Tag Archive | Maureen Dowd

The Death of Empathy: Surviving the Culture of Snark

Surviving?  Given the death of empathy for each other as fellow human beings, if we make it through the century it will surely be a miracle.

Hey, Bruised Muse readers, I tend toward cynicism myself at times, and have even been known to be kind of funny in my real life (if not particularly so far on this blog), but my humor is generally directed toward myself, as in self-deprecating, if you know what I mean.  It seems we’ve arrived in the last few years at some kind of a PEAK OF SNARK in this culture, in which so called humor is used as a weapon to destroy others, rather than as a coping mechanism to help and heal ourselves.  You have to now call ours a Culture of Snark; one writer has even gone so far as to call it the Culture of Sadism.  He isn’t far off.

You see the culture of snark and sadism in the songs the kids listen to, lyrics that regularly label women bitches and ho’s.  You see it all over the Internet, in “comments” so vile that you have to wonder if the people saying such things in public had mothers. You see it in these dreadful bullying episodes that have resulted in teen suicides. You see it in politics, of course. I see it in my psychotherapy office, among kids who call each other names as standard practice, even between husbands and wives who are supposed to love each other.  But what disturbs me the most is when vile comments are EVEN directed at people who have suffered misfortune, tragedy, or trauma, as if some people deliberately reject the “intellectual” or “psychological” idea that blaming the victim is wrong, and try to blame the victim and heap abuse on her (or him) as much as possible.

Because I’m alert to the horror of maternal bereavement myself, I first became aware of this when I heard the unbelievably nasty things people were saying about Cindy Sheehan, who lost a son in Iraq. I mean the woman lost her son! I don’t care what your politics are. How can ANYONE justify let alone SAY in public the following sentence (written by someone who calls him or herself 12th Monkey), which I found after a one minute search of the Internet: She (Cindy) reveals (in her book) that her son’s death in that war almost drove her to take her own life: “Every night I had to restrain myself from taking my entire bottle of sleeping pills instead of just one.” Cindy, please reconsider.

Cindy, please reconsider?  12th Monkey, where were you raised?

It’s as if people’s internal censors are no longer functioning, as if they’ve completely lost their empathy for their fellow human beings. Are we turning into a nation of sociopaths with no conscience?

There’s an important piece by Maureen Dowd called Stars and Sewers in today’s NY TIMES about this issue. It asks the question: “Are our brains being rewired to be more callous by the Internet?” The piece in part talks about the terrible snark that has come out against reporter Laura Logan, after her terrible rape in Egypt. It references two new books I intend to read.  The first is by Evgeny Morozov, “The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, and the other by Nicholas Carr, author of “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.”  Here’s one of Dowd’s quotes from the latter book: “Researchers say that we need to be quiet and attentive if we want to tap into our deeper emotions,” If we’re constantly interrupted and distracted, we kind of short-circuit our empathy. If you dampen empathy and you encourage the immediate expression of whatever is in your mind, you get a lot of nastiness that wouldn’t have occurred before.”

The Bruised Muse wonders where all this is leading.  Can it really get WORSE than Dowd’s example of a Feb. 3 snipe from the conservative blog Mofo Politics, after Logan was detained by the Egyptian police: “OMG if I were her captors and there were no sanctions for doing so, I would totally rape her.”

I would totally rape her?

When we combine snark and/or sadism with a general dumbing down, anti-intellectual strain of the culture, we find ourselves in a truly scary place.  Big consequences not only for our relationships but for civilization itself. For example, although we can trace a relatively straight line directly from the behavior and music beloved by many members of my generation, including myself, to the current generation, who in the world would have ever guessed that in just thirty years, popular culture would devolve to the point where songs with lyrics considered racy at that time, like the Rolling Stones’, “Let’s spend the night together” are played on loudspeakers in supermarkets for all to hear, and the kids are now listening to songs with lyrics like 2 Live Crew’s, “Nibble on my dick like a rat does cheese?” Now THERE’S poetry. I sure hope future shoppers won’t be listening to THAT while picking up the Gouda.

Yes, I’m making a joke here, but this really is dead serious.

Does the Bruised Muse have a “Survival Tip” for dealing with this disturbing tendency? Obviously the Internet isn’t going away, but public awareness is always the first step toward action and/or change.  Research may say that our brains are being rewired, but other research (read, for example, Life Unlocked, by Srinivasan Pillay, MD) says that you can outsmart your wiring, in other words re-re-wire, by thinking different (ie better, in this case nicer) thoughts. The Bruised Muse says: Speak out out against the culture of snark.  Breath deeply.  Think of the other.  Be nice.