I had read Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence long ago, perhaps thirteen years ago. I did not like it. What angered me? I knew that it was an attempt to undermine the concept of IQ. Goleman thought that empathy is wonderful, and can solve many problems. I was never convinced. First of all, people feel sorry for all the bad people. In any case, it was always clear to me that almost all problems happen because people are not thinking enough. When I read Charles Murray, my suspicions were confirmed:
“While concepts such as “emotional intelligence” and “multiple intelligences” have their uses, a century of psychometric evidence has been augmented over the last decade by a growing body of neuroscientific evidence. Like it or not, g exists, is grounded in the architecture and neural functioning of the brain, and is the raw material for academic performance. If you do not have a lot of g when you enter kindergarten, you are never going to have a lot of it. No change in the educational system will change that hard fact.”
In the broader context of humanitarianism, as critics like Linda Polman have pointed out, the empathetic reflex can lead us astray. When the perpetrators of violence profit from aid—as in the “taxes” that warlords often demand from international relief agencies—they are actually given an incentive to commit further atrocities. It is similar to the practice of some parents in India who mutilate their children at birth in order to make them more effective beggars. The children’s debilities tug at our hearts, but a more dispassionate analysis of the situation is necessary if we are going to do anything meaningful to prevent them. A “politics of empathy” doesn’t provide much clarity in the public sphere, either. Typically, political disputes involve a disagreement over whom we should empathize with. There is no evidence to suggest that the less empathetic are morally worse than the rest of us. Simon Baron-Cohen observes that some people with autism and Asperger’s syndrome, though typically empathy-deficient, are highly moral, owing to a strong desire to follow rules and insure that they are applied fairly.
But, Simon Baron-Cohen has not changed his judgment that it is lack of empathy that leads to cruelty. Why should a thinker not change his position when the evidence does not support his initial premise? There are some semantic issues involved, but still.