Monday, May 21, 2007

It's Not My Fault I Care About The Welfare Of People

I found an interesting article on Znet about the biological and neurological base for feelings of empathy. The article cites several studies that claim human feelings of empathy are products of evolutionary selection, more specifically that "There were evolutionary (survival) benefits in coming to grips with others"

Why then, if we all have these altruistic tendencies hard-wired into our basic neurological make-up, why isn't the whole world holding hands around a camp fire singing "Kumbaya"? Studies show that external factors - social, political, and religious - can override the fundamental empathic tendencies of humans. That is, we can be trained or manipulated to refute our natural behavioral inclinations.

One line, while really insignificant in the context of the articles purpose, really struck me:
"We know from neuroscientific empathy experiments that the same affective brain circuits are automatically mobilized upon feeling one’s own pain and the pain of others". I find the fact that the same exact part of the brain is stimulated in cases or both personal pain and in the case of being conscious of the pain of others is very interesting, and speaks about the natural response to suffering - that no matter who may be suffering it, it really affects us all the same. This means that there must be very intense belief systems that overwhelm the natural empathetic feelings towards others.

A huge conclusion that may be drawn from these studies is that
"the insidiously effective scapegoating of human nature that claims we are motivated by greedy, dog-eat-dog “individual self-interest is all” is undermined. Stripped of yet another rationalization for empire, predatory behavior on behalf of the capitalist mode of production becomes ever more transparent". If we all have this basic, underlying drive towards altruism or compassion, then any sort of avaricious nature must be a product of the system which we currently interact in. This, of course, assumes that there is another similar yet opposite drive for self-interest or self-preservation that is neurologically fundamental and always acts in opposition to the empathic drive. It is very possible that these conflicting drives exist as products of evolution and at times cooperate or act in harmony, but at other times act in dissonance. Either way, psychological studies are having an increased impact on economic studies, to which I say, "It's about time!"

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