These are fascinating times. Competing, and equally extreme, groups are vying for our heartstrings and lives are literally on the line in their self-inflicted wars. I propose that such animosity and blind hatred is born from a surplus of affective empathy and a dearth of cognitive empathy. As a empathetically blind observer, I have no dog in the fight between the extremists on the left and those on the right, except inasmuch it may ultimately affect me if either side should prevail. However, let’s explore in particular the atrophy of (cognitive) empathy that is fostering this current environment of dehumanization and violence.
I rarely have any actual investment in the topics I discuss. Good things happen to bad people at times, and at other times bad things happen to good people. If I’m not the person being affected, or those in my life are not being affected, then I simply cannot care. What ultimately interests me are those processes under which the majorities of the world operate. These can be political majorities, socioeconomic majorities, or even majorities with respect to mental illness. I want to know how they function and what makes them tick. Often these groups can only remain cohesive through an act of mass dissonance. That is, the individual succumbs to the majority by separating their emotional states from their intellectual states. Further, the emotional state is given more credit than the intellectual state to alleviate the existential crisis that would arise from a state free of dissonance. Humanity needs to be less afraid of dissonance and must own it in order to make educated and reasoned choices to the problems man is confronted with. Embrace your pain.