Psychologists who study personality disorders frequently make unwarranted and unnecessary value judgments and other normative statements. In this article, Psychologist and "autism expert" Simon Baron-Cohen promotes his new book on empathy and makes what I believe are some unsupportable statements that betray a bias that is wholly inappropriate in a man professing to give an accurate, objective opinion on the role empathy plays in human interactions. Here are some illustrative quotes:
- As a scientist I want to understand the factors causing people to treat others as if they are mere objects. So let's substitute the term "evil" with the term "empathy erosion".
- Zero degrees of empathy means you have no awareness of how you come across to others, how to interact with others, or how to anticipate their feelings or reactions. It leaves you feeling mystified by why relationships don't work out, and it creates a deep-seated self-centredness.
- People said to be "evil" or cruel are simply at one extreme of the empathy spectrum.
- Zero degrees of empathy does not strike at random in the population. There are at least three well-defined routes to getting to this end-point: borderline, psychopathic, and borderline personality disorders. I group these as zero-negative because they have nothing positive to recommend them. They are unequivocally bad for the sufferer and for those around them.
- Empathy itself is the most valuable resource in our world.
- Empathy is like a universal solvent. Any problem immersed in empathy becomes soluble. It is effective as a way of anticipating and resolving interpersonal problems, whether this is a marital conflict, an international conflict, a problem at work, difficulties in a friendship, political deadlocks, a family dispute, or a problem with the neighbour. Unlike the arms industry that costs trillions of dollars to maintain, or the prison service and legal system that cost millions of dollars to keep oiled, empathy is free. And, unlike religion, empathy cannot, by definition, oppress anyone.