Posted by Curt on 22 June, 2023 at 12:04 pm. 3 comments already!



As you probably know by now, on Sunday, an underwater tour group heading to visit the wreckage of the Titanic went missing. The news went wide Monday as US and Canadian maritime authorities steamed East of Cape Cod to aid in the search for the missing submersible.

When you found out about this, you probably thought, “Wow that’s awful. I hope they find them.” And then, as you thought more about it or read further coverage, you probably realized that the chances of recovering the vessel (or even finding it in the first place) were not great, and you probably then felt quite a bit worse about it. And by then, you probably knew some now familiar details about the situation: the Titanic is really far down there; going to those depths is very risky; they don’t go down there a lot; it is very expensive and dangerous, and the people who do go down there have to pay $250,000 a ticket; only five people can go on the experimental submersible at a time; it has a 96-hour reserve supply of oxygen which means if it is still intact and the five people are still alive that the search parties have at most until Thursday to find and rescue them before they asphyxiate.

Armed with these details and perhaps an actual image from the news of the wayward vessel, you probably couldn’t help but imagine what it is like down there in that situation. You may or may not have gotten physically queasy and claustrophobic just thinking about it, but you almost certainly got a little more horrified. Imagining the darkness, the cold, the fear; putting yourself there; empathizing with the passengers.

That’s what you were doing: empathizing.

And then, for the third time in two seconds, you probably thought, “Wow, this is awful,” and that time, you probably meant it more. You probably felt it more. The awfulness is something you probably at that point felt in your bones. Because that’s one of the things that happens when we empathize with people. At the outset, you can know something is bad on paper, but it’s through this mental act of mounting the show, casting ourselves in it, and thinking how we would feel in the shoes of others that we really get closer to touching some sort of shared humanity and feeling the real feelings.

Now, you can do that too much! You have to develop some discretion; emotional levees must be constructed; because if you feel everything all the time forever and ever, you won’t get anything done, and you’ll be a sad type of someone who other people harbor worries about.

One of the things our subconscious learns as we march through the years is when to issue a stand-down order to ourselves so that we have a healthy but controlled engagement with the sad things that happen in the world. But on Monday, you probably let yourself empathize a bit more than normal because it’s a very sensational story.

There is a ticking clock emergency going on with lives on the line in one of the most remote places on Earth that also happens to be the resting ground of the most infamous shipwreck in history, which (wouldn’t you know it) still fascinates the world more than a hundred years after it sank into the great abyss! The situation at hand as a news story has got a lot of compelling, sensational elements!

So on Monday you probably ended up thinking about it a bit and felt sad.

I assume that is true of you because I assume you’re a normal human being. This is how people process things. It’s how normal people process things. It is unremarkable.

The thing about normal people, though, is that they aren’t all of the people. There are also other people who are not normal—Qu’est-ce que c’est: abnormal—and the thing about those people is that a lot of them are fucking psychopaths.

This isn’t a clinical definition or anything but one way of thinking about those people is that they actually issue stand-down orders to their empathy machine too much. In fact, their empathy machine might not even be up to code. It’s there! And it can work! They can feel empathy. It’s not a total paperweight. They can do the thing! But their protocols for when to let the mind do it are dysfunctional; in some cases, they only allow themselves to humanize people they personally know. Or people who look like them. Or people who believe the same things they believe. Their empathy machines are pathologically reinforcing the segmentations of society that undergird their moral framework.

We all do it a bit! No one is saying we don’t. Normal people do it too—and in certain moments, you know, normal people have done genocides as well—but these abnormal people? They do it too much. More than par.

Because the thing about empathy is that it’s something we developed evolutionarily. A long time ago (and forever and always until relatively recently) humans lived in fields, and if you didn’t get help, you died. So the evolution fairy said, “you care about him, and he’ll care about you, and blah bah blah maybe you together will live a little longer.”

We, Princes of Maine, Kings of New England, live in the future of tomorrow and have medicine and shelter and Grubhub, so our empathy machines are not as directly responsible for our immediate survival as they were for people who knew that if their buddy didn’t help them out, they would get eaten by hyenas. But that doesn’t mean empathy totally just for funsies. On a societal level, it’s pretty important that people be generally against unnecessary suffering, and setting life and death aside, there are lesser but still important benefits to the social contract.

(I’m paraphrasing, so if you are really interested in some of this evolution stuff, I think you should check out your local library.)

The abnormal psychopaths, refusing to admit that they are indeed psychopaths, would argue that their empathy machines are, in fact, the ones that are doing the purest evolutionary function. They are caring about people like them because a world that cares about people like them is easier to live in for people like them, and they are a person like them. History has shown us that this can lead to very bad things like war and death and prejudice and those travel adapters you have to bring with you when you go to Europe, but there is a bit of a certain “ok, sure, in some limited ways,” you have to hand them.

But one of the defining characteristics of normal people is that our empathy machines, fortunately for society, are not so singularly transactional. We care about people even when it isn’t immediately obvious that there is something in it for us.

The normal people on Monday did what the normal people do. But the abnormal people didn’t do that.

They heard the news, read the stories, took in all of the information that made you sad, and their first reaction was: anyone who can afford a $250k tourist trip deserves to die.

You might think I’m fucking with you—or you would have had I published this post sooner. By now, you probably have spent two days confronting the existence of these abnormal psychopaths, but if you haven’t, feel free to check out the replies and quote tweets to this thread.

Because when these thousands of lunatics made the mistake of lending voice to thought, a lot of normal people recoiled in horror and said, “What the hell is wrong with you?” The abnormals then decided to double down on the widespread appraisal that they are the baddies. They went deeper into the crevasse! They argued that the passengers deserved to die more, and they argued it louder. Heads on pitchforks because capitalism kills! These rich fucks haven’t stopped capitalism from killing people, so it’s good that they have been reclaimed by the sea!

That isn’t a very popular argument in the world of the 21st century, let alone in the United States, so some smarter but more disingenuous abnormal psychos searched for other reasons that might do better in the wild west of the discourse.

It’s a graveyard! People died there, after all! It’s sick to visit cemeteries!

And if the word visit didn’t resonate with you, what about defile? 

They’re defiling the graves! It’s totally reasonable not to have any empathy for grave defilers.

Since one of the main characteristics of “the past” is that people died in it most people have come to terms with the fact that visiting historical sites tends to mean visiting places where sad things happened, so this didn’t get a lot of purchase.

But abnormal people went further:

The third-class passengers in the Titanic were all murdered by the rich people on the boat who locked the gates to the lower decks on purpose.

This is a thing that happens in the movies but in reality is a myth, and unfortunately for the people who said it, a lot of people know it’s a myth.

Grave defiling is a thing that white, rich people have been doing to indigenous people forever! Why do you care about some rich white grave defilers and not the indigenous victims of European colonialism?

At this point, they were obviously reaching for Hail Marys, but the cycle went on, uninterrupted by even the developing awareness of more details about the situation.

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