November 2013

* empathy

roger

Zero empathy refers to people at the extremely low end of the scale. They tend to be people with personality disorders, particularly antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). I focus quite a lot on psychopathy [the extreme form of ASPD] and also on two other personality disorders, borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder.

The negative is meant to be shorthand for this being negative for the individual but also for the people around them. It's meant to contrast with what I call zero positive empathy, which effectively describes the autistic spectrum.

Autistic people struggle with empathy just like zero negatives but it seems to be for very different reasons. I'm arguing that their low empathy is a result of a particular cognitive style, which is attentive to details and patterns or rules, which in shorthand, I call systemizing.

If we think about the autism spectrum as involving a very strong drive to systemize, that can have very positive consequences for the individual and for society. The downside is that when you try to systemize certain parts of the world like people and emotions, those sorts of phenomena are less lawful and harder to systemize. That can lead to having low empathy, almost like a byproduct of strong systemizing.



There are people with Asperger's whom I've met who certainly would be very upset to learn they'd hurt another person's feelings. They often have very strong moral consciences and moral codes. They care about not hurting people. They may not always be aware [that they've said something rude or hurtful], but if it's pointed out, they would want to do something about it.

The other side of their moral sense is that they often have a strong sense of justice or fairness. They may have arrived at it through looking for logical patterns rather than necessarily because they can easily identify with someone, however.

(Simon Baron Cohen)

Borat Learnings

rog

"To single out a particular group and say we can't make a joke about them is almost a form of prejudice and it's kind of patronizing."



"I think if you come from a history of persecution you have to develop a sense of humour."



"Dictators are ludicrous characters, and, you know, in my career and in my life, I've always enjoyed sort of inhabiting these ludicrous, larger-than-life characters that somehow exist in the real world."



"Jews have a tendency to become comedians."



The movie is shrewd and discerning about choosing its targets. Borat likes African-Americans because he thinks they're cool (and part of the unspoken joke is that this generalization is just as racist as his fear and loathing of Jews or Uzbeks). He's homophobic, but he can't tell who's gay and who isn't. And because his culture thinks nothing of intimate physical contact between men, he has homosexual experiences without even realizing it. Because he doesn't think of them that way.
(Jim Emerson)

Napoleon Dynamite

gene

There is a kind of studied stupidity that sometimes passes as humor, and Jared Hess' "Napoleon Dynamite" pushes it as far as it can go. Its hero is the kind of nerd other nerds avoid, and the movie is about his steady progress toward complete social unacceptability. Even his victory toward the end, if it is a victory, comes at the cost of clowning before his fellow students.


We can laugh at comedies like this for two reasons: Because we feel superior to the characters, or because we pity or like them. I do not much like laughing down at people.


Welcome To The Dollhouse (by Todd Solondz) is a film informed by anger and passion about an unpopular junior high school girl. But that film was informed by anger and passion, and the character fought back.


Napoleon seems to passively invite ridicule, and his attempts to succeed have a studied indifference, as if he is mocking his own efforts.


I'm told the movie was greeted at Sundance with lots of laughter, but then Sundance audiences are concerned with being cool, and to sit through this film in depressed silence would not be cool, however urgently it might be appropriate."
(Roger Ebert)