The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Crueltyby Published 31 May 2011
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Borderline personality disorder, autism, narcissism, psychosis, Asperger's: All of these syndromes have one thing in common--lack of empathy. In some cases, this absence can be dangerous, but in others it can simply mean a different way of seeing the world.
In The Science of Evil Simon Baron-Cohen, an award-winning British researcher who has investigated psychology and autism for decades, develops a new brain-based theory of human cruelty. A true psychologist, however, he examines social and environmental factors that can erode empathy, including neglect and abuse.
Based largely on Baron-Cohen's own research, The Science of Evil will change the way we understand and treat human cruelty.
The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty Reviews
4 Informative-Stars! ☆★☆★
There are some books that you read with your mouth open and all of your emotions displayed across your face. This is one of those books. Be warned, 'The Science of Evil' will make you disgusted and enlightened at the same time. What dug into my heart even more were the real life photos of acts of terror. It's gut-wrenching to see what people are capable of. It's unspeakable.
★ Nazi scientists severed a woman's hands and then sewed them back Switched. So her thumbs on the outside of her hands.
★ Some Nazi held experiments to see if people could survive being submerged in freezing water up to 3 hours. Double F#%K!!
★ Rebel soldiers ordering women to bash their children's heads into poles until they died to survive another day. Jesus, F#%king F#%K!!!!!
★ Nazis were not to first to kill thousands of people. The Turks killed over 1.5 million Armenians in 1890. They weren't even allowed to testify in court as witnesses, let alone pled their case. Did i say Fff#%kk!?!?!!!
★ In 1994, in Democratic Republic of Congo rebels attacked a village and forced a woman's son to have sex with her while they watched and then they shot him in front of her. Then each one of the soldiers raped the woman while her husband was forced to watch and then he was shot as well in front of the woman. Last but not least, they left her staring at her burning house and took her 3 daughters away from her. She hasn't heard from her daughters since. I cant even.... F... :o
The scariest part, these cruel people who did these operations were doctors. People we are brought up to trust, performing unethical experiments on innocent lives.
And soldiers that are there to protect.
I found it interesting how the author examined further into what makes people "evil". Evil is a broad definition that is used to describe many different people. He substituted evil with the word empathy or lack of empathy. Suddenly, character traits were more easily defined and their actions were explained. Some had lack of empathy because of their desire to protect and were blinded, others because of revenge or hate and in some instances, pure hunger. The things you will do when you've been starved for days, and pure instinct takes over are unfathomable. Emotions are dissected....
“When our empathy is switched off, we are solely in the "I" mode. In such a state we relate only to things or to people as if they were just things.”
Each chapter gave me goosebumps. I learned things that shocked me to the core! I had so many chills that i had to take breaks just to collect myself. Im grateful to learn about the human mind and how we as a society have evolved but some of these atrocities just made me sick. It was like reading horror story after horror story.
★ Fun Fact: Marilyn Monroe's real name was Norma Jean Mortenson. Norma?! Really? ...huh. I guess I'm the only one who's a huge fan of Psycho. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
★ I never knew that Marilyn Monroe was a child of divorced parents and a mother who was in the psychiatric ward most of her life. She went from foster care to foster care. When she was 11 and she was sexually molested by her stepfather! What?! She first got married when she was 16 to her neighbor to get out of foster care. She remarried 2 more times to all failed marriages. She was in and out of psychiatric clinics like her mother and attempted suicide three times! She succeeded killing herself, overdosing in 1962. Whoa...
I think my biggest take away after reading this book is how empathy is related to the brain. I never knew that certain parts of our brain control our lack or over abundance of the trait with hormones and proteins. It is really interesting.
(-1★) I took away a star for the sole reason of some of the tests mentioned. 'Bla bla bla, this test shows this information according to this doctor and this many patients, bla bla bla, but it is not conclusive; or it was not proven; or the patients life history was never taken into account or recorded....etc.' ☠ -Wait, WHAT? Why would you mention test results if they are not 99% true or even taken correctly?! I felt like my time was wasted reading those sentences over and over again.
When i read a science or psychology book i want concrete hard proof of the evidence your basing your topic on. Not hearsay.
Its like saying "1+1=11, because Eddie from the store told me, but it needs more working out." Ugh!!!! ☠
I liked the statement: "Narcissists have monologues, not dialogues."
During the Nazi reign, people who helped gather up the jews did not consider themselves part of the killing, instead they justified their actions by making statements like this...
➤ Person A: "I simply had the list of Jews in my municipality. I did not round up the Jews, but I did pass this list on when requested to do so."
