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For our first Popcast of June, Junichi and I rap about the currently silliness in the California GOP primary race for governor plus we discuss whether empathy is on the decline and how one might measure it if it was.  

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  1. Chris Surmeier says:

    “Color of puke and texture of jizz”?! This has to compete with “both are subject to the knife.”

    Nonetheless, the anti-eat-dog movement IS completely visceral: puppies are cute, pigs aren’t, so though pigs are smarter than dogs, the western world prefers to dispatch the pig.

    You mention veal, and the same thing happens there: what percentage of those who can’t stand the thought of hacking off a piece of a cute, big-eyed calf will slaughter thousands of big, dumb steers to find one good steak?

    The thought of sending either the dog or the calf to the butcher saddens me, but knowing such a reaction is illogical, I eat veal without compunction, and I have eaten dog in Korea, knowingly and voluntarily. (P.S. I also believe if dog was more amenable to husbandry, the western world’s diet would include dog chops and puppy loins.)

    I have two thoughts on the empathy issue. I do, however, recognize the study may have taken precautions to negate all of my suppositions.

    First, perhaps the internet produces a result which reflects a false appearance of reduced empathy on the part of today’s youth. This could occur because those hearing a story of suffering take the story with a grain of salt because the news media has garnered a credibility gap. Who’s to say that those who blithely skim a story of, say a starving community, wouldn’t be appropriately horrified if they were to witness the tragedy in person.

    Or, maybe, the students of today have developed a less ego-centric method of evaluating the human condition. In the 70′s and 80′s, I remember every call to action for the world’s suffering would compare some group’s condition to the average American. But just like comparing any other society’s moral standards to the U.S.’s is a form of imperialism, so to is it improper to measure other countries’ living standards to America’s. (The appropriate standard would be the international average or universal standard).

    This internationalism seems to be better understood today than it was in 1980, or even 1990. (Maybe I just understand it better, so I’m imputing my epiphany to others.) Therefore, one possible cause for a false impression today’s youth feels less empathy it because they don’t react as emphatically when they hear “A,” who lives in “Z,” is forced to survive on $2 a day because they know that the internal average is only $2.15, and that by comparison, “B” from “C” lives on only $0.50 a day.

    Second, I can see why the internet might actually reduce empathy. To illustrate this, an anecdote: in 1995, I was at a Boyz to Men concert (don’t judge me . . . besides, I was really there to see TLC . . . know anyone who could get me on “What Chili Wants”?). As I was leaving, a guy got shot right in front of me. So I ran over to help. Everyone was freaking out; I was shaken up so much I forgot the combat life-saving steps the Marine Corps taught me. Eventually, a cop showed up. He was calm and methodical, aggravatingly so.

    Now, neither he nor I had any vested interest in the guy who got shot; we both had the same prejudicial thoughts, probably: (the guy looked like a dealer, and in fact, turned out to be a dealer). Yet, the cop was unaffected by the sight of someone shot and the situation had an affect on me, even with my military training. From talking to several of my cop friends, it’s the previous exposure to like situations. They all had the same reaction to a dying person as I did the first few times they dealt with it, but after a few times, they became impervious.

    So, what does this mean to today’s youth. With unlimited exposure to the world’s suffering through the internet, they’re just becoming calloused. And I think it’s the internet, not the 24-hour news shows. I believe young people today are just as inclined to avoid news shows today as what I was 20 years ago–on average, probably more so–but the internet, in pop-ups or headlines on search engines, website adds on Facebook, I think they have more thrust in their face. So more may even watch MSNBC or FOX because their interest is peaked by the unavoidable sound bites.

    This seems intuitive, that more knowledge of suffering reduces one’s reaction to it. I have the impression that it is common knowledge that as people get older they become emotionally hardend. Certainly they should, since suffering is mostly a matter of comparison (if every inch of the Earth’s surface was constantly 110 deg. F., would anyone even know to complain about living in 110 deg. weather). So as you hear new stories of suffering, doesn’t it become less shocking about someone’s situation when you know about so many other’s of similar or worse conditions. Likewise, doesn’t becoming calloused reflect a survival strategy: how long can one sustain being stressed over past tragedies while adding new ones. Also, cynicism must come into play as a learned behavior: “I got stressed out over “A” and nothing changed, and I got stressed over “B,” and it did improve but not because of my reactions, so why get stressed. Bad stuff always happens, always will, and will either work out or not, irrespective of my reaction.” The genesis of all three developments in older adults is exposure to more stories of suffering; so why shouldn’t it happen to today’s youth.

    As to video game violence and real life violence, see Col. Grossman’s article on how video games reflect the training the military used to condition soldiers and Marines to shoot the enemy.

    Certainly the glorification of violence in rap, movies, etc., has to play some part in establishing a culture of violence. I think, however, in American culture, where violence has been glorified long before Edison invented the phonograph or the vitrascope, the impact of those media wouldn’t be verifiable (if the human condition given it’s understanding of a civilized society, would allow for only “A” amount of violence, and we’re at “A”, additional impetus to violence would be subsumed). I would be interested to see what increase in violence the importation of our music and videos to other countries, Asian and Europe, might have worked.


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