Laurie Taylor: One of the things people say about your books is the difficulty in feeling any empathy or sympathy for the characters… why aren’t your characters lovable?
Will Self: But people aren’t really that lovable. Again an aspect of the modern Kulturkampf is to pretend that everybody’s lovable. That’s a collective delusion. Society doesn’t operate because we love everybody; society operates through sanction, through forms of collective control, through hierarchy, through the imposition of controlled forms of mass hysteria. So the novels that persuade you of the idea that everybody’s intrinsically lovable are pulling off a confidence trick – as are the moral systems that delude people into believing it. You see it time and time again, Laurie, and you know it’s true: people’s capacity for empathy for those who are outside their immediate social matrix is remarkably small. And it doesn’t matter if you validate this through evolutionary psychology or you pull up Stanley Milgram’s experiments at Yale or the genocidal impulse that seems to exist in humanity: these are true facts. The thing is people will hear these arguments and respond, saying, ‘Yes, you’re right, but we’ve got to aim for something better than that.’
But what would that world be like in which you empathized with 7 billion people? What would the world be like if you felt the pain of the 250,000 people who were rubbed out in Haiti a few weeks ago? What a strange place it would be.
Will Self offering his typically disquieting opinion in an interview with Sociologist Laurie Taylor for the BBC program In Confidence in 2010.
“Greeting cards routinely tell us everybody deserves love. No. Everybody deserves clean water. Not everybody deserves love all the time.” – Zadie Smith