Can you "banish evil?"
As a scientist seeking to understand random acts of violence, from street brawls to psychopathic killings to genocide, he has puzzled for decades over what prompts such acts of human cruelty. And he's decided that evil is not good enough.
"I'm not satisfied with the term 'evil'," says the Cambridge University psychology and psychiatry professor, one of the world's top experts in autism and developmental psychopathology.
In the book, entitled "Zero Degrees of Empathy" in Britain, and "The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty" in the United States, where it comes out in July, Baron-Cohen seeks to pick apart and define components of empathy -- including hormones, genes, environment, nurture, and early childhood experiences.
Citing decades of scientific research, he says there are at least 10 regions of the brain which make up what he calls the "empathy circuit". When people hurt others, either systematically or fleetingly, parts of that circuit are malfunctioning.
Baron-Cohen argues that this lack of empathy can be monitored and treated. Maybe, but I have a number of questions about assuming that everyone has some deep buried empathy that can be brought out. I don't think they do.
How would a person be monitored and treated? How is empathy to be defined? Remember that some psychologists and psychiatrists feel that it is okay to medicate inmates and others for having racist thoughts with anti-psychotic drugs. What else could they do? How would this fit into one's political beliefs? Those on the left often see themselves as "empathetic" but they might be using "empathy" as a synonym for leftist thought. Since the majority of those in the mental health field are leftists, how would this play out? Would Republicans who "lack empathy" in their eyes need to be monitored and treated?
Yes, it would be great if we could get psychopaths and narcissists to have some empathy for others, but at what cost?