Toward the theory of empathy uber alles

The October issue of Scientific American had an article on the last page titled “Pushed Out”.  The article cites the numbers of people displaced from homelands due to violence and disaster. The numbers are shown on a bar graph where the victims are categorized in one of two ways. “People displaced inside their own country due to violence and disaster and violence” and “Refugees (all causes)”

The surprise result of the study was that the category “Refugees”, which is specifically peoples forced from their country of origin into other nations, receives massively more aid than those displaced inside their own borders. The later category, in 2015, was nearly three times the number of people classified as refugees and received a fraction of the aid..

The article ends with a statement about how the authors couldn’t explain why this is the case. The reality seemed to them to be just about backwards from what it was expected to be. Folks ought to make charity for their neighbors more of a priority, right?

Not if the motive for charity is empathy that can be worn on the sleeve. Not when the flag of the country from which the refugees flee is available on Facebook as a profile pic filter. Not when there isn’t a slogan or meme to be found that references the in-country displaced.

I’ve posted some of the academic work where empathy is studied. The tendency for a person to support the exotic refugee and ignore the neighbor is more proof that empathy is not altruism.

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