…and a Switch is Thrown in the Brain

Group identity empathy fall-off. I’ve called it various things over the years. I think it comes up as a theme in fiction a good deal–Jackson’s The Lottery, The Ox-Bow Incident. More pronounced the bigger the group: identify with a corporation, while at work you’re likely to feel less empathetic. The same guy who, at Enron, laughs on the phone about some old lady getting screwed over probably goes home and kisses his kids and gives money to a charity.

“Oh the gangster looks so fright’ning /With his luger in his hand/ But when he gets home to his children/ He’s a family man” – Rolling Stones lyric.

Strong nationalist identity, carried to an extreme beyond ordinary patriotism, suppresses empathy. The same people are capable of empathy, often, in other circumstances…sometimes with the target of their ordinary hate, if they meet them individually.

Once the group gets big enough, the group we identify with, a switch is thrown in the brain.

Unless…we add in some form of more objective consciousness. Then we can choose whether to identify with the collective agenda, or not. But there’s something wired into us that makes it unlikely we can make that choice, unless we’re schooled to make it; unless we’re awake enough to make it.

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