All throughout evolutionary history, there are trade-offs. In fact, the history of evolution might be titled "Trade-offs and Their Consequences." Animals, plants, and others have all found that a new trait can be obtained...but usually at the cost of another trait. A great example is that no large (>1 lb.) flying creatures exist that have both arms and wings...they only have arms or wings. The simplest reason for this is that the genetic cost of Cox genes for all that information is simply too high, not to mention the mental and physical resources required to pack functional wings and arms into a creature are much higher than simply rigging existing arms into wings.
Human evolution is peppered with such concepts. We wanted to talk upright, so we needed a different hip and spine structure. This cost us the ability to bend over and trot on all fours like gorillas often do. We wanted thicker legs for jogging, but in order to jog we had to give up massive shoulders and arms. We wanted big brains, but it cost us mandible strength. We wanted even bigger brains, but it meant we had to be born very early, rendering us helpless infants for longer than virtually all other creatures on the planet. And to feed that brain, herbivorism was just impossible, meaning protein-rich foods like meat had to be regularly obtained.
So while Douthat tries to reconcile the Millenials lack of empathy with their enhanced idealism, I see no conflict. The internet has allowed my generation to reach out in ways never before.
But is it so hard to believe that perhaps we humans have a finite amount of empathy in us? We seem less locally empathic than Gen X, but more empathic globally. Could it be that Gen X simply is spending the same amount of empathy we are, but just at a different level?
In layman's terms, I can only give a shit about so much. And while I give a shit about the plight of Palestinians, the victims of the oil spill, torture victims, my parents, my family, people struggling with unemployment, NASA, and various other entities...it just doesn't leave me a lot of empathy to give to my friends who are whining about God only knows what.
The genetics of this make sense...it only makes sense for the brain to have enough empathy built into it to support empathy for an individual's local tribe. Extra empathy just costs the individual resources. My generation hasn't changed how much empathy we have...we've simply changed the definition of our tribe.
New Dish, New Media Update
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