The Science of Evil
Posted by Adam Benforado on August 27, 2011
Following up on my review of Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test, I just finished reading the other new offering in the world of “psychopath studies”: Simone Baron-Cohen’s The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty.
Baron-Cohen’s central theory is that evil is critically tied to lack of empathy. It’s a thought-provoking notion and I was very intrigued by the connections that he made between various “empathy deficient” conditions from psychopaths, to narcissists, to borderlines, to those on the autism spectrum.
At points, I think he gets so carried away considering the particular dispositions of his “zero negatives” (those, like psychopaths, whose lack of empathy brings about “unequivocally bad” results) and “zero positives” (those, like Asperger’s sufferers, whose lack of empathy is not inherently harmful) that he misses the power of our situations to inform “evil” behavior. Indeed, at these moments Baron-Cohen would have done well to pan out and emphasize that many of us (even those of us testing high on the Empathy Quotient questionnaire in the book’s Appendix) can be influenced to be less empathetic, with disastrous results.
These criticisms aside, and despite not feeling totally convinced by his argument, it’s an interesting book and worth a read. I found myself continuing to ponder Baron-Cohen’s insights long after I’d set the book back on shelf.
One of these musings, I’ll share in my next post . . .