Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion - Book Report

Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion.
This book was written by Paul Bloom, a professor at Yale University. Bloom argues that we are using too much empathy, and “using our hearts more than our heads”. The definition of empathy is the ability to feel the suffering of others four ourselves, or “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes”. Bloom also states that there is something called emotional empathy, which is the tendency to mirror the feelings of another. He gives an example of if a doctor could feel your pain, they wouldn't be able to do their jobs. Another example is if you see a drowning child, are you going to mirror their behavior, or are you going to jump in and save them? He argues that “kindness motivated by empathy often has bad effects”. With this, he says that good parenting sometimes involves coping with the short term suffering of your child, for example, grounding your child for misbehaving. Bloom also argues that empathy causes us to only see the singular problem as an issue, rather than the big picture. For example, the war in Iraq was fueled using our feelings, causing us to empathize with the suffering citizens so much that we don’t think about all of the soldiers who are then going to lose their lives at war. He includes how empathy affects our moral foundation, how its used as a political tool, and also how it affects violence and cruelty. He explains that empathy is incapable of consistently delivering desirable outcomes.
This book was so interesting, and really makes you question something you normally wouldn’t. I really enjoyed his chapter on intimacy, in which he included a quote “Empathy is what makes us human; it’s what makes us both subjects and objects of moral concern. Empathy betrays us only when we take it as a moral guide.” This chapter relates to our chapter on Reproduction, in which we looked at what attracts us to a mate. Bloom included information on studies in which desirable traits were measured, and kindness was found the most in both men and women. In my own personal experience, there is nothing more unattractive than an unkind friend or potential mate. For example, once I was on a date, and my potential mate was so rude to the nice waitress that I never called him again. 
Bloom suggests that a solution to this problem of emphasized empathy is to adopt “rational compassion”. This means using our heads more than our hearts, and finding the best solution, rather than letting our feelings get in the way. We need to start better understanding others than just mirroring their behaviors. I really loved this book, and how it sparked something in me to change how much I empathize with others, and to start looking at the big picture of life.

References: Bloom, P. (2018). Against empathy: The case for rational compassion. London: Vintage.

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