2016-02-05

Limited empathy and large out-groups

I'm a reluctant and somewhat hypocritical meat eater. I hate the abhorrent way in which our society produces meat. However, I don't hate it enough to deprive myself of the experience. If lab-grown meat comes to the grocery store one day soon, I will be an enthusiastic customer. Until then, however, I post about the need for change, and grumble while I buy chicken.

I've made posts, here and there, about our cruelty to animals on Reddit. I find that:
  • Just pointing out that the way we treat animals is horrendous – is tolerated. Saying this alone can be upvoted.
  • However: comparing the suffering we inflict on animals; to any type suffering we inflict on fellow humans; is a one-way ticket for the downvote train. No type of animal suffering, no matter how horrendous, may be compared to human suffering. Ever.
It seems most folks will empathize that animals ought to be treated better. However, if this comes at any cost to humans; almost any cost at all; then people think the suffering by animals is justified, because they are different species.

It is unpopular to point out that this type of morality is compromised, and fundamentally no better than allowing suffering by foreigners because they're foreigners; or suffering by another race, because they are another race; or suffering by the other sex, because they are the other sex.

It's an arbitrary line where everyone outside is treated as part of an "out group", and has the moral standing of an object.

You don't even have to go as far as animal suffering to see this moral compromise in action. A large proportion of people actually act and believe as though suffering by foreigners is okay because they're foreigners.

You can see that right now in Europe, in the positions people take against refugees. Theoretically, everyone agrees it would be nice if war-stricken people did not suffer. However, half the population is actively against helping, if this would mean accepting any cost.

It can be seen similarly starkly in the media treatment of deaths resulting from US invasions. The ratio of US deaths to Arab deaths has been something like 1:20, but foreigner deaths only ever matter if there are no American deaths at all. Theoretically, everyone agrees it would be nice if there weren't as many civilian casualties among foreigners. However, half the population is completely fine with 90% civilian casualties being routine, as long as it seems safer for Americans.

Half the people, generally speaking, seem to have no empathy beyond their closest in-group. There seems to be little understanding that this is how Hell-on-Earth comes about.

No comments: