9780307407771

The Age of Empathy

by
  • ISBN13:

    9780307407771

  • ISBN10:

    0307407772

  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 9/7/2010
  • Publisher: Broadway Books

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Summary

Are we our brothers' keepers? Do we have an instinct for compassion? Or are we, as is often assumed, only on earth to serve our own survival and interests? In this thought-provoking book, the eminent biologist and acclaimed author of Our Inner Ape examines how empathy comes naturally to a great variety of animals, including humans. Written with a wealth of anecdotes, wry humor, and incisive intelligence, The Age of Empathy is essential reading for our embattled times. Book jacket.

Author Biography

FRANS DE WAAL is a Dutch-born biologist who lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia. One of the world's best-known primatologists, de Waal is C. H. Candler professor of psychology and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University. He has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences. In 2007, Time selected him as one of the World's 100 Most Influential People.


From the Hardcover edition.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Biology, Left and Rightp. 1
The Other Darwinismp. 27
Bodies Talking to Bodiesp. 46
Someone Else's Shoesp. 84
The Elephant in the Roomp. 118
Fair is Fairp. 158
Crooked Timberp. 201
Notesp. 227
Referencesp. 261
Indexp. 285
Acknowledgementsp. 293
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

Excerpts

1

Biology, Left and Right

What is government itself but the greatest of all

reflections on human nature?

-james madison, 1788

Are we our brothers' keepers? Should we be? Or would this role only interfere with why we are on earth, which according to economists is to consume and produce, and according to biologists is to survive and reproduce? That both views sound similar is logical given that they arose at around the same time, in the same place, during the English Industrial Revolution. Both follow a competition-is-good-for-you logic.

Slightly earlier and slightly to the north, in Scotland, the thinking was different. The father of economics, Adam Smith, understood as no other that the pursuit of self-interest needs to be tempered by "fellow feeling." He said so in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, a book not nearly as popular as his later work The Wealth of Nations. He famously opened his first book with:

How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.

The French revolutionaries chanted of fraternite, Abraham Lincoln appealed to the bonds of sympathy, and Theodore Roosevelt spoke glowingly of fellow feeling as "the most important factor in producing a healthy political and social life." But if this is true, why is this sentiment sometimes ridiculed as being, well, sentimental? A recent example occurred after Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana in 2005. While the American people were transfixed by the unprecedented catastrophe, one cable news network saw fit to ask if the Constitution actually provides for disaster relief. A guest on the show argued that the misery of others is none of our business.

The day the levees broke, I happened to be driving down from Atlanta to Alabama to give a lecture at Auburn University. Except for a few fallen trees, this part of Alabama had suffered little damage, but the hotel was full of refugees: people had crammed the rooms with grandparents, children, dogs, and cats. I woke up at a zoo! Not the strangest place for a biologist, perhaps, but it conveyed the size of the calamity. And these people were the lucky ones. The morning newspaper at my door screamed, "Why have we been left behind like animals?" a quote from one of the people stuck for days without food and sanitation in the Louisiana Superdome.

I took issue with this headline, not because I felt there was nothing to complain about, but because animals don't necessarily leave one another behind. My lecture was on precisely this topic, on how we have an "inner ape" that is not nearly as callous and nasty as advertised, and how empathy comes naturally to our species. I wasn't claiming that it always finds expression, though. Thousands of people with money and cars had fled New Orleans, leaving the sick, old, and poor to fend for themselves. In some places dead bodies floated in the water, where they were being eaten by alligators.

But immediately following the disaster there was also deep embarrassment in the nation about what had happened, and an incredible outpouring of support. Sympathy was not absent-it just was late in coming. Americans are a generous people, yet raised with the mistaken belief that the "invisible hand" of the free market-a metaphor introduced by the same Adam Smith-will take care of society's woes. The invisible hand, however, did nothing to prevent the appalling survival-of-the-fittest scenes in New Orleans.

The ugly secret of economic success is that it sometimes comes at the expense of public funding, thus creating a giant underclass that no one cares about. Katrina exposed the underbelly of American society. On my drive back to Atlanta, it occurred to me that this is the theme of our

Excerpted from The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society by Frans de Waal
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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