Empathy as a Weapon

I had forgotten all about this New Yorker article, originally brought to my attention by reading a summary by M.E. Thomas, until Christmas day.  Empathy is one of the crudest components of the neurotypical and it can easily be used against them.

On Christmas day, as I lay on the couch trying to sleep, I was subjected to a torrential downpour of television commercials.  There were the usual commercials for the latest and greatest toys and electronics, adverts for the latest albums, and a metric ton of ads for charities.

Now, I do not remember all of the agencies that were vying for money in the name of charity, but there were lots of them.  I would bet a significant sum of money that the efficiency (in terms of money collected to money dispersed) was not that great for many of them.  However,  pictures of the starving as well as images of abused animals were there in gruesome HD glory and the message was clear: donate money or there will be even more suffering – only you can help.  It was a clear, and transparent, attack on the empathy that most possess.

This fascinates me for two reasons.  First, people act irrationally when their empathy is triggered.  I doubt very few looked past the urgent “donate in the next ten minutes or another puppy will die” false dilemmas to research whether their money would be well spent supporting charity X.  This may seem foolish, but what if empathy were truly weaponized?  What if one day we reached a point where the tuning out of logic due to empathy resulted in truly dire consequences?  I could easily imagine a scenario where witch hunts were carried out in order to “save” a more savory demographic.

Second, assuming that there are actions to be had to further noble causes, why does it take a provocation of empathy in order for any action to be taken?  It seems that most people only give a care about the plight of others whenever they can “feel” the suffering at hand.  Nondescript accounts or an academic knowledge of situations seems to not be enough.  I remember a campaign, ten years ago, at the university I attended to raise money for Doctors Without Borders.  It was interesting to see how many needed to see the carnage of warfare in third-world countries via picture or account before they would loosen their pursestrings.  I required neither having intellectually realized the plight that was being addressed.  I did not need empathy to act whereas many others needed a trigger to do so.

Sociopathy, for me, is a cold state of logic and self-benefit.  The latter need not require that I never be charitable, but I will always run my consideration for donating through the former before I give one cent.  Less empathy, more thought please.

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