Refugee crisis: Why one boy’s tragedy created a wave of empathy

Why? Some scholars say it happens because we simply can’t feel compassion for large groups. As psychologist Paul Bloom puts it: “It is impossible to empathise with 7 billion strangers, or to feel toward someone you’ve never met the degree of concern you feel for a child, a friend, or a lover.” Fellow US psychologist Paul Slovic also argues that “our capacity to feel sympathy for people in need is limited, leading to compassion fatigue, apathy and inaction”.

If empathy and compassion are fundamentally insensitive to large-scale problems, this seems to speak poorly for the usefulness of these moral emotions. But what if callousness to mass suffering represents a choice, and not a constraint beyond our control?

By Daryl Cameron