empathy

Sorry I haven’t been posting much lately. Scrambling to write a few short stories and finish editing a novel. Something more regular should resume soon. But in the meantime, I thought I’d direct you to particularly moving post about the intersection of a very personal loss and the more abstract knowledge of the loss several orders of magnitude larger occurring right now in Iraq. It’s a much noted facet of the human condition that while we are capable of profound empathy for those close to us and with whom we share certain in-group bonds, we are also adept at distancing and dehumanising those with whom we don’t share ties. Thus, the million-plus Iraqi deaths are disputed and trivialized and the death of the 4,000th American soldier is met with appropriate solemnity and mourning.

But before you think humans are hard-wired into this destructive combination of in-group empathy/out-group demonization, read IOZ’s post. We’re capable of overcoming the tendency with enough self-examination.

I once had an idea for a (dys/u)topian science fictional society where the Great Overlords simply enforced empathy on the population, thereby ensuring that they’d be reluctant to fight bloody, tragic, costly things like wars. A little like in Buffy, actually, when Spike’s chip zaps him every time he feels predatory. Would that be a free or fair society (terms of arguable use, but fine)? If every time you hurt somebody you felt that same hurt, would the choice to abstain be your own? But maybe I’m being too Puritan. What does Personal Responsibility matter when countless millions are dying in wars across the world, and billions are starving and suffering in the kind of extremity I can only imagine? If most humans can’t extrapolate their own pain onto others, then maybe it’s to the greater good to make them.

But then, I’ve always had this thing for benevolent tyranny.

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