Thursday, April 25, 2013

"This above all: to thine own self be true"

In "The Death of Empathy" James Tonkowich argues that the reason for the appalling behavior of participants and bystanders in the Steubenville rapes can be explained by the disappearance of any sense of moral obligation:
.... Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith discussing the religious and moral lives of teens and emerging adults relates that researchers [asked] the young people they interviewed the same question: Is what you believe about God and morality true for everyone everywhere or is it just is it just a private belief that’s only true for you? That is, is spiritual and moral truth objective or subjective? The vast majority…didn’t understand the question. They were incapable of conceiving what objective truth and morality could possibly mean. ....

As this relates to empathy, Smith and his team found that emerging adults believe that no one is under any obligation to help others. It’s nice if you help if you feel like it, but no one should feel guilty for ignoring the needy. Thus in the Steubenville case teens saw the victim drunk, naked and unconscious and did nothing. They were, from their point of view, under no obligation to inconvenience themselves.

Add to that, the breakdown in the family, which also kills empathy. In her 2003 essay “Parents or Prisons,” economist Jennifer Roback Morse writes:
The basic self-control and reciprocity that a free society takes for granted do not develop automatically. Conscience development takes place in childhood. Children need to develop empathy so they will care whether they hurt someone or whether they treat others fairly. They need to develop self-control so they can follow through on these impulses and do the right thing even if it might benefit them to do otherwise.
All this development takes place inside the family. Children attach to the rest of the human race through their first relationships with their parents. They learn reciprocity, trust, and empathy from these primal relationships. Disrupting those foundational relations has a major negative impact on children as well as on the people around them. In particular, children of single parents — or completely absent parents — are more likely to commit crimes.

Such children develop attachment disorders and, as Morse writes, “An attachment-disordered child is the truly dangerous sociopath, the child who doesn’t care what anyone thinks, who does whatever he can get away with.”

The combination of single parents, absent parents, dual-income professional parents, daycare, after-care and easy, no-fault divorce have strained sometimes to the breaking point the relationship between parent and child, resulting in varying degrees of attachment disorder and thus children with insufficient discipline, compassion and empathy. .... [more]