The Psychology of Cruelty

Sunday, September 16, 2018

What is it

Throughout history, people have committed all kinds of cruel, degrading, and evil acts toward other people. Many believe that for evil acts like genocide to be even possible, the victims must first be dehumanized by the perpetrators, starting with dehumanizing language or propaganda. But is this lack of empathy always at the heart of human cruelty? When we call others “vermin,” “roaches,” or “animals” are we thereby denying their humanity? Or can human cruelty and violence sometimes rely on actually recognizing the other’s humanity? Josh and guest host Alison Gopnik welcome back Paul Bloom from Yale University, author of Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion.

Comments (1)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, September 14, 2018 -- 11:30 AM

I guess I would have to read

I guess I would have to read Bloom's book, in order to get to the rationale behind the title. My eleven-year-old grandson shows empathy for many sorts of living things, including some human beings who may (or may not) deserve it. I won't bore anyone with declarations about his level of maturity. Certainly, there are varying depths of cruelty and most anyone is capable of displaying that sort of attitude and behavior. Denying the humanity of someone or some group is, to emulate Dennett, 'a sky-hook' to oblivion. Recognition of another's humanity can lead to envy or jealousy: cruelty is only a short distance from those deadlys. We are fully able to discount those whose station surpasses our own (whether in reality or vain fantasy). Empathy is that human capacity, most related to love, generosity, magnanimity, and so on. In probability, those of us who lack one also lack the others, on any but the most superficial level. But, admittedly, Professor Bloom is the psychologist in the room. As such, he knows much of the intricacies of the human mind; the interconnections of human neurons and synapses; and roles neurotransmitters play in deciding how we think what we think. Wish I were in Gambier or Marietta or that other Ohio location where your show airs. I'll try to keep up with this subject, online with your blog. Warmest regards, HGN.


Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology, Yale University


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