To practice empathy is to model in your own mind the experiences of another. It is the primary tool in human social interaction and thus is held as the utmost good. Empathy allows one to identify pain in someone else and by that identification presents us a choice of either remedying that pain, or ignoring it.
But human beings do not develop tools that work only for the benefit of others. Empathy exists because it has utility. What is this utility?
Of course, empathy is indispensable to the tribe, as it is the basis of social cohesion.
But what is empathy’s utility to the individual, apart from those benefits derived from the success of the group?
The answer begins with empathy’s ugly offspring; envy. For so far as empathy allows us to model another’s pain, it similarly allows for us to model their pleasure. The greater one’s capacity for empathy, the greater this effect.
What is the natural result of this, if one be at least marginally self-aware, or in another way of speaking, empathetic to one’s self?
The result is knowledge of the discrepancy in pleasure and joy between our inner state, and that of another. The smiles and casual grace of those higher on the dominance hierarchy stand as intelligible signs of the direction we must strive.
Of course, as in all social animals, that direction is up. Empathy is merely the precursor to the primary propellant, envy, that may serve to launch us upwards.
Those deficient in empathy will have little motivation to strive towards the top. Why should they strive, when the benefit is not apparent? When their minds are not capable of modeling the pleasure of dominance?
But those who do not perceive themselves as capable, or of possessing the potential to become capable, of climbing the dominance hierarchy will suppress their empathy. They will label it envy, placing it neatly within the category of sin. Such poor souls will have no interest in studying the great people of the past. All will search for malevolent tidbits in order to dismiss the powerful as evil, and high positions as intrinsically entailing cruelty. In doing so, their inner empathetic compass, the one designed to direct them upwards, will be rubbed clean of its magnetism. These, the unempathetic or incapable, will likely be miserable all their lives and have no understanding as to why.
How can one be happy when the utmost biological goal, a 300 million year inheritance, is conceived of as the realm of sinners?
If striving towards greatness is not good, then nothing is good. And if greatness is anything other than improving oneself, and rising upwards within the many nested dominance hierarchies that make up our society, then nothing is great.
Empathy’s utility is in telling us who the great people are, and how far from them we currently stand. Without it, we are confused and frustrated, unable to conceive of any concrete goals whatsoever. Without such concrete goals, and our struggle to progress towards their completion, there is no positive emotion. Without positive emotion, what is life?
Confusion. Chaos. Pain. And a continually confused organism can only do one thing; spiral downwards into death.