Roots and Collapse of Empathy: Human nature at its best and at its worst

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Sympathy vs. Empathy

Since no food is grown and little is stored, there is in this view no respite from the struggle that starts anew each day to find wild foods and avoid starving. Our escape from this misery was facilitated only 10, years ago, when in different parts of the world people began to domesticate plants and animals. The agricultural revolution spread until today it's nearly universal and few tribes of hunter-gatherers survive. From the progressivist perspective on which I was brought up, to ask "Why did almost all our hunter-gatherer ancestors adopt agriculture? Of course they adopted it because agriculture is an efficient way to get more food for less work.

Planted crops yield far more tons per acre than roots and berries. Just imagine a band of savages, exhausted from searching for nuts or chasing wild animals, suddenly grazing for the first time at a fruit-laden orchard or a pasture full of sheep. How many milliseconds do you think it would take them to appreciate the advantages of agriculture? The progressivist party line sometimes even goes so far as to credit agriculture with the remarkable flowering of art that has taken place over the past few thousand years. Since crops can be stored, and since it takes less time to pick food from a garden than to find it in the wild, agriculture gave us free time that hunter-gatherers never had.

Thus it was agriculture that enabled us to build the Parthenon and compose the B-minor Mass. While the case for the progressivist view seems overwhelming, it's hard to prove. How do you show that the lives of people 10, years ago got better when they abandoned hunting and gathering for farming? Until recently, archaeologists had to resort to indirect tests, whose results surprisingly failed to support the progressivist view. Here's one example of an indirect test: Are twentieth century hunter-gatherers really worse off than farmers?

Roots And Collapse Of Empathy: Human Nature At Its Best And At Its Worst 2013

Scattered throughout the world, several dozen groups of so-called primitive people, like the Kalahari bushmen, continue to support themselves that way. It turns out that these people have plenty of leisure time, sleep a good deal, and work less hard than their farming neighbors. For instance, the average time devoted each week to obtaining food is only 12 to 19 hours for one group of Bushmen, 14 hours or less for the Hadza nomads of Tanzania.

One Bushman, when asked why he hadn't emulated neighboring tribes by adopting agriculture, replied, "Why should we, when there are so many mongongo nuts in the world? While farmers concentrate on high-carbohydrate crops like rice and potatoes, the mix of wild plants and animals in the diets of surviving hunter-gatherers provides more protein and a bettter balance of other nutrients. In one study, the Bushmen's average daily food intake during a month when food was plentiful was 2, calories and 93 grams of protein, considerably greater than the recommended daily allowance for people of their size.

It's almost inconceivable that Bushmen, who eat 75 or so wild plants, could die of starvation the way hundreds of thousands of Irish farmers and their families did during the potato famine of the s. So the lives of at least the surviving hunter-gatherers aren't nasty and brutish, even though farmers have pushed them into some of the world's worst real estate. But modern hunter-gatherer societies that have rubbed shoulders with farming societies for thousands of years don't tell us about conditions before the agricultural revolution.

The progressivist view is really making a claim about the distant past: that the lives of primitive people improved when they switched from gathering to farming. Archaeologists can date that switch by distinguishing remains of wild plants and animals from those of domesticated ones in prehistoric garbage dumps. How can one deduce the health of the prehistoric garbage makers, and thereby directly test the progressivist view?

That question has become answerable only in recent years, in part through the newly emerging techniques of paleopathology, the study of signs of disease in the remains of ancient peoples. In some lucky situations, the paleopathologist has almost as much material to study as a pathologist today.

For example, archaeologists in the Chilean deserts found well preserved mummies whose medical conditions at time of death could be determined by autopsy Discover, October. And feces of long-dead Indians who lived in dry caves in Nevada remain sufficiently well preserved to be examined for hookworm and other parasites. Usually the only human remains available for study are skeletons, but they permit a surprising number of deductions.

To begin with, a skeleton reveals its owner's sex, weight, and approximate age. In the few cases where there are many skeletons, one can construct mortality tables like the ones life insurance companies use to calculate expected life span and risk of death at any given age.


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Paleopathologists can also calculate growth rates by measuring bones of people of different ages, examine teeth for enamel defects signs of childhood malnutrition , and recognize scars left on bones by anemia, tuberculosis, leprosy, and other diseases. One straight forward example of what paleopathologists have learned from skeletons concerns historical changes in height.

Skeletons from Greece and Turkey show that the average height of hunger-gatherers toward the end of the ice ages was a generous 5' 9'' for men, 5' 5'' for women. With the adoption of agriculture, height crashed, and by B. By classical times heights were very slowly on the rise again, but modern Greeks and Turks have still not regained the average height of their distant ancestors.

Another example of paleopathology at work is the study of Indian skeletons from burial mounds in the Illinois and Ohio river valleys. At Dickson Mounds, located near the confluence of the Spoon and Illinois rivers, archaeologists have excavated some skeletons that paint a picture of the health changes that occurred when a hunter-gatherer culture gave way to intensive maize farming around A.

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Difference between Sympathy and Empathy: My Definitions

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Robert Greene: "The Laws of Human Nature" - Talks at Google

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Empathy and Sympathy in Ethics

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What Happens When Compassion Hurts?

Gender socialization can contribute to empathic imbalance. Many women are brought up to believe that empathy, in and of itself, is always appropriate, and it becomes their default mode of responding to others. The high regard in which empathic people are held obscures the fact that they may be neglecting their own feelings.

Situations of unequal power can also create imbalance between partners in giving or receiving empathy. Consider an extreme condition, Stockholm syndrome, in which hostages come to express loyalty and empathy toward their captors. Battered women and abused children often form similar bonds with their abusers. Sadly, in relationships marked by unequal power, those in the low-power position are more likely to defer to the needs of those in the high-power position. Doing so helps them hold on to the attachment—at the cost of becoming the architects of their own disenfranchisement.

How do you know if you are at risk of being trapped by empathy?

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