The End of Empathy

Matt Haughey brought this NPR show episode to my attention and I’m so glad he did:

It starts with an interesting premise: a new producer, Lina Misitzis, is given the task of cutting a raw interview into a small story as a test, but the hosts are shocked at the difference in tone of her work when compared to their own version of the story they produced concurrently.

Much credit to the host, Hanna Rosin, for having the humility and courage to consider the possibility that maybe her existing team got their version of the story wrong, and allowing for the question of whether or not Misitzis’ story got closer to the truth.

From there, they play NPR’s full story about a sympathetic interview with a former “incel” and the moment he realized he could change. It’s a classic redemption story, much like the ones I’ve heard about ex-Klan members and those that left cults or restrictive churches before on NPR.

I can’t recommend this episode highly enough because it cuts to the very core of what’s happening online, and in the world, today:

I agree with Matt Haughey, if this was an NPR “interview” then Lisa Misitzis knocked it out of the goddamn park. Getting an entire NPR show to question its own premise? That’s some seriously next level shit. :exploding_head: I sure as hell hope she gets hired; she more than earned it.

Please listen to it. Even hate-listen to it, if you need to, if you’ve been frustrated with NPR in the past – because the piece is critical of itself in all the right ways, driven by a young outsider questioning the values of the older generation that were placed in front of her.

I have many thoughts about this episode, primary among them is that it’s crazy the lengths to which shows like this will go to “re-cut” the story, leaving massive important pieces on the cutting room floor, to make it both more a dramatic story and give it a satisfying redemptive arc that ties things up with a :ribbon:


What if there was no redemption?

What if other humans don’t deserve empathy?

These are hard questions, and honestly I’m a little unsure where it all goes. Do people really want to hear depressing stories about “this guy who is so toxic that he’s beyond redemption, and by the way there are lots of other people out there like this too… have a nice day!” Because that’s way dark. Like Blood Meridian dark. You don’t really … come back … from that?

But there’s no denying that the NPR piece intentionally avoided telling the complete story, in service of a supposedly “higher” goal that… maybe we don’t fully believe in any more, today?

I have many many feels and thoughts about this, but I’ll leave it there for now. Give the show a listen. It cuts deep, and there are no easy answers to the questions it raises.


Well, empathy and socio/psychopathy are yin yang; sin and cos waves. The psychos destroy everything to the shattered point when the population is dysfunctional, and then need the empaths to help.

But we can’t be passive about this.

The best empaths tell the socio/psychos right up front that they (the s/p’s) need them, and how they need them.

Kind of a devil’s bargain, but narcissistic sociopaths? One born every minute.

That’s our Atlassian burden.

If you’re more into text, there’s a transcript here


For me one of the most preconception-challenging parts of reading that transcript was learning how Alix Spiegel spells her name.


Matt had a followup tweet that was also interesting:

Putting your stories through a grinder and making “uplifting” sausage out of them isn’t exactly what we dream of when listening to NPR, is it? But that seems to be the process, if we’re being honest…

I also think the “Millenials versus Older People” narrative was a little forced. It is technically true that millenials value empathy less:

but, and this is absolutely critical and not covered at all in the NPR story, the dynamics of human interaction in the smartphone age are radically different. The average person can now – if they want to – interact with hundreds, thousands of people a day without difficulty. That was impossible even in 2003.

Human interactions don’t scale, and although empathy certainly has value, we are not wells of infinite empathy. I think younger people understand this failure-to-scale dynamic better than older people because they grew up with a smartphone glued to their hand.

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Any narrative that one cut showed empathy while the other didn’t is complete bs.

The first cut shows zero empathy for the involved women. It’s the colder one, overall.

Calling this “The End of Empathy” makes it clear that the main producers still don’t grasp what happened, and where they were failing the humans in the story.


In the transcript, in the credits for that story, Hanna Rosin says:

By the way, Lina Misitzis, she’s working at This American Life now.

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The big debate on Twitter was whether or not this dude actually changed.

My position is that

  • he explicitly quit the incel forums because he realized that place was toxic (and as a parent, let me tell you, there is no truer statement than “you become the people you hang out with”)

  • he stated that he wants “to make his life not horrible”, to wit

    PETERSON: But I think the actual story is the change that happened for me this year was not just that - oh, I was a sexist, toxic asshole, and now I’ve seen the error of my ways. I mean, that is kind of a scam. It’s not really true. The actual truth is this - is that it’s not really a redemption story for me. I mean, it’s more - all I’m thinking about - what can I do to make my life not horrible?

Both of which, on their surface, are indeed selfish. But what else can you really do other than try to fix yourself, first?

Because I ab-so-fucking-lutely guarantee you that if this guy was still hanging out on the incel forums each day, every day? It’s only a matter of time before he’s causing future pain for himself and other women, without question.

Subtract that… and at least there’s some hope.

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So by hanging out on BoingBoing, we make ourselves better people and generally improve the state of the world? I like it!!

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Well, if you switched from something like :face_vomiting: 8chan to here, then yeah!


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