By Peter Singer
The Project Syndicate
Originally published December 12, 2016
Here is an excerpt:
“One death is tragedy; a million is a statistic.” If empathy makes us too favorable to individuals, large numbers numb the feelings we ought to have. The Oregon-based nonprofit Decision Research has recently established a website, ArithmeticofCompassion.org, aimed at enhancing our ability to communicate information about large-scale problems without giving rise to “numerical numbness.” In an age in which vivid personal stories go viral and influence public policy, it’s hard to think of anything more important than helping everyone to see the larger picture.
To be against empathy is not to be against compassion. In one of the most interesting sections of Against Empathy, Bloom describes how he learned about differences between empathy and compassion from Matthieu Ricard, the Buddhist monk sometimes described as “the happiest man on earth.” When the neuroscientist Tania Singer (no relation to me) asked Ricard to engage in “compassion meditation” while his brain was being scanned, she was surprised to see no activity in the areas of his brain normally active when people empathize with the pain of others. Ricard could, on request, empathize with others’ pain, but he found it unpleasant and draining; by contrast, he described compassion meditation as “a warm positive state associated with a strong pro-social motivation.”
The article is here.