Empathy and Disgust Do Battle in the Brain
An injured rat helps us understand the struggle between empathy and disgust
Rats don’t usually come out into daylight, especially not on a busy morning in New York City. But there it was, head awkwardly jutting out in front of its body, swinging from side to side. What injured the creature, I have no idea, but its hind legs could no longer support its weight. The rat dragged them like a kid drags a garbage bag that parents have asked be taken out–reluctantly. The muscles in the front legs rippled as they propelled the body forward along the sidewalk. The rodent was surprisingly quick considering the injury. But its aimlessness suggested distress.
Two girls, no more than 15 years old, spotted the wounded rat from about 10 feet away. They held each other close, squealing and giggling, inching toward the animal theatrically. Staring them down, I scowled. How could they not appreciate this creature’s suffering or be touched by its desperation? I looked on, saying nothing.
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