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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

25 Comments

  1. Anton B
    September 27, 2015 @ 1:43 pm

    Incisive and spot-on analysis. What I found the most remarkable about the whole scandal was how the majority of the British public’s reaction, even if they hadn’t seen the relevant episode of Black Mirror, amounted to a big ‘meh’ and the fact that it was the Daily Mail that published it: sowing pernicious rumours of a Tory factional split to rival the worst lies they had published just days before about the Corbyn inspired split in the Labour party.

    While I’m here can I just ask if anything’s being done to fix the glitch in the comments columns that renders all replies to comments and subsequent replies to replies in narrower and narrower columns until they become unreadable. This happens on my phone and my Kindle Fire. Not checked my laptop yet. Apologies if it’s in hand, I know there are teething problems with the new format.

    Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      September 27, 2015 @ 2:18 pm

      Yeah, the big revision of the comments system should be beginning tomorrow.

      Reply

      • Anton B
        September 27, 2015 @ 5:39 pm

        Thanks

        Reply

  2. Aylwin
    September 27, 2015 @ 1:56 pm

    Great piece. Food for thought.

    Sorry,

    Going off on a tangent, if not a right-angle to the thrust of the article, I’m glad that someone somewhere is pointing out “that extreme acts of cruelty require a high level of empathy”. I’ve been increasingly baffled in recent years by what seems to be an emerging conventional wisdom that directly equates evil with a lack of empathy. Transparent nonsense, but there seems to be no end of ostensibly intelligent people peddling it.

    Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      September 27, 2015 @ 2:18 pm

      I mean, as I said, the corollary to that is that extreme acts of cruelty are seldom required, and that sociopathic non-empathy will usually suffice.

      Reply

      • Aylwin
        September 27, 2015 @ 3:33 pm

        Indeed – that was what I meant about going off at right-angles to the line you were taking. I was emphasising the thing that you were acknowledging but de-emphasising, just because I found it refreshingly sane in relation to the thinking on the subject that seems to be knocking around lately, not because I have any disagreement with your main point.

        Reply

        • SeeingI
          September 28, 2015 @ 11:10 am

          I think the idea is, you need to have empathy in order to imagine what would hurt somebody the most.

          Reply

          • Jake
            September 28, 2015 @ 6:24 pm

            “Undoubtedly” is putting it a bit strongly. I’d need to see some examples—the notion of a link between high empathy and cruelty doesn’t correlate with anything I’ve read about serial killers, war criminals and so forth in real life.

    • Artur
      September 28, 2015 @ 4:57 am

      Out of curiosity: are there any good sources on-line or otherwise, that talk in more detail about the relationship between empathy and acts of cruelty? I must admit, I was (am) one of those people linking evil to lack of empathy, to the extent that I dismissed that line from Hannibal as a bit of poetic nonsense – so I’d love to correct my ignorance. I’m looking that up on my own, of course, but I would also appreciate any recommended readings, should you have some.

      Reply

      • Simon
        September 28, 2015 @ 8:27 am

        Simon Baron Cohen’s book may offer some insight:

        http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/199/6/520.1

        Reply

      • Aylwin
        September 28, 2015 @ 10:09 am

        I’m afraid you overestimate the sophistication of my engagement with this – I’m just talking about how things seem to me. But to me it seems pretty clear.

        On the methodological level, arguably any act of deliberate cruelty, certainly any sophisticated one, is an attempt to change someone else’s emotional condition, requiring the ability to imagine that condition and its dynamics. Ingenious, tailor-made cruelty calls for a sensitive appreciation of someone else’s internal life, an ability to to put yourself into their shoes and imagine how an experience would make you feel, adjusting as appropriate for ways in which they differ from you. The most effective bullies and torturers rely on empathy just as the most effective nurses do.

        The methodology of evil also benefits from empathetic engagement with people other than the direct target. The effective deployment of cruelty to someone as a deterrent example to others, or, conversely, as a deliberate provocation, rests on a proper appreciation of the effect the spectacle will have on the audience.

        Now, it could probably be argued that this methodological effect can be accomplished as a totally objective, mechanistic exercise, without any vicarious engagement with other people’s putative feelings, and that empathy can be defined in terms that mean that this does not qualify as such. I don’t think that’s right, but it seems like a logically viable line of argument.

