Culture War
Many from both the right and the left bemoan the state of the American culture today. Whether it is the lack of positive images in TV, movies, music, politicians, sports figures, police in schools and more, freedom and morality are discussed as being in conflict with each other. Benjamin Franklin once wrote on the subject: "Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need for masters." This should ring true to you today as we debate not only our eroding culture, but the role of government in our lives. Are culture and the need for more government control more connected than we realize?

When Victims Feel Most Victimized

By Robert M. Sapolsky,
from The Wall Street Journal,

Recent research on people’s reaction to mistreatment adds a twist to our knowledge about the limits of empathy.

The world teems with people who are mistreated both as individuals and in groups. But how we react to such misery often takes a strange, irrational course. Consider a person who would contribute $10 to help an impoverished child. Now, suppose that person is asked to help 10 such children. Will the donor give $100? Just the opposite: The most common response, studies have found, is to give less than $10. Why does the suffering of one person affect us more than that of many? Research suggests that a single victim more readily engages our empathy: “Wow, I’d feel terrible if I were in his shoes.” It’s easier than imagining being in their shoes.

A recent study gives this psychological dynamic an interesting twist by looking at how victims themselves think of such situations. Does it make a difference to them if they see their suffering in terms of “why me?” as opposed to “why us?” It turns out that it does, and the pattern neatly tracks the limits of our own empathy toward victims. The paper, “A Sorrow Shared Is a Sorrow Halved,” was published last year in the journal Frontiers in Psychology by Daffie Konis of Tel Aviv University and colleagues. Ms. Konis, a doctoral student, and her fellow researchers gave 81 volunteers a personality test and an intelligence test. Volunteers were then told deceptively that they had scored way below average on the intelligence test. Later, volunteers were informed about the deception in one of two ways. Half were told that they, along with all the participants in the experiment, had been deceived. The other half were told that they alone had been deceived, and that they had been chosen based on the score that they had received on that personality test taken earlier. The researchers then asked participants to rate how negative they felt about the lie. Participants who had been told that the whole group was victimized found the deception less upsetting than the individuals who were told that they had been singled out.

The results echo the well-established finding that compassion for individuals always exceeds compassion for groups.

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