empathy

Breaking Bad’s Walter White and life advice

It’s easy for people so say about that character of Walter White from Breaking Bad things like “Wow, what a psychopath!”. That’s typical lack of empathy and insight. Dramas like this carry much more food for thought if one is willing to ponder.
If you examine the path he took and where it all started, you might realize the true story of that character. Something that might apply to the situation many people are facing.
So let me give you my take on this:

There’s tons of widespread popular life advice about how to succeed, to find fulfillment, to overcome obstacles etc. But a lot of it is self-serving smartass talk, projecting own experiences onto other people.
The uncomfortable reality is that what Walter White did matches that life advice. His character in a way portrays what happens when you just do what needs to be done to empower yourself in a screwed up situation, to turn things around and act, to do something about your unhappiness.
No doubt that he tended to be an ass at times, or horrible to others, or talked bullshit, but who said it’s gonna be a clean path? Don’t get discouraged by adversity – ha-ha. Do what you feel you need to do to be yourself, to find balance. Ha-ha.

Do you now see the problem here?
It’s not that easy. Not when you still consider certain social norms to be valuable. Not when you cannot help but also consider the well-being of others while searching for your own well-being.

I imagine a typical life-advice self-help guru telling Walter his ‘wisdom’, and then a year later he tells Walter in distress: “This is not what I meant!” And Walter responds: “If you didn’t mean it, you shouldn’t have said it. I exactly followed your advice and acted in a goal-oriented way. Things might not be easy or all sunshine and rainbows, but nobody dares to mess with me anymore, and that’s a good start. I have found the confidence now that you talked about. Now I see why YOU were so confident. Now that I am reborn as Heisenberg, I feel like I could share my own success story with the world and tell people what they need to do to find personal fulfillment and self-confidence. … I am a self-made man now. Who I am, I accomplished by myself, through hard work and perseverence! Isn’t that great? So empowering! If only other people could follow the same advice instead of finding excuses!”

My views on the Germanwings incident

It is now almost beyond doubt that the copilot intentionally crashed the plane. But I had my thoughts on the suicide suspicion/topic before, and now I’d like to share them.

Sometimes I see someone say: “People who commit suicide are cowards.” And this is, in tragic irony, pointing to the reason why people commit suicide: Lack of empathy/love, and as a result, according society structures. People who don’t care about dragging others into death with themselves are that way because circumstances made them stop caring. Who expects them to respect that which caused them to override their self-preservation drive in such a painful way?

So blame games don’t help. It doesn’t matter whether someone was ‘too weak’ or ‘too sensitive’. The universe put us in certain situations and we have to make an effort to deal with them well.

The plane crash incident now, as could have been expected, triggers a full avoidance strategy. It is being talked about how to change procedures and protocol to prevent another such incident. Apart from the fact that it will always be a tradeoff, this is the folly of trying to replace caring with control. Even worse in this context is asking for more rigid medical and psychological tests. There’s obviously a lack of understanding about matters of depression, but reality provides the facts. People who are depressed due to alienation from society will, if necessary in their situation, still wear a mask of things being alright. Such tests can never be sufficiently reliable to replace empathy and caring.

And the fact that now 150 people were killed by someone committing suicide, more than usual (not much though if you consider bombing suicides), should be interpreted as the natural development of symptoms of an unadressed problem increasing in severity. It is telling us: The world will suffer from the results of emotional coldness and judgmental distance more and more, until you learn your lesson. If you resist the simple path, you will drive yourself deeper into misery, and that eventually will have to be followed by a turnaround, but then it will come with immense sacrifice.

Of course it sucks that it might hurt people who actually understand this, who didn’t need the wakeup call, but that’s the nature of tragedies. There’s no distinction, because such events, in their causality, are not meant to enact justice. The universe is above and beyond that.

Personally, for example , I’d still prefer to die in a plane crash due to a terrorist attack than due to a technical issue, because the latter is about greed and corporate procedures, about distance and machine-like processes, while the former at least involves a direct human factor – someone’s grievances brought to the extreme and facing other people with it, willing to end his own life with others.

So if you still think that people who commit suicide are cowards … why don’t you try it yourself? Then you’ll see how much courage it takes, and how much pain someone must feel in order to make such a step.

