The Paradox of Empathy: Is Good Behaviour Selfish?

Most everyone agrees that a just society promotes equality among its citizens, but blood is spilled over what sort of equality is morally preferable ~ Paul Bloom

Honour is a rather fickle word. As one raised in a country that promotes the individual character, I find the tribalism and public shaming aroused by the misconceptions surrounding honour to be incredibly confronting, particularly since it allows biased men to believe they are permitted or authorised to behave badly, especially towards women. Honour killings, acid throwing, FGM to name a few. Gangs that deal drugs and commit heinous crimes still have a code of “honour” between them and so it raises the question on whether the idea of honour is just moral romanticism. Honour is one of many words – including empathy and love – that we need to question. If we think about extreme political violence and the dehumanisation of groups of people, such as when millions were murdered during the holocaust, it was the false propaganda used against them that targeted empathy – Jews were “bad” because they hurt children and stole money – and so it was empathy that allowed the entire population to believe that they were doing the right thing by killing the “bad” people.

Psychopaths are incredibly successful in manipulating and targeting the empathy in others in order to obtain a desired and often violent outcome, but far greater in our society is the narcissist that – while mostly nonviolent – often target those who are highly empathetic knowing that performing on social cues, they will receive what they desire in return. If a narcissist only cares about admiration, money, sex, and freedom or entertainment, their true character is easily exposed by taking away the very thing they seek and so they become enraged, vengeful and malicious. Narcissists are the individual equivalent to political entities who dehumanise groups, because they do not actually care about others unless they obtain something from them and in the process dehumanise the worth of the other person.

There is a word in Turkish that hasn’t the English equivalent called vicdansız and it translates to someone who is unconscionable, yet, unlike this lack of conscience used to explain psychopaths in criminal law, vicdansız is a type of remorseless behaviour where someone is unable to see their own wrongdoing in all situations, not just criminal and therefore more aligned with narcissism. I realised, however, that an empathetic person who intends to do and seek goodness can actually do more damage without realising, perhaps while assuming they are doing good in much the same way as a narcissist is often unaware. As such, there is a distinction between ethical behaviour and selfish behaviour that needs to be addressed. A good action with selfish intentions does not necessarily undermine the good act, but it resists the authenticity of the act making it ethical, yes, but selfish at the same time. What does that exactly mean?

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Brentano: On New Beginnings

The phenomena revealed by inner perception are also subject to laws. The laws of coexistence and succession of mental phenomena remain the object of investigation even for those who deny psychology any knowledge of the soul.

As a law student, I was called The Lioness because it was obvious that within me burnt the fierce fire of justice. My commitment to righteousness can be so intense that I would not hesitate to fight to the death for it, to remain alone, lose the people that I love, all my material objects, even my own life. From large scale offenses to very minute actions, goodness and good behaviour matters to me.

In some cases, however, my interpretation of some of these offenses have been incorrect. My own psychological perceptions become exhausted and embedded into the interpretation that confuse what I may call an offense with something that I personally find offensive, two very different realities. How can we understand the difference between this subjectivity and objective reality, to separate ourselves and our personal interpretations with universal concepts of justice and righteousness?

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Ibn Hazm: On The Sensation Of Love

 Love exercises an effective authority, a decisive sovereignty over the soul! 

Its commands cannot be opposed, its ordinances may not be flouted, its rule is not to be transgressed. It demands unwavering obedience, and against its dominion there is no appeal.

Love untwists the firmest plaits, and looses the tightest strands. It dissolves that which is most solid, undoes that which is most firm. It penetrates the deepest recesses of the heart and makes lawful things most strictly forbidden. 

For Rene Descartes, existence can be explained by the Cogito or ‘I think therefore I am’ and that despite no real guarantee that our perceptions of reality are authentic, the mere fact that we have a thought is enough to prove that we exist. However, the authenticity of this ‘thought’ or the reality of our perceptions and beliefs are indeed more relevant than a mere mental transaction, otherwise what is existence if we simply absorb and repeat information like mindless drones?

For me, existence is only real through love or moral consciousness, that the mind and body – extension and thought – as two distinct entities merge when we experience empathy. Unity is impossible without first separating yourself and like a switch, we are awakened to begin individually experiencing the external world and thus uniting with it. However, our socially constructed understanding of love enable people to posture archetypes of love and undermine the authenticity of the experience.

These sensations of experience are merely reflections of our own subjective reality and until we become conscious of why we experience those sensations, not only are we not essentially ‘alive’ but we are not experiencing love. Would Ibn Hazm agree? Read More

On Cowardice: The Crowd is an Untruth

It is no secret that I find cowardice repulsive and it can manifest in many ways; bystanders who watch others being abused and do nothing, liars who deceitfully apologise or simply excuse their bad behaviour by pretending there is some justification for it. They see existence as merely convincing people of what they are rather than confronting what they really are, a power-struggle where some cry to maintain power and control, others becoming fiercely angry all in an attempt to persuade others to believe what they want them to believe.

I find myself thinking that such people cannot be saved, that they have become so alienated from their own moral integrity that their social deception has evolved into self-deception; they now believe their faux image is reality. I have been tactful enough to make such people choose to keep their distance from me because, frankly, telling them directly only leads to trouble, but am I being too harsh when I say that they have no chance and are digging their own grave?

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Saolré: The Cycle of Life

As I prepare for my trip to beautiful, mythical Ireland in a few months, I am excited about visiting Newgrange (Gaelic sí an bhrú), which is a prehistoric 6,000 year old megalithic in County Meath. What is unique about this monument is that during the Winter Solstice, the sun rises over Boyne Valley and the beams of light strike into the passage chamber. It has been suggested that it was designed to observe solar and lunar cycles as well as that of Venus, but the attachment to astronomical and calendrical cycles with ancient mythological lore is clear, such as Aengus and Caer (I will be writing more about Irish myths and legends at a later date). What is more obvious is the understanding of the importance of cycles that exist in nature and our universe. Read More

On Loyalty and Honesty

“The mirror does not flatter, it faithfully shows whatever looks into it; namely, the face we never show to the world because we cover it with the persona, the mask of the actor.” ~ C.G. Jung

 

Have you ever experienced a very brief moment where the person or people that you are looking at suddenly appear different, a feeling where they – even if you have known them for a very long time – are suddenly like a stranger you have never seen before or an object that you are seeing the first time?

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