On the dangers of jettisoning your empathy gene

Four recent examples of how some people turn other people into sometimes painlessly mortal enemies – simply by jettisoning their own empathy gene.

Firstly, from today’s news, these curious statements:

“This summer the roads will be thick with bicycles,” Griffin wrote. “These cyclists are throwing themselves on to some of the most congested spaces in the world. They leap on to a vehicle which offers them no protection except a padded plastic hat.

“Should a motorist fail to observe a granny wobbling to avoid a pothole or a rain drain, then he is guilty of failing to anticipate that this was somebody on her maiden voyage into the abyss. The fact is he just didn’t see her and however cautious, caring or alert he is, the influx of beginner cyclists is going to lead to an overall increase in accidents involving cyclists.

That is to say, the cyclists are to blame when accidents take place – and perhaps mortalities too.

Empathy not possible then?  None at all?

And any particular reason?  Well.  Mr Griffin does actually choose to supply one:

“The rest of us occupying this road space have had to undergo extensive training. We are sitting inside a protected space with impact bars and air bags and paying extortionate amounts of taxes on our vehicle purchase, parking, servicing, insurance and road tax.”

He concluded: “It is time for us to say to cyclists, ‘You want to join our gang, get trained and pay up’.”

According to Mr Griffin, the norm is now an expensively cocooned environment, a technology-ridden existence and a wall of computers between action and act; the abnormal – searched out by these dangerously strange cycling bods who quite ludicrously like to remain in touch with the planet – being fresh air, the wind in one’s hair and energetically exercised bodies.

Words just fail me (well, they haven’t – but you know what I mean …).  Mr Griffin has used the reality of driving a car to explain why cyclists are wrong.  In the event, though, all the explanation really serves to do is reveal why he is unable to empathise with the reality he finds it so hard to be supportive of.


Secondly, this disgraceful prejudice, expressed with equally disgraceful clarity, in a blogpost titled “Should people on benefits be allowed to vote?”:

Is it ‘fair’ therefore that those whom do not positively contribute to government revenue (i.e the ‘net receivers’) should get to participate in the voting that helps to determine the political party and direction in where the country’s monies are spent?

And the mechanism used to allow the writer to reach this conclusion?  Yet another case where the empathy gene is summarily discarded for a “rational” explanation – in this case dragged out of a Darwinian capitalism:

It would be terribly ‘unfair’ of you to give equal representation rights to the chap who contributes 50 times more than the next person.  In the same way as if you own 60% of shares of a company, you’ll get 60% of the voting rights at the Annual General Meeting.  People with no financial stake in a company cannot turn up to the meeting and determine who the board representatives (the purse holders) are.  Even some of the couscous eating tent-frequenting anti-capitalists would find such a concept somewhat laughable.  Why do we accept one person, one vote then?

Although the author no longer belongs to the Tory Party, there would be plenty of people who might argue that neither should Cameron & Co.  As far as I can see, the thesis underlying the above words is that the country and its democracy should be given up to corporate capitalism.

As we were, dear friends.  As we were …


Thirdly, in a debate on the subject of removing the right to Legal Aid for asbestos victims, we have a totally desensitised government minister acting in the following way:

Labour MP Helen Jones told the House of Commons: “During the last debate, many of us were dismayed by the conduct of the minister on the front bench, who giggled and grinned through descriptions of people dying of mesothelioma and what they suffered.”

“Mr Speaker,” she continued. “I have to say that in almost 15 years in this house, I have never seen conduct which so demeans a minister of the crown and which is so damaging to the reputation of this house.”

Remember, this is a government minister who has been responsible for piloting a law through Parliament which may very well serve to benefit his own business interests.

Business before pleasure maybe?

On the strength of this week’s antics, it would seem that pleasure and business are equal partners.


Finally, this awful testimony, also from today:

Breivik himself maintains he is sane but a practitioner of political extremism.

Earlier on Friday, he insisted he was “under normal circumstances a very nice person, very caring about those around me”.

He said he “absolutely” understood why his testimony was horrifying to others.

But said he had embarked on a deliberate programme of “dehumanisation” in 2006 to prepare to carry out killings.

He added that empathy was not possible, as he would “break down mentally” if he tried to comprehend what he had done.

Asked if he could feel sadness, he said “yes”, saying the funeral of a friend’s brother had been his “saddest day”.

No further comment possible.  No further comment needed.

Except, I suppose, that – of all the above four cases – the only inkling of an awareness of the importance of empathy in human relationships has, quite paradoxically, been expressed by the man in the last example.

A man who, by doing so, admitted to awful crimes committed in its deliberate absence.

The other three meanwhile?  Not a sausage it would seem.

Nothing deliberate, anyhow.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s