Empathy vs Greed: An Old,Old Story

Thanks SB for the Ted’s blog reference “6 studies on how money affects the mind”.In this 2013 presentation social psychologist Paul Piff  gives us 6 Findings ,


The last item is an indicator of emotional intelligence, no doubt linked to survival and having empathic capability as a major component.Number 5 indicates the unequal access playing field that poverty engenders.Dr Piff ends on an  optimistic note indicating that empathic responses can be increased by learning,notably through voluntary exposure to enabling experiences and examples. This leaves us with the problem of what would induce the wealthy to expose themselves to the “corrective experience”?Leaving God out of the  equation gives us only the style setting proclivities of leadership.Thus the importance of the ballot box and democratic access thereto emerges powerfully once again!



  1. Empathy vs Greed:
    Superficially this concept is easy to accept as just another way of saying “good against bad”. Empathy allows us to “feel” the pain (and joy) of others. It is a way to think of oneself as selfless, altruistic. But it is also possible to cultivate an empathic identification with harmful groups and ideas. Greed is defined as a “selfish desire for more than one needs”. It is always something that is excessive, so its status as a negative is clear. But our judgments as to what and when something is excessive can be inaccurate and can (and should) vary with context.
    And: Is “selfless” an illusion, a religious-like construct?
    The thing we call “self”, that thing we can call selfishly greedy, actually includes all with which we are empathic. What comes to be seen as “self” is as complex and varied as are the myriad empathic possibilities. If our cultivated empathies blend to create a “self” that relates well with its environment (ultimately the laws of nature), empowering that kind of self should not be considered greedy. IF our empathy has been invested in things and ideas that are or become destructive of life’s best interests, craving more power to serve that kind of “self” would illustrate the very definition of greed.
    So, the concept of “empathy VERSUS greed” tends to lose some of its power. And it may obfuscate our arrival at more important understandings.
    Our fundamental problem is clarified to be a values issue. It is that of empowering good values and depowering bad values. The real issue is learning how to recognize which is which! And that is why this blog exists.

    1. DS: “And: Is ‘selfless’ an illusion, a religious-like construct?”

      There sure are enough idolatrous vehicles.

    2. The idea of empathic understanding involves a ” there but for the grace of God go I” attitude toward other humans.Once evoked it is difficult and emotionally costly to expunge.Good values and bad values exist in the eye of the beholder and the role of empathy appears to be that of ensuring a hearing of the ideas( needs,wishes,fears) of others; not only the like minded. Should it be redefined as investable in things, it becomes akin to covetousnes ,the close affiliate of greed.Ultimate ” good and bad” are not knowable outside of ideological frameworks.( including religious ones.) One can “love” a work of art or a musical selection but possessing it to the point of removing it from potential public purview may well be covetousness..Once again the ability to see results of action or inaction,viewed through many lenses but including empathy ,in combination with the will and ability to course correct ,is key.

      1. Thank you Daedal2207. This is worth expanding:
        It is OUR PERCEPTION of good values and bad values that “exists in the eye of the beholder”. Consider: If we live in a mechanistic universe we can understand that there will be objectively true (possibly quite separate from our beliefs) best paths, lesser paths and destructive paths for any endeavor we take or imagine. This understanding focuses our attention to the importance of the process whereby we maximize the probability that what we believe (including our formation of values) will be close to that which is objectively true. The “beholder” who adheres to the disciplines of objective analysis (the scientific method) is more likely to make the better guesses.
        I tend to use the word “empathy” in a manner that is related to the “Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary” definitions: “A strong imaginative or emotional projection of one’s self into a work of art; esthetic appreciation.” As well as: “The mental identification of the ego with the character and experiences of another person.” I think that it is helpful to understand that we can engage in empathic relationships with ideas and objects, some of which can be very good in helping to construct the healthiest self (and some can be very harmful). In every instance, it is the “self” that is doing these things – and the doing (to varying degrees) shapes the self. Hopefully we cultivate empathic relationships that shape us such that our “self” is caused to relate harmoniously with the OBJECTIVE realities. An example we have already examined is that of growing an empathic relationship with issues of race, OR a more broadly based empathy with individual fellow humans in general (the full range of feelings including the best to worst – what it means to be human). Where the emphasis is placed will shape the “self” differently – and perhaps put it in jeopardy – or help it thrive – depending on the realities.

