All rather Adam, isn’t it?

George Monbiot on humans and the aftermath of terrorism:

This norm – cooperating with unrelated members of our own species – is, as a review article in the journal Frontiers in Psychology notes, “spectacularly unusual when compared [with] other animals.” It is a norm that is also innate. Empathy, the paper explains, appears to exist even in the earliest stages of infancy. Newborn babies become distressed by the cries of other babies. By the time they are 14 months old, children try to alleviate other people’s distress, by comforting or helping them, or by sharing possessions with them.

Unlike any other species (as far as we know), we are also able to imagine the emotional state of people we cannot talk to, or even see, and can place ourselves in their minds. This is why we enjoy novels and films: without this capacity, stories would be dead to us, as our emotions would not resonate with those of the characters.

Entirely so of course but it’s all a bit Adam Smith, isn’t it? We could get to the same point, the exact same point, by quoting a little from Theory of Moral Sentiments. And it’s one of the reasons why the market system as in Wealth of Nations works.

But the wouldn’t George be surprised to hear that Adam Smith beat him to it?

6 comments on “All rather Adam, isn’t it?

  1. Empathy exists, but it’s not usually the primary emotion.

    “Conan, what is best in life?”
    “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.”

    As a general rule, women are empathetic, men are heartless warriors. George Monbiot is a big girl’s blouse.

  2. Unlike any other species (as far as we know), we are also able to imagine the emotional state of people we cannot talk to, or even see, and can place ourselves in their minds.

    And yet someone we welcomed into our home responded by blowing himself and some harmless defenceless children into little pieces.

    George might like to think about why that is.

  3. One person in every 80 –I believe that is the announced figure–is born a conscience free psychopath. Not all are violent but almost all prey on their fellow beings without concern.

    Add into that evil doctrines–socialism + A N Other being chief amongst them–and you have a very large counterweight to empathy.

  4. “Altruism and empathy are what binds us together, and what defines us. We should let no one distract us from this central fact of our nature: neither terrorists nor those who, in response to them, demand that we slam our doors in the faces of an entire community or an entire religion.”

    We opened our doors to Libyan refugees. Look how we were repaid.

  5. Not all cultures give equal weight to empathy and those values start being ingrained in the cradle vide all those delightful Isis tots murdering the enemy.

  6. The ancient philosophers beat Adam to it too. Even a mackerel has a rudimenttary theory of mind. Where this evolves to empathy is not a precisely guarded border.

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