0277 - Empathy vs love - 2023.01.23

Comic!

Comment:

A lot of people - particularly those who lean left, politically - equate "empathy" with morality.

After all, isn't the Golden Rule "treat others as you would be treated"? Don't you need to feel what they feel, to smile when they smile, to wince when they get hit, isn't that an essential element of being a decent human being?

But, of course, it's not.

Depending on who you ask, empathy is either an instinct you're born with or a skill you develop, but neither an instinct nor a skill can be inherently good or bad. If someone donates money to a homeless shelter, not because they feel bad for the unhoused, but because they've reasoned that doing so improves society, is their tithe less worthy? If someone feels great love for their child and hopes their parents would have done the same as they electroshock them into heterosexuality, is that torture morally justified?

Our society demonizes sociopaths and psychopaths who naturally lack empathy, but do you really believe that someone's brain wiring - independent of their actions or beliefs - can make them inherently evil? What about testosterone or adrenaline, making them aggressive? What about appetite, or addiction, or disability?

If you could scan the brains of everyone on Earth and find those who lack empathy, would you mark them as such? Would you separate them out from the rest of the population? Would you "fix" them, if you could? Would you eliminate the gene that would prevent more of them from being born?

Would you be doing so out of a practical concern for their wellbeing, or the wellbeing of society, or out of empathy for them or for others? Would you want the same treatment to be done to you, if a brain scan revealed you to have insufficient natural empathy?

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Transcript:

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0277 - 2167/07/07/02:24 Lee Caldavera's apartment, bedroom
Zoa: Is that what stories are, for you? Empathy? Living vicariously?
LC: I mean... I think so? A few days ago, I'd've said yes, I'm a very empathic person. Right now... I'm not so sure. I've been questioning a lot about who and what I am.
Zoa: I've noticed.
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LC: I mean, as many people and AIs have not hesitated to point out, that empathy is why I've latched onto you.
Zoa: I thought Doc said that was your desire for love.
LC: Same thing.
Zoa: I... don't think it is. I think you can have empathy for someone while not loving them, and vice versa.
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Zoa: I mean, if you really loved Loa and Zee, wouldn't you want what I want for them? An end to danger and uncertainty, an eternity of stable existence?
LC: That's not a real life, though. I don't think I'd want that for anyone, real or fictional.
Zoa: It's what you'd want for yourself, isn't it? You certainly wouldn't choose to be kidnapped by a dragon, or to have to endure danger and sacrifice to rescue someone from peril.
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LC: Maybe I should want that. Maybe I've been stuck in a premature "happily ever after", and I should actually be going out and getting into dangerous adventures.
Zoa: Uh... if you're indicating a desire to fling yourself into danger, I would have to a) report and/or prevent the self-destructive behaviour, and b) leave your presence, as it may tangentially endanger me.
LC: On the other hand, a full and complex existence may be overrated...
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