Empathy. It sure is annoying at times. There’s a lot of pain and suffering out there in the world, and frankly, we just don’t have time to share in it all. We all know caring is good, but it’s just not something we can keep up all day in all situations. You may share in a coworker’s devastation when he shatters his iPhone screen but barely bat an eye when hearing news that thousands have died in a mudslide in some faraway country. Does that make you a monster?
That’s my question for today: Are we all sociopaths in our own special ways? In my novel, Superego, I explore what it’s like to have no empathy for anyone. The main character in the story, Rico, was simply born (well, made) lacking the ability to internalize morality. Tying his shoe and killing a person are both simply actions that have no moral weight for Rico. And one thing I found surprising while writing that character was that it’s not that hard to get into that mindset. And I’m a nice guy. I don’t kick puppies, even if that would be hilarious. Still, at least for the purpose of fiction, it was rather easy to turn off empathy and look at everything from a utilitarian viewpoint. And it makes me wonder how much really separates us from being psychopaths.
Of course, if you look at a lot of the internet, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch at all. Just read Twitter or the comments on news articles or YouTube videos — any place people can write anonymously — and it looks like the internet is filled with millions of sociopaths completely immune to the feelings of others.
Oh, I’m not talking about the commenters at PJ Media, of course. You guys are the salt of the earth. But other places, it’s awful.
And the thing is, these people aren’t all weirdos in real life. It’s just that so little separates us from being uncaring monsters that all many people need is the little buffer of the internet to stop seeing others as real people. I’ve never cared about the thoughts or dreams of the virtual Nazis I gun down in video games (or at least I hadn’t until now), and it’s just so easy to have that same dead attitude toward the ostensibly real people you see online through the filter of ones and zeroes.
And then there’s politics, which seems to be almost fueled by sociopathy. We frequently stop looking at people who disagree with us as fellow human beings. Look at how the Tea Party has been portrayed by many: Basically the Left took all the dark corners of their id and projected them upon their political enemies. And people on the Right sometimes talk about those they disagree with as “hippies” and talk about “punching” them, and it’s crazy. Also, just look at the quality of people we elect; it’s like our whole election system is designed to sort out the worst sociopaths in society and put them in charge.
If you think nothing of lying and manipulating people to your own ends, we can probably get a fundraiser going for you. Yes we can!
So is the solution to treasure empathy more? Absolutely not. That’s led to some of the most insufferable sociopaths of all: the “caring” sociopaths. Look at the Social Justice Warriors. They claim their actions are about empathizing with all the people society has victimized, yet all the SJWs ever seem to do is demonize people they label as “uncaring.” It’s like they’ve taken the otherization of the worst racists of the past and just reapplied it in new and inventive ways against people they love to dismissively label as sexists, racists, homophobes, or transphobes (and there are lots of good reasons to dislike Michael Bay’s Transformer movies, so I don’t get the need for the negative label).
It’s like the ability for a human to feel empathy is so limited that by focusing so much empathy on certain groups they’ve lost it for everyone else. Thus by having people focus on empathy, we simply have sociopaths wielding caring like a club.
And maybe that’s the problem: Humans are just limited in how much we can care. If we care intensely for some things, we become near-sociopaths about other things. So I’d say the antidote to being a sociopath isn’t empathy — which is arrogant in its own way by the whole presumption that you could really understand another person. Instead, we need more humility. When you’re humble, you don’t presume to know how someone else feels, but you also don’t tell them how you think they should feel.
And watch out for politicians who think they have empathy. That’s how we got trillions in entitlements we can’t afford and have them treating us like children, passing laws that tell us what size sodas we can drink. A humble politician, on the other hand, wouldn’t presume to tell us what to do, or think he could spend our money better than we can. Humble politicians would be awesome — if our election system weren’t specifically designed to prevent anyone humble from ever getting into office.
So, while you can’t feel empathy for everyone, the way to keep from being a sociopath is to be humble enough to know your limitations. So while you don’t have to always care, at least care that you don’t care.
Please join the discussion on Twitter. The essay above is the twenty-seventh in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. Want to contribute? Check out the articles below, reach out, and lets brainstorm: @DaveSwindle
- Frank J. Fleming on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Government? Why It Won’t Look Like Star Trek
- Aaron C. Smith on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Superheroes? Why They Need To Start Killing Super-Villains
- Mark Ellis on February 26, 2016: What Is the Future of Gen-X Manhood? Adam Carolla Vs Chuck Palahniuk?
- David S. Bernstein on February 26, 2015: What is the Future of Fiction? You’ll Be Shocked Who’s Fighting the New Conservative Counter-Culture
- Aaron C. Smith on March 2, 2015: The House Loses: Why Season 3 of House of Cards Utterly Disappoints
- Michael Walsh on March 2: What the Left Doesn’t Get About Robert A. Heinlein
- Frank J. Fleming on March 3: 8 Frank Rules For How Not to Tweet
- Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 4: 7 Reasons Why Backstrom Is Perfect Counter-Culture Conservative TV
- Frank J. Fleming on March 5: What Is the Future of Religion?
- Aaron C. Smith on March 5: The Future of Religion: Why Judeo-Christian Values Are More Important Than Science
- Spencer Klavan on March 5: Not Religion’s Future: ISIS and the Art of Destruction
- Chris Queen on March 7: 5 Reasons Why Big Hero 6 Belongs Among The Pantheon Of Disney Classics
- Jon Bishop on March 8: Why I Am Catholic
- Frank J. Fleming on March 11: 6 Frank Tips For Being Funny On the Internet
- Becky Graebner on March 11: 5 Things I Learned In My First 6 Months As a Small Business Owner
- Frank J. Fleming on March 12: This Is Today’s Question: What Does It Mean To Be ‘Civilized’?
