“He auctioned off the pistol that killed Trayvon Martin. She watched her child die in a mass shooting. Can they change each other’s minds about guns?” – An Experiment in Empathy, Lisa Miller
People are generally pretty far on one side of the spectrum, or the extreme opposite, when it comes to firearms. Not many people ride the fence on this topic because at some point or another, something has happened in their life to make them side with either being a gun advocate, or being afraid of and/or hating them.
Lisa Miller performed a social experiment of sorts, an “Experiment of Empathy,” she called it, on how people would react to hearing the other side tell their story.
In this experiment, she let people from both sides speak, each with their own powerful story of why they believe they do, and her results could surprise you.
Can the two sides change each others minds, or will it turn into a game of “agree to disagree?”
The story is also featured in New York magazine this month. Here is an excerpt of the article:
Americans may never have been so ideologically and politically divided, and guns sit at the symbolic center of that divide. According to a preelection survey by Pew, 79 percent of Hillary Clinton voters believed that enacting stronger gun laws should be a higher priority than protecting gun rights. Among Trump voters, only 9 percent agreed. Mass shootings, weirdly, seem to only deepen the rift, with liberals seeing the tragedies as proof of the need for further restrictions and conservatives seeing them as proof of the necessity of arming themselves. Statistics and argument make no dent in fixed opinions: Each side, incredulous, regards the other as sectarians who’ve somehow got their values mixed up.
The project of trying to force people from opposing sides to empathize with one another was quixotic, almost risible in its earnestness. Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale, recently published a book titled Against Empathy in which he argues that the current cultural impulse to regard empathy as a panacea for society’s problems is misguided. Bloom makes the case that empathic decisions, such as donating to the organization that makes you “feel” the most for its cause, can be both ill-conceived and inefficient. Empathy privileges the one over the many and personal experience over data. “It’s because of empathy that the whole world cares more about a baby stuck in a well than about global warming,” he told me.