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Sugar in Tea and Lots of Empathy
on 26 May 2011
This book is a quick and easy read despite the, at times, repetitive, tedious and reductive, scientific jargon of the lab scientist. If you have the time, this book can be absorbed in a day. I had chores to do Saturday, so it took me two days. The author has a sense of "we" and inclusiveness in his writing style, thank goodness, which boosts the reader's motivation to plow through the jargon. The author practices the empathy he teaches about in this book so the reader has another level, a meta-level, of understanding of the subject.
The most unique aspect of this work is the author's contribution to an understanding of those who do evil and hurtful things to others: above all else, it is due to a total and complete lack of empathy, a phenomenon that can be traced, measured and predicted through science's understanding of the brain. The scary part of this information, not mentioned in the book, is how this scientific knowledge can lead to "pre-crime arrests," as was illustrated in the movie "Minority Report." Whether the person is a psychopath, a person suffering from an anti-social disorder or a borderline personality or a Narcissistic personality, each type mentioned here manifests "Zero degrees of empathy" that has negative consequences for others as well as for the self.
A second unique aspect of this work is the author's understanding of Asberger's Syndrome as a systematizing function of the brain, a logic function that seems to carry with it its own moral code (based on logic or logical consistencies). Here is another type of personality that also suffers from "Zero degrees of empathy" but this deficit often has positive consequences for others and can have positive consequences for the self as well.
The author's purpose in writing this book is to put empathy in the forefront of our consciousness, politically as well as socially and parentally. All infants and children need "a pot of gold" of emotional warmth and appreciation bred into their brains and bones so as to develop into smart and empathic adults. As Jackie De Shannon once sang in the late 1960s for future generations' benefit, "What the world needs now is love, sweet love." We also need to solve the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians that does not involve the U.S. simply turning over billions of dollars annually to "support" Israel. Simon Baron-Cohen thinks empathy is the universal solvent to that end.
My only disappointment with the book is that while empathy is the author's main focus, he can only mention one person (besides an earlier example of a female psychotherapist), Bishop Desmond Tutu, as an exemplar of what it means to have "super-empathy" -- and no scientific proof whatsoever to back up his assertion whether for Mr. Tutu or the female psychotherapist. You have to take his word on faith simply because he is a scientist. I have a better example, although still lacking in scientific rigor: read the novels of Henry James.
I am a better person for having read this book. It refreshed my spirit and revitalized my "double-mindedness" (that's a very good thing, according to the author) such that I recommend it to everyone, even if you already are an empathic person. The likelihood, however, of this book causing major political changes in the world we live in today is very low. Why? Because the major political changes the world is now so painfully and destructively undergoing are being perpetrated by the very psychologically warped types that comprise the dark subject of this author's study of evil.