Politics vs. Empathy | The Moral Sciences Club | Big Think

Our research … suggests that people may be uninfluenced by their own pain when gauging pain felt by dissimilar others. Thus, if lawmakers first test interrogation practices (as suggested by Nordgren et al., 2011), they may not project the experience onto those for whom it is designed (e.g., suspected terrorists), and this could lead to an unintended acceptance of torture. Similarly, homeless populations often struggle with poor nutrition and intemperate weather; personally feeling hungry and cold may be insufficient to sensitize people who have no long-term worries about food and shelter to the plight of this highly stigmatized out-group (Harris & Fiske, 2006). These consequences suggest a surprising limitation in people’s capacity to empathize with others with whom they disagree or differ from. Perceptions of dissimilar others are apparently uninformed by visceral feelings.

Maybe strapping men into pregnancy bellies doesn’t help?!

The limits of empathetic projection are interesting and suggestive, but I’d like to know more about the limits of out-group empathetic reception. No doubt there is work on this, and that it is even more depressing. If, say, white people were capable fully empathizing with young black men, the American gulag system could not exist. It appears to be extremely difficult to keep in our tiny tribal monkey minds, but do try: they are not really so different. Better: there is no they, only us. Why are we so prone to violence? Why do we cross borders illegally? Why do we hate us?