Saturday, August 1, 2015
Simon Baron-Cohen, THE SCIENCE OF EVIL: ON EMPATHY AND THE ORIGINS OF CRUELTY
The author happens to be the cousin of Sasha Baron-Cohen (as in BORAT). That notwithstanding, the book presents a pretty unshrinking and unhumorous look at the lack of empathy which allows people to be able to see others as objects, to commit atrocious cruelties upon them, and to feel no remorse. He provides some historic, collective examples of genocide and systematic torture; then he switches to discussing the individual, tracing out the Psychopath, Borderline, Narcissist, and Zero-negative (less common; think Asperger's) types in terms of behavioral, environmental and genetic causes. His goal in writing the book is to suggest the need for a change in the DSM-V, to identify a new category called "Empathy Disorders." He makes a compelling case ... I for one believe we do need more discussion about empathy both in everyday life (as opposed to the shame and blame that have the potential to make us shrivel inside) and in extreme circumstances. Interestingly, though, he brings up how empathy depends upon the ability to keep our own consciousness as well as that of another (akin to two spotlights) in our mind simultaneously; but he never mentions Jessica Benjamin, the profoundly insightful psychoanalyst who wrote about this ability--what she calls "interdependence"--in her book BONDS OF LOVE, decades ago. I was surprised he didn't know it or reference it; seems a very odd oversight.