Scary title, ha?
I love TED, its probably my most visited site over the years, and I spend most of my lunch time in front of one of its many brilliant talks, it never failed me, well, until yesterday. As I was tuning in for one of the talks, I saw a presentation called “A radical experiment in Empathy” by sociologist Sam Richards, the name alone got me thinking and I went in and clicked it.
This presenter is obviously an educated man, he also presents well and has some sense of drama and theater in him, the keynote is designed well as well. I do encourage you to go and see at least the few opening minutes of his talk. And why was I so disappointed by what he said? Well, because I think he got it all wrong, and I also think that if a man of this standing could get it SO wrong and go out to display it to the world there are many others that do the same thing.
I do not know Mr. Sam Richards, and I have not a clue as to what he did and who he is beyond the very short description on TED, but it seems to me that he had come to the conclusion that we need to put ourselves in the shoes of others to really and truly understand them, and I agree. But he does it all wrong. See, he plays a little game and tries to think like an person living in Iraq, he tries to show the audience how easy it is to see the Americans as a religious fanatics coming to wage war on them because of their resources. Maybe he thought of this idea in his office in the university for a long time, maybe even his whole career, maybe he went to Iraq and lived with a family for a few years and discussed with them day in and day out the meaning of the war, maybe.
If he did, he missed the point.
To assume that the average Iraqi did not experience any grief or trouble before the American invasion, to think that the Iraqi people are all more or less the same, to assume that fear and terror is new to them is a mistake. Iraq, like many other countries in that region, is made of tribes, if you move further away you will see that most of those tribes focus on a different version of religion, if you’re Iraqi Muslim you can be sonnie or shiite, you can also be a Kurd, and all of these tribes have got bad blood between them for ages. To add to this their version of religion determines that the other versions are so wrong that its followers are infidels and need to be destroyed. Another thing that is common to all the versions is an apocalyptic story about the end of time, and it usually involves some outer force coming in and during bad things, so that any event like this soon sparks the nutters and crazies into action.
I did not do my own research, but I do know how many Muslims think, or better yet – follow their leaders thoughts, there is no place for empathy, infidels are on earth to stop and delay the coming of the glory-ending of this place, they are an obstacle to anything that is good and as long as these infidels live there will not be a happy ending and god will not be pleased. There is no regard to children of infidels because if they will stop and start to think about them they could not decapitate them or their parents. The war that is going on now, in eyes of religious Muslims, makes complete sense because if they would have the power they would quickly do the same to the west, as is commanded in their holy books and scripture.
The comfort of live leads many to sit and ponder why things are the way they are (“why does the Arab world hate us?”) and one can easily make the mistake of thinking that everyone is the same, that education systems around the world are the same, and that cultures all teach the same thing. But that is not true, and from that very basic mistake you get a 20 minute talk about something that is just not real, and probably the worst TED talk I ever saw.
The only good that this talk can do is to show people how well intentioned individuals can make inflated theories of people when they do not know what motivates these people and who they really are, what education and belief systems that follow and to what degree.