AFTERTHOUGHT: Cockpit door policies were changed shortly after 9/11, so this incident was made possible or at least made easier by a measure taken based on fear (and lies, but that’s another story). This gets freakonomics-style if you compare lives saved from post-9/11 measures to lives taken by them.

One example of the ego’s control games

The following thread in the World of Warcraft forums is several years old, but it is valuable as exposition of the frequent mind games that happen especially on internet forums when ‘help’ is involved, when people fuel their desire for control by exploiting those in need, since their intentions aren’t really altruistic and they try to derive relevance for their own existence that way. It’s all due to a lack of empathy, and the mechanisms that lead to it would be complex to explain here, but if you’re interested in psychology and have heard of things like Milgram experiment or Asch comformity test, it’s quite likely you will grasp what’s going on.
This severe egotism, among various other mental disturbances, is one of the major things that put me off while playing the game. Just because it’s MMO doesn’t mean it’s social. It very much encourages what I described in a previous blog entry: https://dowlphinblog.wordpress.com/2015/01/21/alliance-of-convenience-vs-working-together-for-the-result/

Alright, no further introduction necessary, since the thread itself is quite self-explanatory.

http://eu.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/3312962096

Real empathy

Just in case you are confused about what empathy and altruism actually are. I will expand on this topic soon, because apparently there really is widespread confusion of egoistic intentions for a shared goal with the goal itself as intention. (UPDATE: https://dowlphinblog.wordpress.com/2015/01/21/alliance-of-convenience-vs-working-together-for-the-result/)

Thus, first, an anecdote about empathy and doing the right thing.

I used to work for a year or so in the IT department of a non-IT company. It was a crappy job. Way too much to do, so stuff had to be left undone, or done in a way that defeated the intention of saving money that caused the whole massive work load.

When my contract was about to expire and my successor arrived (likely selected because he has family and can more easily be pressured and exploited due to that), I wanted to make sure that he gets proper instruction on how to do the daily business. I had worked out some basic procedures and documentation to get some order into the mess and speed up paperwork.

Naturally, he, although an extra during the transition phase, was quite busy, too. But I had to keep mentioning that we still need to do the briefing on how to do those things. I was not instructed to do it; The boss wouldn’t even have cared or known. I could have just said: I’m outta here soon, see you, suckers. That would have been the easy way for me. Why should I care about them if I never see them again?
But I did care. Imagining how my successor, a good-spirited man, would have to handle the same mess that I did; it pained me. So I actively pushed and urged him several times, and eventually I said: Now or never. Come, look, we’re doing this now.
He commended and thanked me for caring so much. I said it’s the right thing to do. He said he had experienced very different things with people before.

Yeah, I have, too. Plenty. But I am not like those people. I cannot. Better be sickened by them than be sickened by myself.
Those other people choose the fool’s way, the easy one: They are being egoists and convince themselves they are not. And then you have to keep figuring out whether someone you meet is for real or playing pretend. (Finding that out is beginning to become second nature to me.)

The problematic logical fallacy about the Stockholm syndrome

From the information I could gather, the whole “Stockholm syndrome” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_syndrome) is a highly problematic and doubtful idea. There MIGHT BE an actual psychological confusion state that the Stockholm syndrome describes, although I’d be very careful about psychoanalytical mainstream like that.
But let’s just assume for now that it is a real thing.
Due to the way it is described (giving various possible reasons that lead to such a behavior) the problem with it is an ensuing popular logical fallacy where it is assumed that ALL cases of such behavior must be psychological confusion.
This is of course very convenient for authorities with a violence monopoly, because it conceils the symptoms of real social problems and suppresses the development of empathy. If for example a hostage-taker acts based on motivations that are generally regarded as honorable/noble, or even just tragic and without malicious core intent, then it would be most healthy, compassionate, virtuous, saint-like to harbor no resentment towards that person, and depending on the quality of character of the victim, even more or less severe harm inflicted to them could be tolerated.
Thus, the Stockholm syndrome theory’s (pop culture induced?) overshadowing of discussion about cases that do not constitute a case of the syndrome harms the advancement of society’s health and humankind’s spiritual evolution.