Thursday, March 24, 2016

Is empathy an essential virtue?

I have become convinced that high empathy is a mental illness that prevents people from making rational decisions. It should be avoided in people with high-responsibility jobs.

The NY Times reports:
Is empathy an essential virtue for a presidential candidate?

The conventional wisdom is that a good candidate must be able to feel your pain. Bill Clinton was hailed by pundits as a virtuoso of empathy, ...

But there are a couple of problems with the conventional wisdom. To begin with, it’s not clear that empathy actually matters much to voters.

In the Republican primaries, Donald J. Trump, who brags that he’s so rich he feels no pain at all, has trounced Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who emphasized his family’s financial struggles, and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, known for comforting rally attendees with hugs.

Some political scientists say that empathy is not a crucial factor in presidential races, noting that personality traits don’t correlate well with the results on Election Day. A candidate often wins despite an opponent who receives higher marks in polls asking how much each “cares about the needs and problems of people like you.” ...

“If I want to do terrible things to a group, one tried-and-true way is to arouse empathy for victims of that group,” Dr. Bloom said in an interview. “Often the argument for war is rooted in empathy for victims of the enemy.”
Like altruism, empathy is fine in small doses. But there are people with pathological altruism who are making the world a worse place.

People argue, for example, that judges should have empathy so that they will side with the less powerful party in court. If that were true, then judges would always rule against landlords in eviction cases.

Maybe Rubio had financial troubles because he is financially incompetent.

It is very difficult for a non-schizophrenic to empathize with a schizophrenic, or a non-alcoholic to empathize with an alcoholic. Perhaps there is some advantage for clinical psychologists to have their own psychological disorders, so that they can better empathize with their patients. But that is unproven.

But why would you want a President or anyone else to have empathy? It is better to have someone who thinks rationally, than to have someone who is driven by involuntary emotions.

1 comment:

Matthew Cory said...

I had to correct the Wiki because people didn't understand the difference between sympathy and empathy. Paul Bloom fails to use these terms to make a distinction but he does reject empathy as a universal good. It's just spreading the misery.