The Age of Empathy

Friday, September 25, 2009

Do humans have an instinct for compassion, or do we only serve our own survival and interests? Renowned primatologist Frans de Waal describes his studies of social behaviors and how they reveal that animals–and humans–are naturally empathic in his book The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society.


Frans de Waal

Comments [11]

Jgarbuz from Queens, NY

Ayn Rand was the backlash to the collectivist mentality that had become so dominant, especially after the Bolshevik revolution. Of course, fascism and Nazism were the most extreme reactions to Communism, but Ayn Rand saw all totalitarian movements, of the Left or the Right, as collectivist as both trample on individual rights. She espoused extreme individualism as a safeguard against creeping collectivism and totalitarianism regardless from which direction it comes from.

Sep. 25 2009 12:37 PM
Wayne Johnson from Brooklyn

Professor de Waal uses primate studies as his source of empathy studies.Yet he works at a research center that annualy kills thousands of primates in the name of science.

Sep. 25 2009 12:35 PM
Robots Need 2 Party from NYC

This may be selfish of me but I'm grateful Ayn Rand is dead.

Sep. 25 2009 12:32 PM
Larry from Baldwin New york

Perhaps empathy must be suspended for practical purposes, like being mean to mice so you can study their capacity for empathy. Some of us see kidney donation to a stranger as wierd, even evidence of a psycological pathology. I suggest most of us consider empathy great on face value but in practice accept it only in moderation. Thank you

Sep. 25 2009 12:27 PM
Abby Stoddard from Manhattan

I tuned in late, so may have missed it, but does your research examine the genocide in Rwanda and other conflicts where former friends/neighbors turn on each other?

Sep. 25 2009 12:23 PM
Deb from Larchmont, NY

I'm reading Jill Bolte Taylor's book My Stroke of Insight and am curious if your guest to comment on if empathy is more a 'right-brain' or more 'left-brain' activity.

Sep. 25 2009 12:23 PM
Mark Greenberg from Bronx

We once owned a parakeet named Petunia and when she was several years old we got another bird named Lauren, though he was really a guy bird although just a baby one. Petunia soon adopted him.
Quite a few years later, Petunia was dying and too weak to stay on her swing by herself. For as long as he could, Lauren used to urge her off the cage bottom and sit on the swing with her, wedging himself against her and the side of the swing to help her stay upright.
So do birds have empathy? I say yes.

Sep. 25 2009 12:19 PM
Jgarbuz from Queens, NY

If you have nothing, you have nothing to fight over.

Sep. 25 2009 12:17 PM
Joel from Briarcliff, NY

At one time we had two cats, one older than the other. The younger liked to swipe fuzzy magnetic figures from the refrigerator door. One night he ran outside only to be killed by a driver on our suburban street.

We were distraught enough to place all of those fuzzy figures into a drawer. One day, weeks later, the older cat sat in front of the refrigerator. On a hunch, I took out one of the figures and placed it on the door. He swiped at it. He had never shown any interest in doing that previously. Empathy?

Sep. 25 2009 12:17 PM
Jgarbuz from Queens, NY

I have a general question for your guest. How does he explain that female-dominated Bonobo chimpanzee societies have much less territory than the regular male-dominated chimpanzees?
Why are they less successful in holding territory?

Sep. 25 2009 12:13 PM
Gerald Fnord from Laguna

I wish you had not opposed compassion and 'serv[ing] our own survival and interests'; this might be called the Rand Fallacy.

Human beings cannot and do not survive on their own---and I speak as an introvert and misanthrope who spends as much time alone as he can, so I'm no cheerleader for what is reified as 'society'.

We have survived and spread because of our technology. Much of that is the sort usually meant by 'technology', but social technology has been vital. The social technologies of group-identity, healing and passage rituals, education, marriage, the Market, Government---they are all, in their variegated forms, parts of our technological tool-box as surely as are the lenses that allow me to see decently. Empathy and compassion allow them to work.

Sep. 25 2009 12:07 PM

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