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for the neurological and psychological basis of "non-empathetic" behavior. Baron-Cohen does a fine job in describing the diathesis mode of approach to those who go through the world unable to experience or understand normal human feelings of empathy and the sorts of sensitivity toward one another that most of us take more or less for granted. By employing the medical model, he forces a redefinition of what has formerly been termed "evil," redefining it "non-empathetic." Obviously, those who are narcissistic, borderline or psychopathic are on the negative end of this scale, as they range from simply annoying to out and out life-threatening, though Baron-Cohen also explores the positive end of the spectrum in the way of autistics and those with Asperger's syndrome (a disorder along the autistic spectrum), who are not only usually nonviolent but who are often creative and supra-moral. An interesting, informative and well-put together read.
17 of 17 people found this review helpful
The first time I remember evil – real evil – was more than 40 years ago, when I heard of awful things a boy down the block had done to a cat. I was too young to put a name to it, and the boy was spoken of in whispers. We were told to stay far away from him, and I did, crossing the street if he was on the way to grade school at the same time I was. He disappeared from the neighborhood several months later, and I am still relieved I never saw him again.
About ten years later, I put a name to evil, at least in fiction, reading Stephen King’s “Carrie”. The true evil wasn’t Carrie herself – it was Chris Hargensen, the beautiful, taunting classmate; and Margaret White, Carrie’s mother. Both had a complete lack of empathy for Carrie – and for anyone else.
In “The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty”, Simon Baron-Cohen, Ph.D., a Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at Cambridge, argues that all we consider evil presents as a lack of empathy. A lack of empathy can be momentary, chronic or innate, and to some extent, conditioned by being around others with a lack of empathy . The consequences can be disastrous. Baron-Cohen starts with the Holocaust as an example. Since research recently determined more than 40,000 Nazi ghettos and death camps were in operation, his conclusions have merit.
In this book, Baron-Cohen discusses signs and symptoms to some extent, but his emphasis is the neuroscience of evil. Baron-Cohen discusses the regions of the brain controlling empathy response, and how physical damage, fetal development, and environmental factors can affect these areas, causing them to function differently than those of empathetic people. Baron-Cohen does a good job at discussing the malfunctioning areas of the brain. As a layperson, I had to listen to those sections several times to understand what he was talking about.
Since reading “Carrie” more than 30 years ago, I’ve run into a lot of actual people who completely lack empathy. I have wondered the whole time how that happens. Setting aside the theological theory, this book explains at least some of it.
I enjoyed the narration, and the unedited use of British terms. And yes, for anyone wondering, Simon Baron-Cohen is Sacha Baron-Cohen’s cousin – and Simon, in a very apropos discussion later in the book, mentions Sacha’s work.
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77 of 83 people found this review helpful