Empathy deficit

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What doesn't kill you, makes you?Rihanna’s latest explicit, and some would say exploitative, music video has quite rightly caused some controversy.

The song title, if you can call a repetitive one-liner a song,  “Bitch better have my money” might give you a clue but you can find it on her YouTube channel with warnings about explicit content. The bitch by the way refers to the male accountant who has embezzled her money not his trophy wife who gets tortured.

Leaving aside the dubious question of whether or not it’s meant to illustrate payback by black women or their empowerment, this example of mean girl behaviour demonstrates what has been called the empathy deficit.

Research has shown that the present “it’s all about me” generation is more lacking in empathy than any previous one with a self-obsession which borders on narcissism. Research at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Studies found in 2010 that empathy in college students had declined by 40% over the previous thirty years, something I have posted about previously.

At the same time aggravated assault cases, especially among girls, have risen dramatically. It is a social problem that Barack Obama has called the empathy deficit which he believes is one of the most serious problems facing America.

Cognitive Linguist George Lakoff is quoted as saying “Empathy is the reason we have the principles of freedom and fairness“, important underpinnings for a just society. In fact some would argue the basis for humanity.

Rihanna has used social media to humiliate easy targets including sex slaves in Thailand. Given that she has been the victim of domestic abuse it also illustrates Rihanna’s lack of self-awareness as well as empathy and I suspect a general low level of emotional intelligence.

One of the directors of the video said “We wanted to keep it cool and funny. I wouldn’t say it was a feminist statement. There aren’t any political or moralistic ideas in there at all” . 

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