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“Slacker sociopath” says “science of evil” empathy test flawed

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The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty

In his new book, The Science of Evil, developmental psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen thinkshe has the mysteryof evil worked out, or so Katherine Bouton explains, in “Book sees evil as zero empathy: Baron-Cohen’s study could stir controversy” (Halifax Chronicle-Herald, June 18, 2011):

“My main goal is to understand human cruelty, replacing the unscientific term ‘evil’ with the scientific term ‘empathy,’ ” he writes at the beginning of the book, which might be seen as expanding on the views on empathy expressed in his 1997 book, Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind (Bradford). Evil, he notes, has heretofore been defined in religious terms (with the concept differing in the major world religions), as a psychiatric condition (psychopathology) or, as he puts it, in “frustratingly circular” terms: “He did x because he is truly evil”).[ … ]

“What leads an individual’s Empathizing Mechanism to be set at different levels?” Baron-Cohen asks. “The most immediate answer is that it depends on the functioning of a special circuit in the brain, the empathy circuit” …

Must be somewhere near the charity neurons but far from the God circuit, right?

Baron-Cohen reckons without my friend Five Feet of Fury, who took his test and found it flawed:

My low score of 32 should be even lower, because it was hard for me to answer the questions precisely. They were written only 2/3 “right.”[ … ]

I never wanted to fit in with the boring airheads I spent my entire school, family and workplace life surrounded by. More like: how could I escape from these dingbats and live for free in an abandoned lighthouse?

[ … ]

So I’m kind of a slacker sociopath.

I don’t think Triple F is a sociopath; she’s one of a growing number of Canadians who have just about had it with the “we lie to you for your own good!” pretensions of the Nanny State. One can lump a lot of science junk in with that too. Including this “science of evil” stuff.

Evil – if that’s what we are talking about, not just some guy getting dropped on his head as a baby – is fundamentally a spiritual problem. Shakespeare got it right in Othello, in the contrast between the African-born general Othello and his nemesis lieutenant Iago. Othello does evil out of jealousy; Iago prompts him to do it because he likes evil, period. I’m not saying you can’t study that. Study it all you want. But – in the end – study as you wish, you won’t end up understanding it because evil’s nature is not such that, in such an extreme form, it lets itself be understood by anyone who is not irredeemably evil themselves.

So if you go away from attempts to explain evil completely baffled and feeling that you have just heard something that is too shallow to be a real explanation (“we found that such-and-such brain circuits were activated”), that’s good news about you.

Rising television personality? Yes, TV in Canada has just gotten more interesting. The advent of the much-opposed Sun TV swaps the talkative airheads airbrushing problems for real people with real opinions (for which they have suffered), like her.

And if you don’t like it, don’t go running to the broadcast authority. Exercise your rights as a citizen to Watch Something Else. Oh wait, Everything Else sounds boring and stupid by comparison? Toldjah! Nanny TV couldn’t make Armageddon watchable.

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