- Mark Ellis on March 12: The Future of Civilized Society: One World
- Aaron C. Smith on March 12: Why Civilization Is a Gift to Bullies
- David S. Bernstein on March 12: Nihilism & Feminism for Girls: Has Judd Apatow Let Lena Dunham Self-Destruct Intentionally?
- Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 15: Why I Am Jewish
- Chris Queen on March 15: Why I Am Non-Denominational Christian
- Allston on March 16: Counter-Culture Wars, Part 1: Why the Fellow Travelers Hijacked Folk Music
- Ronald R. Cherry on March 17: How To Untangle Orwellian Doublethink: 4 Secrets To Help You Spot BS
- Dave Swindle on March 18: Do Fairy Tales & Scary Stories Hide Secrets For Defeating Evil?
- Walter Hudson on March 18: The Case Against Freedom, Part I: What Are ‘Externalities’?
- Chris Queen on March 18: Can Conservatives & Libertarians Unify? A Review of The Conservatarian Manifesto
See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:
2014 – Starting the Discussion…
- Sarah Hoyt, March 22 2014: Interview: Adam Bellow Unveils New Media Publishing Platform Liberty Island
- David S. Bernstein, June 20 2014: What Is Liberty Island?
- Adam Bellow at National Review, June 30 2014 kicking off the discussion: Let Your Right Brain Run Free
- Dave Swindle on September 7, 2014: Why Culture Warriors Should Understand the 10 Astounding Eras of Disney Animation’s Evolution
- Dave Swindle on September 9, 2014: The 50 Greatest Counter-Culture Films of All Time, Part I
- Dave Swindle on September 19, 2014: The 50 Greatest Counter-Culture Films of All Time, Part II
- David S. Bernstein on November 19, 2014: 5 Leaders of the New Conservative Counter-Culture
- Liberty Island on November 22nd, 2014: A Unique Team of 33 Creative Writers
- Dave Swindle on November 25, 2014: 7 Reasons Why Thanksgiving Will Be My Last Day on Facebook
- Kathy Shaidle on November 25, 2014: Is America Overdue for a Satanic Revival? (Part One)
- Dave Swindle on December 2, 2014: My Growing List of 65 Read-ALL-Their-Books Authors
- Kathy Shaidle on December 3, 2014: Is America Overdue for a Satanic Revival? (Part Two)
- Mark Elllis on December 9, 2014: Ozzy Osbourne and the Conservative Tent: Is He In?
- Aaron C. Smith on December 22, 2014: The Villains You Choose
January-February 2015 – Volume I
- Paula Bolyard on January 1, 2015: 7 New Year’s Resolutions for Conservatives
- Susan L.M. Goldberg on January 1, 2015: The Plan to Take Back Feminism in 2015
- Kathy Shaidle on January 4, 2015: Did the 1960s Really Happen? (Part One)
- Andrew Klavan on January 5, 2015: In 2015 The New Counter-Culture Needs to Be Offensive!
- Clay Waters on January 5, 2015: The Decline and Fall of Russell Brand
- Mark Ellis on January 5, 2015: How Conservatives Can Counter the Likable Liberal
- Audie Cockings on January 5, 2015: Entertainers Have Shorter Lifespans
- Aaron C. Smith on January 6, 2015: How Mario Cuomo Honestly Defined Zero-Sum Liberalism
- Stephen McDonald on January 10, 2015: Why the New Counter-Culture Should Make Strength Central to Its Identity
- Stephen McDonald on January 16, 2015: The Metaphorical War
- Kathy Shaidle on January 19, 2015: Did the 1960s Really Happen? (Part Two)
- Frank J. Fleming on January 20, 2015: What if Red Dawn Happened, But It Was Islamic Terrorists Instead of Communists?
- Mark Ellis on January 21, 2015: Adam Carolla: The Quintessential Counterculture Conservative?
- Aaron C. Smith on January 29, 2015: Objection! Why TV’s The Good Wife Isn’t Good Law
- David Solway on February 2, 2015: For a Song To Be Good, Must It Tell The Truth?
- Mark Ellis on February 6, 2015: President Me: Adam Carolla Vs. the Scourge of Narcissism
- David Solway on February 6, 2015: ‘Imagine’ a World Without the Brotherhood
- Kathy Shaidle on February 9, 2015: Was Rod McKuen the Secret Godfather of Punk Rock?
- Aaron C. Smith on February 10, 2015: Kick NBC While It’s Down: Use The Williams Scandal to Set the Terms of the 2016 Debates
- Spencer Klavan on February 12, 2015: How to Apologize for Your Thought Crimes
- Kathy Shaidle on February 16, 2015: David Byrne: Creepy Liberal Hypocrite
- David P. Goldman on February 18, 2015: Understanding This Bloody Truth About the Bible Will Save Your Life
- Lisa De Pasquale on February 20, 2015: Why American Sniper Is a Much Better Love Story Than Fifty Shades of Grey
- Spencer Klavan on February 24, 2015: How Bad Ideology Destroys Good TV: Why Glee Crashed and Burned
Image illustration via shutterstock / Lightspring