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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > March 2017 > Sorry, I don’t feel your pain

Sorry, I don’t feel your pain

Sharing in other people’s woe might seem the right thing to do, but it can lead us to make bad decisions, argues David Edmonds

Against Empathy: The Case For Rational Compassion by Paul Bloom (Bodley Head, £18.99)

The Empathy Instinct: How to Create a More Civil Society by Peter Bazalgette (John Murray, £16.99)

“Being against empathy is like being against kittens,” writes the psychologist Paul Bloom. Let’s at least agree that nobody can object to kittens. Even the new Twitter-obsessed occupant of the White House—a man who demonstrated his empathetic skills during his election campaign by publicly mocking a disabled reporter—briefly followed a Twitter account devoted to photos of cute felines.

The trepidation many Americans feel about the future (especially women, African- Americans, immigrants and Mexicans) makes the arrival of two new books about empathy especially timely. Superficially, the books share much in common. They’re chatty, pacy and readable. They cover similar territory; they even draw on the same quotations, including this from US President Barack Obama: “The biggest deficit that we have in our society and in the world right now is an empathy deficit”; and, from a radically different perspective, Joseph Stalin’s famous line: “When one man dies it’s a tragedy, but when a million die it’s a statistic.”

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s March issue: Sam Tanenhaus, George Magnus and Dahlia Lithwick examine the state of America after Donald Trump’s first couple of weeks. Tanenhaus looks at the situation faced by the American press, Magnus looks at the state of global trade and Lithwick inspects the diminishing right to choice women face over abortion. Anne Perkins explores the rise of Theresa May through the political ranks and David Edmonds looks at how empathy affects our decision making. Also in this issue: Jay Elwes on Trump’s relationship with America’s intelligence agencies, Anita Charlesworth on the state of the NHS and Nick Cohen on what is done in the name of “the people” by politicians
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