|Baby Jessica is rescued|
By Morris Dean
Paul Bloom's thesis, in his article "The Baby in the Well," published in the May 20 edition of The New Yorker, is that "Empathy has some unfortunate features [and] we’re often at our best when we’re smart enough not to rely on it." Indeed, the article's subtitle is "The case against empathy."
Say what? Empathy is a good thing isn't it? Haven't we always supposed so? "The baby in the well" refers to a couple of news events that evoked huge empathy:
In 1949, Kathy Fiscus, a three-year-old girl, fell into a well in San Marino, California, and the entire nation was captivated by concern. Four decades later, America was transfixed by the plight of Jessica McClure—Baby Jessica—the eighteen-month-old who fell into a narrow well in Texas, in October, 1987, triggering a fifty-eight-hour rescue operation. “Everybody in America became godmothers and godfathers of Jessica while this was going on,” President Reagan remarked.Bloom asks and answers the question, "Why do people respond to these misfortunes and not to others?"
The key to engaging empathy is what has been called “the identifiable victim effect.” As the economist Thomas Schelling, writing forty-five years ago, mordantly observed, “Let a six-year-old girl with brown hair need thousands of dollars for an operation that will prolong her life until Christmas, and the post office will be swamped with nickels and dimes to save her. But let it be reported that without a sales tax the hospital facilities of Massachusetts will deteriorate and cause a barely perceptible increase in preventable deaths—not many will drop a tear or reach for their checkbooks.”I think you can see where Bloom is headed. Empathy doesn't help us much in the public sphere, to respond effectively to things like gun violence, problems with criminal justice, global warming, hunger, misdistribution of goods and services....
Our hearts will always go out to the baby in the well; it’s a measure of our humanity. But empathy will have to yield to reason if humanity is to have a future.I've taken the unusual step of reviewing one of this blog's "recommended op-eds" (listed at the top of the sidebar) simply in order to underscore the recommendation when it comes to this particular item. I urge you to read Bloom's article; it's only four pages long. The whole article is currently available to anyone, not just subscribers to The New Yorker.
|Vitrectomy (this isn' my eye)|
The bad news is that "the world" as seen by my left eye now slopes significantly more to the right than it used to. Previously (since 1996), the horizon seen by my left eye sloped off at approximately 5° relative to the horizon seen by my right eye. The slope I'm seeing now appears to be almost twice that.
Additionally, the point of intersection of the two horizons, which used to be pretty near center, has moved significantly to the right. The upshot of the two effects is that my right and left images seem to be significantly more askew now than they were—and maybe so askew that prisms in my spectacles will no longer be able to remedy much of my double vision.
You too, of course, have two distinct images. If you didn't you'd have no depth perception. But your two images are well-aligned and your brain can easily fuse them into a single 3-dimensional image. For seventeen years, my own brain has had to labor mightily to do that trick—if I could stand for it to do it at all; the feat has at times exhausted me.
As a layman—even if the layman more concerned about this case than any other—I can only surmise that the procedure to "flatten out" and reattach my detached retina resulted in the retina's being placed "off-center." I don't even know whether that's possible. It might (I can hope) just be a stage of my recovery that I'll have to go through before healing matures and I see just as well as I did before...We shall see what I shall see....
Copyright © 2013 by Morris Dean