Comments on: Representing Difference as Pathology: An Example from Simon Baron-Cohen’s The Science of Evil Changing the Cultural Conversation Mon, 13 May 2013 23:30:47 +0000 hourly 1 By: Kate Gladstone Kate Gladstone Wed, 10 Oct 2012 19:39:24 +0000 Girls and boys, come out to play,
But shoo the neighbours’ kid away.
He’s awkward, shy and very smart:
That’s proof enough he has no heart.
The grownups say: “No empathy”
And schedule him for therapy.
They hope that all the high-cost fuss
Will make him like empathic Us.
Then he’ll do all the things we do,
And be Quite Normal, through and through.
WE are empathic — think of that! –
Right now, we’re torturing a cat.

By: Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg Wed, 03 Oct 2012 14:49:52 +0000 I don’t think that Baron-Cohen is a monster at all; in fact, people tend to speak of him as a kind and affable person. I really don’t consider any human being a monster, even the ones who do criminal, hideous things and end up in prison for them. I tend to separate the person from the person’s actions, and I try to stick with what people say and do, rather than who they are.

So I don’t think there is any ill-will here on his part. I think that his work suffers from a combination of poor methodology, neurotypical bias, and the absence of autistic voices. I think it’s also very much bound up with the obsession of the psychological profession with “normalcy,” and that it’s part of the project of delineating what is considered “abnormal” in order to define all the rights and privileges of normalcy away from people who don’t make the grade. I don’t think Baron-Cohen is conscious of what he’s supporting here at all, but the power issues at play in his work jump off the page for me. It’s one of the reasons that I find his work such painful reading.

By: Daniel Daniel Tue, 02 Oct 2012 23:20:03 +0000 Maybe most normal people grow up so practicing being insensitive (if not cruel) that they reach adulthood taking completely for granted that their insensitivity is perfectly healthy. If Cohen is one such normal person, then he has too little emotional sensitivity to properly empathize with those of us who have never learned to be emotionally insensitive.

By: Daniel Daniel Tue, 02 Oct 2012 23:10:24 +0000 So, Baron-Cohen’s usage of ‘empathy’ seems to usually be about ‘basic’ ToM (Baron-Cohen’s specialty), and not about emotional sympathy.

By: Daniel Daniel Tue, 02 Oct 2012 23:04:52 +0000 I noticed that Baron-Cohen uses the term ‘empathy’ in various ways, only one of which is emotional sympathy.

He often uses ‘empathy’ for a mere *understanding* of why someone does something, or for *what someone is thinking* in ‘logical’ terms.

By: Daniel Daniel Tue, 02 Oct 2012 22:50:04 +0000 To Tammy Kacmarynski,

If you see some stranger crying in grief, and if you don’t know why they are in grief, and if you feel deeply for them, then you are empathizing with them.

If you later figure out why they were in grief, and if you feel for them then too despite that you think their reason for being grieved is selfish, then you are empathizing with them even more: you are emotionally at-one with the fact they feel grief, even if you disagree with their ‘reasons’ for being grieved.

Of course, a bully can empathize with another bully when they both love to deride a third person. This is empathy-of-derision, not empathy-of-kindness. Similarly, if you are aware that someone feels hatred for something toward which you feel hatred, then you empathize with their hatred (even in the case in which you think that your hatred is mostly just a case of your being irritable, such as, maybe, at a happy child who is so happy to try to get or hold your attention at four in the morning).

By: Daniel Daniel Tue, 02 Oct 2012 22:26:25 +0000 This is disturbing. I hope you simply misread Baron-Cohen. Because, if you read him correctly, then he’s more-or-less of a monster. I doubt that he’s such a monster, though, given what seems to be the motive of his book: at least some kind of increased kindness-and-understanding for the neurotypical.

So, in not having read the book yet, I’m thinking that Baron-Cohen may just be someone who has the specifically British institutional patchwork of deficit-of-kindness and surfeit of systemizing (Ever listen to the normal goings-on of British Parliament? It overflows with the ‘duty of derision’).

I wonder if Baron-Cohen relates to debilitating stage fright. If he *doesn’t* relate to debilitating stage fright, then I wonder if he finds it a case of ‘normal empathy’ to *deride* an otherwise-normal person who *does* have debilitating stage fright.

So, I’m thinking that it may be that Baron-Cohen himself suffers from a deficit of kindness and a surfeit of systemizing. I’m going to buy the book to try to determine whether this is so. Then I’ll post my findings on my blog.

By: Tammy Kacmarynski Tammy Kacmarynski Tue, 18 Sep 2012 15:09:53 +0000 Forgive me in advance, I plead because I am newly aware that I have Aspergers and I am trying to learn as quickly as possible.

Empathy…Damn, this is a large part of why I had so much difficulty with accepting that I may have Aspergers. I would read the medical definition of Aspergers and become certain I did not fit into this category but when I would speak to other Aspies, male and female, I felt completely ‘at home’, in a way that I have never, ever experienced.

But back to the empathy. I do not naturally think or insert the logic of someone else’s life into the equation when I have an interaction with someone else, at least not in the moment. Later these thoughts may occur to me but not usually during. I am aware this may be because I am only now learning who I am and why I do things the way I do and I don’t know for sure if this aspect will change or alter, as I learn more.

I have read (and reread) the passage from Baron-Cohen’s book and I am unable to understand how this constitutes empathy. Do other people have this insight of empathy (if that is indeed what this is), while they are experiencing ‘teasing’? This does not make sense to me.

Now if the author had said that later on in the day and the boy was thinking about what had happened on the playground and was unable to figure out that the other children had ‘motives’ to be mean as entertainment, well then, I could understand that. While I am not always skilled at seeing the ‘bigger picture’ about someone else’s motives, at my age, I have begun to develop the understanding that every interaction someone has with me, is not necessarily about me.

For example, I was showing my coworker some new outfits I purchased and her reply was ‘those are nice but now we need to work on your shoes’. Initially I was very hurt and felt insulted but later I was able to think this might be an issue of her own. Maybe in her world of experiences, she now believes that her appearance must always be perfect. Maybe I am incorrect but the situation only makes rational sense that these are HER belief systems for herself and she was only projecting these onto me.

Isn’t the above story a form of empathy? I felt I was empathizing! LOL

By: I get it now | aspergersandmeblog I get it now | aspergersandmeblog Mon, 27 Aug 2012 18:07:28 +0000 [...] Then I read this blog post. [...]

By: Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg Sat, 25 Aug 2012 15:09:43 +0000 Julie, are you familiar with my Autism and Empathy site? You might find a good deal there that resonates with your experience. You can find the site at