In this week’s class discussion on Pushkin’s A Feast During the Plague, we often touched upon the topic of empathy, which was great because if there’s anything at all that arouses my interest more than books it’s psychology. So for this week’s post I’ve combined my love of both to bring you an exciting new…BOOK RECOMMENDATION! I’ve been assigned Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower to read by this coming Sunday, which may mean more reading but at least it gave me something to post here other than videos of cute babies teaching empathy.
In this book, the main character Lauren has a (non-contagious, sorry) disease called Hyper Empathy Syndrome, which causes her to acutely feel others’ pain. I don’t just mean “feel” as a sort of faux sympathy, I mean feel as an agonizing physical wound. This is a terrible condition to have in chaotic, lawless 2025 America, where crime and murder are so rampant that people have to barricade themselves in walled neighborhoods, and step over severed limbs and heads when they dared to venture outside for necessities. I looked up Hyper Empathy, and it turns out it is a somewhat legitimate disease although it is so new to psychiatry that either there isn’t much information about it or the data is very questionable.
Either way, it’s interesting (if slightly depressing) to think of worlds and situations in which empathy is considered a weakness rather than the thing that makes us human. But I don’t want to end this with such a bleak view of humanity, and it would be terrible to have mentioned cute baby videos without including them. I’m attaching this and this as a reminder that empathy is such a good thing that even very young children have a sense of altruism.