Evil as “empathy deficit disorder”

That’s the latest, as Kate Kelland (May 5, 2011) reports, in “Scientist seeks to banish evil, boost empathy”:

Baron-Cohen, who is also director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge, has just written a book in which he calls for a kind of rebranding of evil to offer a more scientific explanation for why people kill and torture, or have such great difficulty understanding the feelings of others. His proposal is that evil be understood as a lack of empathy — a condition he argues can be measured and monitored and is susceptible to education and treatment.

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If we all used our ability to empathise more, and recognised its value, he says, conflicts such as the decades of tit-for-tat violence between Palestinians and Israelis could be resolved.

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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.

He thinks that society should consider “psychopaths, narcissists, and people with borderline personality disorder” sick or disabled, and help them replace their defective empathy circuits rather than just locking up those who actually commit crimes …

Denyse O'Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain.

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