Ditch the empathy — it’s morally corrosive and gets in the way of reason

Scott Russell Sanders in The Washington Post:

AgainstEmpathy%20hc%20cIn the aftermath of the most virulent U.S. presidential campaign since the Civil War, readers might approach with skepticism a book titled “Against Empathy.” Isn’t our rancorous, hate-riven society suffering from a shortage rather than a surplus of empathy? Don’t we need to feel one another’s pain? On the contrary, Paul Bloom argues, “if we want to be good and caring people, if we want to make the world a better place, then we are better off without empathy.” Bloom, a neuroscientist and professor of psychology at Yale, draws on evolutionary theory and studies of the brain to make the case that empathy — “the act of feeling what you believe other people feel” — is “morally corrosive.” He notes that Amazon.com lists some 1,500 books with the word “empathy” in the title or subtitle, virtually all of which celebrate the human capacity for mirroring the feelings of others. His goal is to challenge that consensus. “On balance, empathy is a negative in human affairs,” he insists. “It’s sugary soda, tempting and delicious and bad for us.”

So why is empathy bad for us? Why is it, in Bloom’s view, “a terrible guide to moral judgment”? Because it’s biased, favoring those who are close to us, our relations and friends, and those with whom we identify by race, religion or other markers. It’s narrow, focusing our care on a single person or a few people, ignoring everyone else. It may lead parents to avoid disciplining their children for fear of making them unhappy. It may cause burnout in therapists who take on the suffering of their patients. It blinds us to empirical evidence and to future costs of present actions. His gravest charge is that “our empathy for those close to us is a powerful force for war and atrocity toward others.”

More here.