefit the specific species, and that the function they serve is proscribed by how it affects the species. So human morals are evolved to benefit human survival. I've been asked where that leaves things like animal rights, where the welfare of animals is concerned even against human interests, such as profit. My response has always been that we cannot discriminately apply empathy, so in order to have empathy for humans, we must also accept that we are going to have empathy for animals. Our mechanism of empathy does not reliably discriminate between empathy responses provoked by animals and that provoked by humans, so in order to preserve empathy for humans, we're forced to accept an overspill into empathy for animals. The two are linked, and so you cannot reduce one without reducing the other. Since reducing empathy for humans is undesirable, sacrificing empathy for animals is an unavailable path.

The question that I've considered is, once we gain enough insight into human biology and brains in order to re-engineer the human species, and specifically to set the level of empathy or sensitivity, how would you determine what the appropriate amount or sensitivity of empathy should be? People who have high levels of empathy will feel that empathy levels should be set high because lower levels of empathy will result in them not functioning as well in society, and a mismatch between their morals and those of the greater, less empathetic society. Whereas lower empathy people would want to have the level set near their level, so that they could continue to benefit from a lack of concern over things such as cruelty in animal farming practices, or whatever practice would be hindered by people with greater sensitivities obstructing their interests, such as animal exploitation, hurting their profits, and just generally passing laws and norms that they see as unnecessary. It would seem that in such a situation, if psychopathy were inherited, then psychopaths would have an interest in empathy levels being set according to their needs and empathy levels. So it seems that there is no way to reason to what an appropriate amount of empathy should be as what is considered appropriate is based on one's level of empathy.

The way out of this conundrum, at least at first glance, appears to be to understand the role that empathy plays in promoting our survival as a species, keeping in mind its effect upon other species as well. The difficulty is that there is the unwritten assumption that whatever trait or sensitivity we evolved to have is the appropriate level for our species to have. This seems to depend upon the assumption that our survival in our environment was facilitated by those specific sensitivities, and that if other sensitivities were more optimal, we would have evolved those sensitivities. Unfortunately there are a couple of problems. First, evolution doesn't guarantee an optimal solution, so our evolved level of empathy may not be optimal for our species survival. The second problem is that evolution doesn't seek solutions, but rather benefits from accident. Therefore there is going to be a lag between changes in the environment and our developing adaptations to that environment, if at all. A species that evolved to survive in small groups has very different needs from those of a pan-global species of 8 billion people. Evolution may or may not catch up, but it's unlikely to have done so in the short time that it has been exposed to this environment.
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