So I read the first chapter of Simon Baron-Cohen’s new book
Said chapter is free on Amazon, I do intend to read the rest at some point and will post a more final view of the book when I do.
(And and as a trigger warning, the chapter in question does include examples of pretty horrifying stuff as a way to prove that, indeed, people can be evil. So be a bit careful going into it.)
Anyway he makes a few good points, for example that people are mostly evil because they objectify other people and temporarily suspend their sense of empathy, that one seems pretty valid.
The problem is, he then seems to conclude that there are people who never have any empathy, and although he doesn’t actually name the conditions he is thinking of in the first chapter, I know autism is one of them.
He also handwaves the distinction between affective and cognitive empathy (which is to say, the fact that feeling what other people are feeling and being able to read people’s emotions are completely different things) by saying that if you have no cognitive empathy you can’t possibly feel what others are feeling because you’ll have no clue what they are. …which is actually pretty much not true, because people are fully capable of saying “This is how I’m feeling” and that doesn’t require any amount of reading faces or intuiting emotions to understand.
Also his tests for empathy rely on self reporting, which is actually really problematic because you can teach someone very easily that they don’t experience empathy even when they do, and they’ll, you know, tell you they don’t experience empathy, thus confirming biases that autistic people have no empathy. Also his tests don’t appear to distinguish between cognitive and affective empathy at all, which is actually a pretty serious problem, because autistic people don’t have problems with the latter.
Also he seems to think people are able to intuitively understand how minds dramatically different from their own work, which is something I am extremely skeptical of considering how much autistic people get mistreated and otherwise abused. I am highly skeptical that allistic people have any ability whatsoever to intuit the emotions of autistic people, but they clearly think they do and thus draw all sorts of eroneous conclusions (such as assuming autistic people don’t have empathy)
Also I am extremely wary of the fact that he is calling not thinking of other people’s emotions “single-minded”, because as far as I can tell, in the general use of the term, “single-minded” is used to mean “persistant”, and it seems like he’s conflating the two as a way to use traits like hyperfocus and perseveration common in autistic people to assert that autistic people do not have empathy. Though he does not actually spell that out in the first chapter.
Anyway I’m extremely wary of where this book is heading, and will probably dissect in more in depth when I can acquire a copy of it.
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