Objavljamo gostujoči prispevek Daana Wellinga. Študiral je politologijo na univerzi Radboud na Nizozemskem, trenutno pa dela kot vodja projekat v IDEA NL. Profesionalno se ukvarja z deliberativnim izobraževanjem, mediacijo in sodelovanjem med državami. V besedilu recenzira delo Against Empathy psihologa Paula Blooma in sklepa, da je kljub nenavadnemu naslovu vredna branja.
Empathy can mean a great many things to a great many people, and political discourse seemingly conflates empathy with “a good thing.” For Bloom, this is part of the problem with empathy, but not its main one. Referring to empathy as the reflex to “mirror” another individuals’ emotions and suffering, he highlights through a vast array of psychological studies that this reflex spotlights which concern to draw attention to based on happenstance, but does not consider whether in the grand sum of things this situation is the one that needs more moral attention than another one; and that empathy is heuristically employed by individuals, and therefore that it plays on pre-existing biases on whom is worthy of empathetic treatment. In this way it mirrors current injustices and papering over unjustifiably hidden conflicts or people in need. Finally he argues that empathy does not effectively prompt people to take correct actions to right moral wrongs.
Obviously, without empathy one could be a heartless creature, and it is here that Bloom hedges its bets. In general his book is peppered with small reservations that makes his case appear more compelling, but also much less bold than its initial hypothesis suggests. At some moments it makes Blooms’ case hard to follow. A reader picking up his book in order to receive advice on how to live a better life needs to constantly strike judgment between when to employ empathy and when not. This then, is also the strongest counter against “rational compassion” – the alternative Bloom suggests take the place of empathy in moral and political reasoning.
Rational compassion is defended on utilitarian terms. Conceptualising the moral plight of a great many situations could lead to much better moral trade-offs. It is a vivid and strong defence for deliberative rather than instinctive thinking on moral issues. It does however come with its own drawbacks that Bloom fails to completely take away. The argument he hints at but does not compellingly refute remarks on the capacity of making such utilitarian reasoning, and whether the scope of such reasoning itself is so astoundingly big that it results into inaction. Arguments that Bloom does not touch upon deal with the nature of obligations. It may be that empathy is better triggered by those who are close to us, but it is arguable that for instance one has more of an obligation to take care of an elderly or sick relative, even if their time spent could in a utilitarian sense alleviate the suffering of more starving strangers overseas.
It is then also not certain where this rational compassionate reasoning takes place, and indeed whether it is applicable in all individual decisions on moral matters. Is it truly immoral not to built a spreadsheet (or look at GiveWell’s) before donating to a charitable cause?
All in all, the book may be most useful for its detours into applied reasoning. Of note is a short essay outlining, in line with academics like Jonathan Haidt, why across the political divide empathetic positions are manifold, but rather that the spotlight for each political grouping is on different individual. Where a liberal may care about a homeless refugee, a conservative’s spotlight veers towards outrage that a native working-class citizen would need this house granted to a refugee instead. This should be required reading for myth busting amongst progressives and conservatives alike.
In sum, Bloom provides an engaging and accessible work of moral reasoning which ironically may itself have needed a more channelled spotlight but is a very useful jumping point for educators and politicians alike to clarify their moral concerns and aims.
Bloom, Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion (2016)
Kratke razprave o temeljih sociologije in povezanih disciplin.