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Empathy, Hypocrisy, and Human Nature: Insights from 'Behave' and Beyond

When I read Steve Jobs’ biography and learned about his efforts to restrict porn on the platform, it struck me. An Apple customer emailed Steve and asked for the reasons; he replied, "You will understand once you are a father of a young child." This was remarkable for a businessperson willing to risk shareholders for the well-being of young kids. On one side, it was heartening to see; however, on the other side, I was puzzled by this dual mindset because we all know that the "Raw materials of the iPhone" were mined by young kids in inhuman conditions. Now it might be the case that Steve was simply not aware of this highly unlikely info. Hence, I would like to ask questions related to the above so I could validate whether he was aware of this specific fact or not. And if he was aware, what was the purpose behind behaving like a hypocrite? To be honest, we are hypocrites in some sense. Okay, irrespective of Steve’s answer, when I was reading the brilliant book “Behave by Robert Sapolsky,” I got some sense of why we humans behave in this manner. So, now that we have many open-ended questions from the first paragraph of this essay, let’s get started. :)


I have been in Patna for almost 18 months, and I get to see the reality of “Real India,” which is 90% of India. This is one of the reasons why, when I read the reports of HSBC sponsored by Quick Commerce company that India’s retail market would directly jump from unorganized to Quick Commerce, skipping “Organized Retail,” I smile and wonder whether I should ever give my attention to these sponsored reports that are created with a purpose to build false narratives to raise funds. Because I am sure neither HSBC nor the Quick Commerce companies have any idea about India’s 90% retail.


The advantage of being among the customers (real India) is that you get to see the reality hence you empathize with their problems and pain, become restless, and start optimizing everything to solve the problem and eliminate the pain that could improve the lives of people at scale. However, I always wonder why I care about someone’s pain and others can’t. Or How can’t they see the pain that I see? It might seem a philosophical question but the fact that after reading “Robert Sapolsky’s” book, I realized this has a lot to do with our 13,000 years of evolution (Modern Humans), also as most people’s cognitive loads are already occupied and experiencing the pain of someone far away demands a higher cognitive load. That’s how we have evolved in the past many years.


According to the Author of Behave, Robert Sapolsky: “Reasoning with someone else's pain is also a cognitive task when it is a type of pain that you haven’t experienced.”

The rudimentary “empathy” of rodents is contingent, depending on whether the other individual is a cagemate or a stranger. “It is an enormous cognitive task for humans to overcome that, to reach an empathic state for someone who is different, unappealing.” - Wow, This tells a lot about why there should be less inequality because inequality creates all the difference and unappealing nature among humans.


“Categorical boundaries to the extension of empathy also run along socioeconomic lines, but in an asymmetrical manner. What does that mean? That when it comes to empathy and compassion, rich people tend to suck.”


“The Cognitive costs of empathizing with someone distant are shown by increasing people’s cognitive load (i.e., making their frontal cortex work harder by forcing it to override habitual behavior) - they become less helpful to strangers but not to family members. “Empathy Fatigue” can thus be viewed as the state when the cognitive load of repeated exposure to the pain of Those whose perspective is challenging to take has exhausted the frontal cortex.”

This means if you can’t feel someone’s pain or empathize with another’s problem far away it's not your fault, this I used to think earlier, and I am sorry. This is how we all have evolved. In that case, the best we can do is to think from this angle that we both are going to die and no one is going to remember us. In that case, we all have two options: be comfortable with a scale of a few million or work towards building a prosperous society on a scale of a billion humans. Hence if you live in metros, find time, visit the other parts of India and see how we can solve the pain of our people. As most of the pains are just a type of problem and every problem is solvable. 


Coming to the question that I wanted to ask Steve Jobs. I don’t think I need to ask this question because being the CEO of the company, he must be aware of the fact that the raw materials of the iPhone are sourced by young kids in inhuman conditions. And as the CEO, over-occupied with his cognitive loads, there was no way he could have empathized with the pain of those young kids. However, when it was a matter of his own kids, he was going all lengths. Just another human nature. And I would say, this is one of those factors for that I have less respect for Steve, and in my opinion, he made this mistake, that we all can avoid.


However, we all can avoid making similar mistakes which is super important for our country's POV. 


Note: I have quoted a few paragraphs directly from the book, "Behave," in this essay. You should trust Robert Sapolsky because he has devoted 40 years to this work. Additionally, this book is written with a different mindset. Robert has not even once in the entire book stressed that all these are facts. He presented all this from different angles and asked us to choose based on personal experiences.


Thank You for reading, I shall see you all the next week :) 


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