Where Did the Empathy Go?

The word "empathy" entered the English language sometime around the turn of the 19th century1, and has enjoyed steady growth in usage ever since. Since around the end of World War II, the frequency of "empathy" in literature has increased by an order of magnitude. It would be easy to dismiss the upward trend as incidental, since we're talking about a new term, which could have replaced less effective words and gained popularity as a result1. Except that usage of "empathy" is still growing rapidly, so far doubling in search usage during the past 6 years.

A quick search yields countless articles about empathy and how it helps business, etc. Empathy has entered public discourse in very strong fashion. This dynamic makes me think about empathy as a kind of benevolent virus that's cheap to proliferate, but which yields great returns. And the only kinds of commodities which are abundant2 and highly beneficial, but also in high demand, are those kinds of commodities which are artificially held down.

Held down by what?

Golden Rule, Enter Stage Left

The Golden Rule, the maxim of the human kind; Do unto others as you would have them do unto you3.

The Golden Rule is a virus that replaces our empathy with the self-centered drive to do that which we see as fit for others. I won't just suggest that Emanuel Kant, Karl Popper, et al potentially had similar opinions. Instead, I'll prove to you, a priori, that the Golden Rule is not very golden at all.

If A wishes to be treated with Y, A should treat B with Y

A wishes to be treated with Y

Therefore, A treats B with Y

Given the above example, was B treated how B wanted to be treated4?

The end.


    1. I'll leave a more detailed etymology, etc. to an expert.
    2. What I mean by "abundant" in the context of something like empathy, which is theoretically infinite, is the finite competitive advantage that can be gained by such a trait before that trait is so prolific that it becomes less of an advantage and more of a basic requirement.
    3. This abridged version was written on the whiteboard of my kindergarten classroom.
    4. Hint: There isn't enough information to answer the question.