We tend to put empathy on a pedestal. You can find almost religious reverence of it all over the internet, including business blogs, self-help articles, and even guides on how to fix the world. Its appeal is evident—it can strengthen our relationships and spur us to commit acts of kindness. But if we cut through the rosy din, we find that empathy may have a dark underside. Gaining traction in the fields of social psychology and moral philosophy is the opinion that empathy often corrupts our sense of morality and, in aggregate, makes the world worse.
A nation’s tax system is in many ways a reflection of its priorities. The United States offers tax exempt status to places of worship because of our culture’s deep ties to religion. We impose excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco in part because we want to discourage their use. The latest example is a bill set for a vote in the Senate next week. Its authors aim to drastically change how we prioritize higher education: They plan to make it unnecessarily difficult to earn a graduate degree, and in doing so, they threaten to deal irrevocable damage to scientific progress.