        However, there is also the more fundamental issue of motivation. The evil-is-lack-of-empathy idea effectively equates evil with callousness, the ability to discount the significance of the harmful effect that your behaviour has on other people. But while callousness certainly accounts for a large proportion of the evil in the world, it is not the only sort of evil, nor the most extreme. There is also malice. Not making someone suffer as an incidental by-product of getting something you want, nor even as a coldly calculated mechanism through which you get something you want, but because it is in itself something you want, viscerally. When you feel malice, your own emotional state is directly affected by what you imagine someone else’s emotional state to be. Desiring someone’s suffering is quintessentially predicated on empathy, just as desiring their happiness is.

        And we all know malice is real, because we have all felt it, haven’t we? At some time, for some reason, we have all desired for someone else to feel bad. And it cannot be maintained that we can only do so because on some level or other we fail to appreciate the depth, the significance, the reality of the suffering we wish on them, because often we do so precisely because we are feeling or have felt that same suffering ourselves. We hurt, and it makes us want them to hurt the same way.

        The lack-of-empathy idea seems to be predicated on a very over-optimistic view of human nature. It supposes that deep down we are all perfectly benign, and err only through some kind of ignorance. If only we truly appreciated the impact of our actions we wouldn’t hurt anyone.

        In reality, we just aren’t that nice. That’s not what natural selection demanded. It made us want our enemies to suffer, just as it made us crave the taste of sugar.

        Reply

        • Aylwin
          September 28, 2015 @ 10:13 am

          Bugger, should have said fat. Always missing the dunkers.

          Reply

  3. Vod
    September 27, 2015 @ 2:07 pm

    Out of interest, where did you learn the history and geographically determined peculiarities of the pig in such detail?

    Reply

  4. Jane Campbell
    September 27, 2015 @ 9:03 pm

    In five days I celebrate 22 years of vegetarianism. Let’s see… shall it be cucumbers? No no no, those are too fucking big, no matter how I slice them up they overwhelm my salads.

    Reply

    • Jack Graham
      September 28, 2015 @ 3:16 am

      I just went past 21 years myself, so you’re beating me so far.

      Reply

      • Elizabeth Sandifer
        September 28, 2015 @ 3:23 am

        The pig’s head that illustrates the article is a real dish; I’ve eaten it, and the remainder of the skull subsequently decorated my altar.

        Reply

        • Jack Graham
          September 28, 2015 @ 5:49 am

          Pigs have extensive social relationships, understand mirrors and can find their way through mazes. Which make them more intelligent than your average GamerGater.

          Reply

          • dm
            September 28, 2015 @ 10:23 am

            Now if Cameron had stuck his merry prick into the mouth of a dead GamerGater…

            (Oh ffs what is with the CAPTCHAs on this new site?!)

        • dm
          September 28, 2015 @ 10:25 am

          Well, that’s all a bit disgusting.

          Reply

  5. Daru
    September 28, 2015 @ 5:46 am

    Spot on. Bloody brilliant.

    Reply

  6. Anthony Herrera
    September 28, 2015 @ 6:39 am

    I eat meat and I know it’s wrong and one of the things that really drove this home was finding a website that sold all kinds of meat including American raised lion meat. They sell it for about $1,000 per pound and a lion penis costs about $10,000 and they also sell a I MAKE LIONS DISAPPEAR t-shirt for about $20. Just thinking about the kind of people who would want to and could afford to buy this made me so angry and then I saw that the website has a 24 hour help line and I realized that probably one of the worst jobs in the world is being an operator who has to deal with someone who is complaining that their lion penis shipment got screwed up. Oh, and the website also makes it clear that they do not sell tiger meat or liger meat like their competitors. Y’know, those evil websites.

    Reply

  7. Anton B
    September 28, 2015 @ 3:23 pm

    Jewish vegetarian here so your picture header hit my revulsion trigger on a double whammy. That doesn’t stop your post being one of the best analyses I’ve read on the subject. Once again Phil, you prove the perspective of distance from the culture enables you to understand the English perhaps a little better than we understand ourselves.

    Reply

  8. Eve Schmitt
    September 20, 2016 @ 2:19 pm

    Cameron also wanted to un-ban fox hunting.

    Reply

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