on empathy.

This is disturbing:

Seven-year-old Australian boy kills zoo reptiles; feeds them to crocodile.

One of the main prerequisites to a complete human being is the ability to feel empathy–the ability to relate to the suffering of another living being.  When you lack that ability, you’re missing a component that is crucial to your development. 

Seven-year-old kids do stupid things on occasion.  They lack the ability to consider consequences, and that’s why we don’t let them vote, drink, or buy firearms.  I’m pretty sure, however, that even at that age, I was keenly aware of the suffering I could cause in other creatures, and that I have never killed anything just for the sake of killing it.  I’ve certainly never felt joy at killing anything, even if it was a pest insect. 

Is the ability to feel empathy a part of one’s genetic makeup, a learned ability, or a bit of both?  Is this kid just irreversibly broken, a schoolyard thug and serial killer in larval stage, or did his parents simply screw up?  Do we all start out as vicious and unempathic little animals?


12 thoughts on “on empathy.

  1. Tam says:

    At one point, he tried scaling the outer enclosure himself to get to “Terry”, the 11ft (3.3m) saltwater crocodile.

    Too bad his climbing skills weren’t a little better…

  2. theflatwhite says:

    I’ve certainly never felt joy at killing anything, even if it was a pest insect.

    Oh, I experience a great deal of joy dispatching mosquitoes. It’s a war, man. Our very blood is on the line.

  3. Rusty P. Bucket says:

    I grew up shooting gophers with a .22. I shot a moose with one when I was 6 and my dad gave me the strap for lying. When I showed him the carcass I got it again for poaching and a hurried, frantic lecture about hunting laws, game seasons and such. From my perspective, the moose was nothing more than a big, edible version of a gopher. The game warden helped us butcher it and then took it to a local soup kitchen with no questions asked. The next week in school he came in and gave a lecture about poaching and the reasons behind the game laws.

    Some things that are blatantly obvious to us as adults are not so clear cut to kids, Munchkin. I would admonish you to not make the same assumptions with your little ones, it could prevent some embarrassment.

  4. crankylitprof says:

    Some children — a teeny, infinitesimal portion — are just born broken. I honestly believe that.

    This kid appears to be a budding sociopath.

    Certainly this kid needs to be in therapy put his wazoo. I’ll also ask — how long did this take? I know where my seven-year-old is at all times,. Why weren’t his parents supervising him?

  5. Marko says:


    there’s a teensy bit of a difference between killing an animal because you consider it food, and killing a bunch of animals with rocks and throwing them into a crocodile enclosure just for the hell of it, don’t you think?

  6. vinnie says:

    I used to catch grasshoppers and feed them to the cat spiders on the fence. That was before I learned to hunt (and butcher farm boy). But yes what this kid did was twisted.

  7. Brandon says:

    I’m on the same page as Cranky. This kid’s violent tendencies toward animals does not paint a reassuring picture of mental health. He needs some serious intervention.

    The article states that kids under 10 can’t be held liable for their actions, but I wonder what Australian law has to say about mandating treatment. Hopefully this boy will get the professional attention he clearly needs.

  8. Rusty P. Bucket says:

    I think so Munchkin.

    But what about the gophers? Or Vinnie’s grasshoppers? Hell, us old guys enjoy vapourizing gophers with high power centrefire .22’s too, and our good friends among the animal rights crowd call us psychotics tfor it. I don’t agree with them, but there is a shade of grey here.

    I wonder if this little feller just didn’t have a critical judgement failure? I disagree with Brandon – Give him the strap and a beating and see what he does. I would say that if that fails then you certainly do have a problem. It is too soon to hang him just yet.

  9. LabRat says:

    Children don’t really have true empathy; they’re not mentally developed enough for it- it requires a fair amount of abstract thinking.

    What normal children DO have, though, is compassion, which is the basic ability to recognize another creature is suffering and to feel distress about that.

    Reptiles are sufficiently unmammalian that a lot of adults even don’t have a lot of either empathy or compassion for them. I agree it’s damn disturbing that he went to that much trouble and effort to kill anything for fun, but I’m not *entirely* convinced the kid is a budding psychopath. Just somewhat.

  10. OrangeneckInNY says:

    Think “Lord of the Flies,”

    If left without supervision, the strong will always go after the weak.

    and “The Good Son.”

    Some children are just born bad.

  11. Joe Huffman says:

    This reminds me of a quote by a friend of mine:

    I gotta start working on this empathy shit.

    This kid needs to start soon.

  12. Rio Arriba says:

    If the anger inside outweighs the empathy, like the book/movie title, ‘there will be blood.’

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