Nautilus

No, You Can’t Feel Sorry for Everyone

The world seems to be getting more empathetic. Americans donate to charity at record rates. People feel the pain of suffering in geographically distant countries brought to our attention by advances in communications and transportation. Violence, seen on historical timescales, is decreasing.

The great modern humanitarian project of expanding the scope of our empathy to include the entire human race seems to be working. Our in-group (those we choose to include in our inner circle and to spend our energies on) is growing, and our out-group (everybody else) shrinking. But there’s a wrinkle in this perfect picture: Our instinctive tendency to categorize the world into “us” and “them” is difficult to overcome. It is in our nature to favor helping in-group members like friends, family, or fellow citizens, and to neglect or even punish out-group members. Even as some moral circles expand, others remain stubbornly fixed, or even contract: Just think of Democrats and Republicans, Sunnis and Shiites, Duke and

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