Dr. Hamilton (see posts below) makes an interesting point:
I read an article in the UK Guardian (or it might have been The Observer) about 6 months or so ago. I wish I’d kept it but the jist of it was that something in the region of 95% of the top people in the banking sector were effectively sociopaths – people who completely lack Empathy. That’s a startling statistic. It was from a psychologist’s assessment.
It means that many of the financial decisions that affect us personally and globally are devoid of Empathy. In a real sense, we are viewed as statistics, numbers, profit margins, transactions. Personally, I want to be viewed as a person with feelings.
In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, published in 1759, Adam Smith observes that when we see someone harmed by another, we feed off his desire for vengeance. Courts use victim-impact statements where detailed descriptions of how victims are affected by a crime are used to help determine the sentence imposed on a criminal. There are arguments in favor of these statements, but given all the evidence that we are more prone to empathize with some individuals over others—with factors like race, sex, and physical attractiveness playing a powerful role—it’s hard to think of a more biased and unfair way to determine punishment.
Part of me still wishes the leaders of ISIS dead. Still, during my better moments, I acknowledge that what I should want is for them to stop torturing and killing people, and that any violent act towards them should be judged on its probable consequences—how much it makes the world better, how it deters these sorts of acts in the future—not on how satisfying it might be to me or my friends. Everyone appreciates that fear and hate can motivate ugly choices; we should be mindful that our most tender sentiments can do the same.