➤ Person B: "I was told to go to these addresses, arrest these people, and take them to the train station. That's all I did."
➤ Person C: "My job was to open the doors of the train—that was it."
➤ Person D: "My job was to direct the prisoners onto the train."
➤ Person E: "My job was to close the doors, not to ask where the train was going or why.”
➤ Person F: "My job was simply to drive the train."
[through all the other small links in the chain that could lead to . . .]
➤ Person Z: "My job was simply to turn on the showers out of which the poison gas was emitted.”
All in all, there is a lot of important information in this book about the brain, people's personalities and upbringings. T discusses the how they impact one another and how to judge each one. This book made me dissect the word 'evil' as a word used to describe someone and dive further into what made them do the act. I enjoyed the book and appreciated the message. I agree that empathy or lack of empathy should hold a bigger part in psychology than it does. :)
This is more a 2.5 star which as people who follow me know, I truncate, not round up. This book started out very riveting. The theory proposed in this book is about the impacts based on the lack of empathy. There were two interesting concepts of Zero Negative and Zero Positive people. Basically Borderline, Psychopaths and Narcissists all fall under the Zero Negative. Different forms of autism falls under the Zero Positive.
The ideas in this book are interesting to read. What Mr. Baron-Cohen postulates did make me think. I can see his point regarding the how a person with zero negative and zero positive would behave. His research and theories on why these people became w/o empathy dropped me from a 4 star down to a 3 star. Yes, at the beginning, the first two chapters were very good and had me at a 4 star. At chapter 3 I started to lose interest. This is because he correlates a person with zero negative stemming from how their mother raised them. In each example, it was abuse, neglect, etc from a mother. Where is the father in all of this? Were these children through immaculate conception? This immediately made Mr. Baron-Cohen lose respectability in my eyes. To his point, he does point out it is genetics and a combination of nurture which causes a person to be a zero negative. The examples he chose left a bad taste in my mouth and I'm not even a mother.
This "mommy didn't love me enough" or "daddy abandoned me" type of victimized mentality doesn't work for me. Whenever I read this, I consider the writer yet another 1st world privileged philosopher who is only looking at "1st world" problems. Is this judgmental? You betcha. I'm tired of people using their parents as excuses for their behaviour. The victim mentality is detrimental because it focuses on how the person is helpless. I'd rather focus on the series of events which shaped a person and for them to be a survivor.
Now, Mr. Baron-Cohen did indicate while an abusive or neglectful mother isn't the only variable causing a child to become a psychopath, there was a positive correlation. He does also mention that the tie can't be that strong because otherwise, we'd have more psychopaths running around in the world. However, the book is already tainted for me because his victim theory.
Now, there are some concepts in here that are interesting. He explains that it's not that people are evil. It's because their lack of empathy which causes them to behave in manners that don't make sense to the general populace. If people w/o empathy treat the another person as a thing, one can understand how atrocities such as Jew concentration camps and the genocide of Armenians can occur. With this, I agree. That is why the military teaches it's soldiers to call them "targets". It removes the humanity of it.
Still, this book is running at a 3 star, especially the section on the zero positive. I couldn't stop thinking of the Observers from Fringe when he describes the pattern recognition in the zero positives. The highly functioning abilities of systematizing is fascinating. What was disturbing is seeing how I possibly could have been categorized as a zero positive in my early teens.
Chapter 6 is what brought the book down another 1/2 star. While it is nice to think every person can be "rehabilitated" with the single flower nurtured in the desert analogy, it's a fantasy. Here's the problem, in order for rehabilitation, the person must want to rehabilitate. I don't believe people want to change. In fact, I'd like to propose that more than the majority of people prefer not to change. I see it time and time again in both personal and professional life. People don't like to know their flaws and they don't want to improve. They'd rather hide their flaws from themselves and rationalize it is other people. So his idea to help people overcome their "lack of empathy" while noble is a pipe dream in my book. If he had specific methods of how to accomplish this, it would be a different story. Instead, he concludes the book with condemning the death penalty and explaining that "evil" actions of people are not exactly under their control. Instead, it is a combination of chemical, genetic and nurture. We should instead try to help rehabilitate all these people rather than sentence them in jail for years or kill them. These are the fancies of an ivory tower academician untouched by the stubborn people of the real world.
Reading this, I couldn't get out of my head that the author's first cousin is Sasha Baron-Cohen. It was the vision of the ultimate evil mischief-maker that Borat was. Borat in a fluorescent green mankini was behind every word I read. Once seen, never forgotten...
