I read this a year or two ago.
Good to know others are seeing what I see. Over empathising is not helpful:
The study had two parts. In the first part, Americans who scored high on an empathy scale showed higher levels of “affective polarization”—defined as the difference between the favorability rating they gave their political party and the rating they gave the opposing party. In the second part, undergraduates were shown a news story about a controversial speaker from the opposing party visiting a college campus. Students who had scored higher on the empathy scale were more likely to applaud efforts to deny the speaker a platform.
It gets worse. These high-empathy students were also more likely to be amused by reports that students protesting the speech had injured a bystander sympathetic to the speaker. That’s right: According to this study, people prone to empathy are prone to schadenfreude.
This study is urgently important—though not because it’s a paradigm shifter, shedding radically new light on our predicament. As the authors note, their findings are in many ways consistent with conclusions reached by other scholars in recent years. But the view of empathy that’s emerging from this growing body of work hasn’t much trickled down to the public. And public understanding of it may be critical to shifting America’s political polarization into reverse somewhere between here and the abyss.
It might help if we all learned to be less blindly obedient to the various feelings—including the beautiful, affiliative ones—that push and pull us through life. In the book Against Empathy , Yale psychologist Paul Bloom, after documenting various ways empathy can lead us astray, recommends “rational compassion”—a thoughtful, reflective deployment of affiliative feelings guided by well-informed skepticism about more instinctive patterns of deployment.
Unfortunately, this is super hard. It’s one thing to absorb all the evidence that human beings are less good than they think. It’s another thing—given the natural penchant for self-delusion that Alexander and others have emphasized—to really reckon with the fact that you’re one of these human beings. In one study, after experimenters informed people of various cognitive biases—like our tendency to claim lots of responsibility for successes and little for failures—the average person said they were less prone to these biases than the average person. Not a promising start.