My bestie bought a book called “The Science of Evil: On Empathy and Origins of Cruelty” by Simon Baron-Cohen, a few years back. My interest in the book quickly turned into disgust when I read the book description:
“Borderline personality disorder, autism, narcissism, psychosis, Asperger’s: All of these syndromes have one thing in common–lack of empathy” -The Science of Evil, 2011
I swore off reading the book, offended that someone wrote about how BPD (and by connection, me) was lacking empathy and therefore evil. That was about 2 years ago. Last week I borrowed the book from the library because I figured it was best for me to know what I was up against.
At first I was interested. It was great learning about the parts of the brain that are involved in empathy and hearing the research behind it. I knew though that as soon as I got to Chapter 3 entitled, ‘ When Zero Degrees of Empathy is Negative’, I would begin to struggle. That is the chapter were BPD is discussed or Type B as the author calls it. I took a deep breath and began to read.
“I group these categories together as Zero-Negative because they have nothing positive to recommend them. They are unequivocally bad for the sufferer and for those around them.” -pg. 44-45 (original italics)
Excuse me? My interpretation is that the author believes there is nothing good about BPD. I would have to disagree. The pain for me comes though in knowing that many out there who read this book may never have met someone with BPD and their first exposure will be that sentence and the examples that follow.
I am next faced with a case study of Carol, a 39-year old with BPD. Baron-Cohen begins to describe Carol’s behaviour which he does so mercilessly despite acknowledging the neglect Carol experienced as a child. I personally feel that the author completely lacked empathy while writing about Carol.
I can relate to Carol.
“However nice people are to her, she feels she can never quench this simmering rage, which even today can come out as hatred toward anyone she feels is disrespecting her. Often people she perceives as disrespecting her are simply people who disagree with her, and she senses that they are doing this in a confrontational way.” -pg. 46
“If someone is silent, even for a few minutes, she assumes they are being aggressive. If someone makes a joke, she assumes the other person is attacking her. If someone is caring, she assumes it is not meant. If someone apologizes, she assumes this, too, is not genuine. She will lash out with her accusations at other people’s insincerity so that, no matter how hard they try to persuade her that they care or are sorry for their apparently hurtful actions, she does not accept their well-intended approaches and pushes them away.” -pg. 48
I do this. I don’t like it but it’s hard to think otherwise. I know it hurts other people. That is not what I want.
Baron-Cohen uses unemphatic language to describe Carol’s behavour:
- absolute selfishness
- totally ill equipped for parenthood
- tyrannical, self-centered behaviour
- extremely difficult
- self absorbed
- highly manipulative
Carol’s story has been written in such a way that I believe that Baron-Cohen thinks Carol is full of garbage.
The problem I have always found with experiencing BPD/identifying with the symptoms is that it appears that no one ever bothers to look beyond the symptoms and understand their roots in pain.
As added pain this book also uses my friend’s murder as a case study for exploring if a empathy can be developed if it is missing as a child/teen (pg. 176).
“The Science of Evil” is an offensive book that continues to perpetuate the discrimination faced by those experiencing with BPD. I would like to try and finish this book but I would have to do so slowly.
Is this science or discrimination?