So one of them makes a living out of analysing people and philosophising on whether cruelty and evil is genetic and the other makes his living out of exploiting people with deliberate cruelty that I'm sure his victims think is evil.
I know which I prefer.
Schadenfreude is a very evil sense of humour. Laughing at other people's misfortune is cruel. I wonder if it was inborn in me or I acquired it?
The book was ok, not exhaustive and I didn't agree with the author's conclusions quite often. 3.5 stars.
Interesting details concerning the make-up of evil inherent in the human species, especially dealing with empathy, or as touched on in this book, the lack thereof. This book broke down the science of the condition, explaining how that we are all not, either good or bad, but rather in measure, we are all a mixture of both. I'm reminded of the cartoon I used to see where every person has an invisible little angel on one shoulder and a little devil on the other, each trying to persuade us to do either right or wrong.
Simon used a scale, breaking down the difference between those who only had minor deficiencies in expressing empathy and those who lack it completely. A lot of the signs are characteristics that I recognize in people I have known throughout my life; some to a greater extent than others. I thought the part that was most disturbing was the realization that those who are at the lowest scale in lacking empathy can not only be extremely heartless and cruel, but in most cases, do not even realize that they are being that way. Their brains are not wired to make the distinction. A person who could hurt, or possibly even kill, for whatever exaggerated reason and not feel the slightest regret or even understand that what they have done is wrong, is about as scary a monster as I can imagine.
Over all this was an informative read on the subject, and I have a much clearer understanding now of my ex-wife.
I can't really review this book, for the simple reason that I do not trust it, and am simply unsure what to believe and what not to. Perhaps my attitude is unfair, but it was these two passages that pushed me into Sgt. Schultz mode:
Some people compare him to the character that Dustin Hoffman played in the film Rain Man, which was based on a real person (Kim Peek) with autism, because... (p. 106, my edition)
Consider that back in 1542 Martin Luther wrote a pamphlet entitled Against the Jews (calling on Catholics to attack them) in which he advocated burning synagogues and destroying Jewish homes. (p. 166, my edition)
Kim Peek did not have autism. One need dig no deeper than his NY Times obituary (link) to ferret that fact out. I'd put this down as an honest mistake for most, but Baron-Cohen is supposed to be a world renowned expert on the topic of...autism. Sorry, dude, but you flat-out blew it.
Martin Luther's tedious imbecility on the topic of Jews is certainly true, but how Baron-Cohen got the idea he was trying to incite Catholics against them is not only wrong, it is utterly preposterous. In fact, Luther even took a swipe at Catholics...in the very document Baron-Cohen claims was used "incite" them. Viz:
Similarly among us Christians the papists can no longer pass for the church. For they will not let God be their God, because they refuse to listen to his word, but rather persecute it most terribly, then come along with their empty husks, chaff, and refuse, as they hold mass and practice their ceremonies. And God is supposed to recognize them and look upon them as his true church, ignoring the fact that they do not acknowledge him as the true God, that is, they do not want him to speak to them through his preachers. His word must be accounted heresy, the devil, and every evil. This he will indeed do, as they surely will experience, far worse than did the Jews.
Link to document - The switch from Jews to Catholics occurs at the end of Part II, though it is back to the Jews in Part III.
'Course Luther had a reason to be sore with Catholicism, since he'd been excommunicated and had a Church sanctioned document issued against him personally, wherein he could be killed on sight with neither civil nor religious penalties accruing against his murderer. (A Catholic version of a fatwa? Maybe. But it also seems to be the case that no one ever bothered trying, as best I can tell.) In fact, I'd say you could make a case Luther was saying Catholics, or possibly just the Church hierarchy, was in deeper doo-doo than Jews with God, based upon that last sentence.
Perhaps the two errors cited above are the only two in the book, and perhaps everything else is scholarship so pure it hurts the eyes to glance upon. But I doubt it. In my eyes the entire book took on the mantle of sloppy scholarship after hitting those two easily checked, inexcusable errors. I make no claims at genius or expertise -- quite the contrary! -- so if I'm picking up on wince-worthy passages, how many more might there be in here? Certainly in the Martin Luther bit he cites a source that he himself never bothered reading. (Would he tolerate such a thing from one of his students?)
Anyway, I'm giving the work no rating, since I cannot confidently say that there are sections of this work with which I have little familiarity (and that would be most of it) containing errors similar to the ones I've noted. His level of credibility with me has essentially fallen off a cliff; I'm not certain I'd accept anything he's written without independent verification. Very sad, since I'd previously held him in high regard.