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The Psychology of Cruelty

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Are people cruel to others despite or because of their victims' humanity?

Throughout history, people have committed all kinds of cruel, degrading, and evil acts toward other people. Many believe that for evil acts like genocide to be even possible, the victims must first be dehumanized by the perpetrators, starting with dehumanizing language or propaganda. But is this lack of empathy always at the heart of human cruelty? When we call others “vermin,” “roaches,” or “animals” are we thereby denying their humanity? Or can human cruelty and violence sometimes rely on actually recognizing the other’s humanity? Josh and guest host Alison Gopnik welcome back Paul Bloom from Yale University, author of Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion.

Devon Strolovitch studied medieval Judeo-Portuguese manuscripts and earned a PhD in Linguistics from Cornell University before coming to KALW. He is the Senior Producer of Philosophy Talk, and since 2007 has hosted Fog City Blues, the weekly digest of Blues in the Bay Area and beyond.