      2. Daedal2207: “The idea of empathic understanding involves a ‘there but tor the grace of God go I’ attitude toward other humans. Once evoked it is difficult and emotionally costly to expunge.”
        Here is a truly fundamental concept that needs more analysis in order to be used pragmatically to our best future. When “evoked” haphazardly, this empathic understanding is costly not only emotionally, but in many other ways.
        “There but for the grace of God go I” is recognition that forces that are out of our control impact our being. It claims that what we are is essentially an accident that could befall any of us. Let’s analyze some logical consequences of this belief. (This is a belief that in a mechanistic world would be true, but it creates a fascinating dilemma – one that helps explain an essential difference between today’s political left and right):
        Explain how we can blame things other than people for our ills and at the same time not demean humanity? There is a problem in the fact that it is apparently true that “things” do dictate much of human behavior. If we live in a cause and effect world, causes do indeed flow from many sources other than human in such a fashion that human behavior is affected. Therefore to that degree, humans are not to be considered responsible. It must follow that humanity, from that point of view and to that degree is without meaning. We cannot credit or fault ourselves as having anything to do with those consequences.
        If humans wish to enhance responsible behavior it is contradictory to demean our importance in the chain of cause and effect.
        If we wish for our society to become a cause for the most responsible behavior so that we can credit ourselves for the better consequences of that behavior, we have to impose responsibility with clear consequences for irresponsible behavior. In other words, we must CREATE meaning for our own human purposes. What it means to be human is enhanced to the degree that we consider and hold humans responsible for selecting the better and the lesser options.
        The needed attitude says that a car was stolen not because the keys were left in the ignition, but because a person, selecting among many options, chose to steal that car. It says that a person was shot not because a gun was handy, but because someone chose (among many options) to aim and shoot.
        The danger is one of excessive forgiveness which dilutes the power of those causes needed to effect correction.

  2. The Greedy-Rich-Entitlement Syndrome. Pandora’s box keeps spewing out more … a virtual bottomless “container!” My reference to our turning a blind eye (Macri, we hardly knew ye?) and Latin America (the world, for that matter) as the “young” Westernized continent learning to live with/adapting to corruption in the name of democratic rule (not that it doesn’t exist in other forms of ruling! Ah, Nature!): http://www.thenation.com/article/panama-papers-expose-the-hidden-wealth-of-the-worlds-super-rich/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=New%20Campaign&utm_term=daily

    This is only the beginning … the tip of the iceberg. American names have not been identified … as of yet. Wow! Is that the other shoe waiting to drop? There are so many shoes that it looks like we’re dealing with a centipede … not a featherless biped. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/04/04/of-socrates-cynics-and-flat-nailed-featherless-bipeds/?_r=0

    daedal2207: “This leaves us with the problem of what would induce the wealthy to expose themselves to the ‘corrective experience’?”

    The incongruousness of the disproportionate call to sacrifice will become more and more evident (if not already) to the younger generation akin to the 1960s when the altruism was only being exercised by the everyday powerless. Marching to the banner of Morality and, just like “the-king-has-no-clothes” … there is no such banner … just a pole which can be used as a weapon. Yes, elections … like words … have consequences. Hope we don’t lose the trust factor, even on a personal basis. Once damaged, can the individual human psyche be truly put together again? Or, does it require generations for forgiveness? Studies … we learn the “whys”. And? Humpty Dumpty.

    1. “once damaged can the individual human psyche be truly put together again?”
      Since the memory of emotional laden events belongs to the structures of the limbic system the true putting together would require manipulation of the structures within that system..Apparently so doing does affect post traumatic stress disorder positively in some cases.(and with some risk)But the efforts of psychologists,psychiatrists,psychopharmacologists etc. are primarily orthogonal at best.Some relief does occur, so something is happening;but it is probably at a group level (two person or more) and whether Japanese Morita therapy,psychoanalysis or neurocognitive behavioral modification it can be seen as some form of teaching/learning where the temperofrontal lobes play a major role.So Susanna, because we are dealing with the reptilian brain(our residual) your humpty- dumpty analogy is terrifyingly apt.
      It does mean that the amelioration that is available readily, exists on a group dynamic basis and the nature of our leadership/follower politic is the key to our survival.(or extinction)

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