Empathic civilization RSAnimate

In some of these gamergate discussions, one of the tangentical topics that keep emerging is the issue of empathy. I thought I’d post this to foster some discussion about empathy and the role it does, could, or should have in human civilization:

I think that empathy is certainly helpful.

But that formal reasoning is still drastically undervalued in solving social problems. There is a tendency for people to sloppily combine the worst parts - the unthinking immediacy of emotion, with the rambling rationalizations of reason. As demonstrated for the reactive and reductive nature of much so-called social activity. There tends to be a lot of negativity and lack of individuation. So abuse of empathy also results in mob mentality, confronting people with emotions instead of clear opinions or workable strategies.

For empathy to be actually practical for an individual and the group, I think people need to have some capacity for introspection. And also be willing to model the thought processes of other people - to rationally consider their possible motivations and goals. Any understanding is an improvement, but it might be short-sighted to give emotional understanding primacy with solving social problems which are often not fundamentally emotional in nature.

Surely you mean to ‘ramblingly rationalise’ their ‘unthinking emotive intuitions’ and ‘immediately’ forgotten goals.
Methinks these problems arise from the cultural milieu in spite of the kind of thoroughly considered opinion you call for. Perhaps even fuelled by it.

Like, Logical Positivism and say, Mormonism, have their upsides and are peaceful, helpful philosophies but they are ultimately founded on wrong assumptions. And, yes, I do believe there is a ‘right’ way for human activity to arise from any cultural milieu, however emotionally or intellectually bankrupt it may be but that way lies monsters.

I will agree that introspection is a fundamental quality to be amplified; but without the generative influence of something boundary dissolving like the psychedelic experience, the introspection tends to confirmation bias and the kind of issues you describe.

I think you’re conflating empathy with emotion… not the same things.

Or, you know, WITH that generative influence, the same thing can also happen.

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…but perhaps not ‘tend’ to that conclusion.
My favourite example of ‘not tending’ is David Lynch’s support of the corrupt and manipulative sect of Transcendental Meditation (®), which may very well have a core teaching which enables a practitioners pursuit of altered states but which nevertheless cloaks itself in the garb of lies and manipulation.

So yes. ‘With’ also but perhaps not tending.


I can’t speak for him; but his description sounds like a description of a very particular flavor of pseudo-empathy (mixed in with a more general point about the fact that sometimes the solution to the problem is to get a technocrat who knows something about the problem in to tell you how to fix it).

In order to engage in ‘empathy’ there has to be some commingling of personal experience of an affect state and recognition of someone else’s experience of that affect state. However, (I don’t know whether because of intensity of their own emotion, or impaired theory of mind, or imperfect perception of affect cues, or some combination), I have observed some people to ‘empathize’ by projecting their own affect state onto others nearby and then ‘sharing’ the resulting illusory commonality.

At best, this is fairly harmless, if annoying. In…less optimal… cases it can go downhill quickly. Nobody takes attempts at correction as personally, as hard, or a viciously, as someone who thinks of themselves as being empathetic and devoted to the welfare of others; but who is being told that their efforts are unhelpful or even harmful because they aren’t actually empathizing. It combines all the goodwill of an altruist with all the aggression of a narcissist whose self image has been poked. Nasty business.

Obviously you can’t always avoid making decisions based on badly incomplete information about ‘what they would want’ (everything from mundane holiday gift-shopping to making medical decisions for your dementia-afflicted grandparent), and you just have to muddle through as best you can; but if you would treat empathy as a good, it pays to actually do it properly, and not everyone who tries, does.

It’s actually rather fascinating to observe, though I wish I were able to spend less time doing so…

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