Empathy like all true meaning is a little hard to pin down. As with beauty empathy is also hard to define exactly. The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts came up with a very specific way of thinking about biological empathy. I find it an interesting thought the extending of blood tie empathy to humanity as a whole. I disagree with the broad assertions being made that empathy is strong enough to build a society on but I found the connections between social networks the need to belong and empathy fascinating.
Our need to belong is one of these influences that effect humanity as a whole. Not strictly bound but influenced by our biology to be predisposed to certain things. People need to be loved and socially accepted; “need to belong” This need to belong among human beings is a “fundamental human motivation that is something all human beings possess … to form and maintain at least a minimum quantity of lasting, positive, and significant interpersonal relationships” (Baumeister and Leary 1995). Its been said the need to belong supersedes our own well-being. That is to say we will put ourselves into clearly negative situation just to belong.
If I’m understanding the RSA video correctly they feel the human need to belong went from family to tribe and as the technology shrunk the world our empathy grew. The video used the example of Hati and the use of Twitter and YouTube as an example of how far our empathy extends. To me it feels they are stating the larger our social networks get the larger the number of people we will feel empathy for. Are we to the point where global family like networks are possible? According to Friedman we are, he feels technology has leveled the playing field, our world is now one big community. The gap in accessing new technologies could be the only real barrier left to get to the point the RSA suggests.
If McLuhan is right and technology is an extension of our biological self, then social networks could have the ability to create family like bonds on a global scale. Lets make a leap of faith and say its possible to create a global family. By necessity the bonds of this new family would need to be weak. Strong bonds on a global scale are simply a numerical impossibility. How much sway would weak bond empathy have and could a social network connect people enough to encourage empathic sociability?
Play entire clip with sound…
Empathy and its ability to influence our actions is something I strongly belive is real. Humans can and do feel the pain or joy of others. However there is little proof that these feelings are strong enough to alter other impulses. In far to many cases the direct blood bonds of family fail to impart enough empathy to keep humans from hurting the ones they love. Civil war, family feuds and abuse all exist, empathy for others is not always enough. The specific scene in the above clip where the camera cuts to the crowed and the music changes and we see people in tears did you feel different? Did the tears give the video more impact? If you followed the artist on Twitter would that have made a difference? Why do videos of people getting hurt get tagged as funny? How can movies like Jackass exist if empathy is so strong? I hate leaving things with more questions than answers but in this case I only have questions.