About Beat

Beat is a magazine dedicated to exploring developments in Art and Culture in the networked age. Our aim is to deliver exciting and progressive content using all the tools currently available, reflecting the changes in cultural production that access to new technologies brings.

As such contributions may vary in their form; You may find an essay of in-depth analysis, alongside a short album review; a photo-essay of an exhibition or a video performance; a meme, a series of hyperlinks or a music file. We want to explore what a magazine is and can be, who contributes and how, to blur the lines between who is ‘in or out’ of the magazine process.

Each issue is broadly themed, tying together the various forms contributions may take.

A theme should be seen as an inspirational starting point, a provocation and not as a perscriptive cage, they may take the form of a word or a sentence, a piece of music or a video.

We want reviews, interviews, essays, pictures, snippets or soundbites- touching on every aspect of cultural and artistic life- from pop culture to critical theory, from the mainstream to the marginal.

If you would like to contribute to Beat Please contact us using the links below.

Recent tweets

Only The Young.. will lose

Ok, so we don’t normally do sad face, growly beat down articles, preferring instead to make space for the things we do actually like. But hey, we’re not perfect, we’ve had some cider which always makes us a bit grrrrrrr AND this was waved in front of us, so we’re gonna say some stuff.

Only The Young were apparently plucked from obscurity by Capital and Vodafone to play at Wembley’s Summertime Ball some time or other, and got lots of people to make a cheap video for them at the same time using selfies and such like. #nice

For a band plucked from obscurity they have a surprising lack of songs #likenone - a Twitter feed which started a few weeks before the Capital competition and are very chummy with Little Mix #handy.

Their website can’t even be bothered to try to make them sound exciting, opting instead to go for the hooky “created and developed at management company, The Qworkz”. (how do you say that anyway?)

Very meta.


Jesus even The Vamps had one song (admittedly looking a bit thin on the ground after “Can We Dance” clearly caught everybody by surprise). but hey, one song is 100% more than none…. isn’t it??

Only The Young reeks of laziness, it’s so far beyond cynical it makes our teeth itch and Qworkz would clearly sell AK47s to toddlers if it was only legal.

C”MON MIKEY, BETSY, CHARLIE & PARISA, you’re smiling through the media equivalent of date rape and selling your networks for pocket change. Kill your managers. Write a track called Capital Sucks. You’ll mean way more to far fewer people.

Alternatively, go awol for 24 hours and go hang out with Only Real for the night, they’ll be way more fun and might have a mate who can get you a free phone for a lot less sacrifice.

Posted on Friday, July 4th 2014, by I Am Dan Eastmond

Tags onlytheyoung marketing youth technology run

A Short Interview with Models For

Every now and again at Beat Magazine HQ something drops into our inbox that we just weren’t expecting. Something that makes us go “Hmm, that’s interesting”, something that makes us ponder for a moment whether we’ve come across something like it before, or something that causes a little smile  to creep across our collective (and immensely attractive) faces as our way of thinking shifts just a little.

A short note from Models For was one of those moments, a little hello from out of the blue that made us sit up, and resulted in this short interview.

..oh and our picture editor was very happy too ;-)

Hi, can you introduce yourself?

My name is Victoria and I’m the campaign manager for Models For - a small charity based in Bolton that helps children from all over the UK.

Our models travel around the UK raising money by attending events - from football matches to cage fights and music festivals - as well as doing photo shoots and features in magazines and for websites and radio, to raise awareness for our campaign and to get as many events booked in as possible!

We’ve worked at some massive events over the past year. We covered lots of the MMA events, the Amir Khan fight in Sheffield, the Price v Thompson fight in Liverpool, we supplied the girls for the Enfusion Live fight at the Indigo2 in London and we even had a few girls at the Sunrise 2 Sunset festival in Blackpool.

At the fighting events the girls offer there services as ring girls for the events and then during the interval and at the end of each event they then collect any donations for the charity.

How did you come to be involved in Modelsfor?

Models For was actually my concept. After attending a few charity balls with some of my model friends I really wanted to do something different that hadn’t been done, to raise money for the children’s charities that really needed help raising money!

I sat down for a few days going over all different ideas and then eventually came up with Models For Campaign.

I put out a casting to find some models to join the campaign and in February 2013 we had our first photo shoot. Since then more and more models have been involved with the campaign, but we still have a lot of the original models, which is really nice!

We see ourselves as a little family now!

Which charities are you raising money for and why?

We set out to raise money for different childrens charities and so far have managed to help around five, but at the minute we are solely raising money for the childrens charity Wipe Your Tears. It is such a wonderfull charity and the people involved are so nice that we really enjoy being able to help them in such a massive way!

This year we’ve pledged to raise £30,000 and are just about to reach the £5,000 mark.

How many models are involved now?

We currently have twenty models involved with the campaign, but we’re holding interviews right now and will hopefully take on another five new models to help cover the demand!

What sort of reaction have you had?

The reaction has been amazing, we’re blown away by how much support we’re getting and how much money we’ve raised! It’s been a dream come true for everyone involved.

The figures speak for themselves, since we started we’ve raised nearly £20,000. We’re attending events every weekend and event organisers are booking our girls time and time again!

The models are not just amazing models and gorgeous, but they’re all lovely girls and everyone is really happy with everything we do!

Ring Girls are usually seen but not heard, how have people responded to you’re having an agenda?

Most people have been really great and obviously we have managed to raise a lot of money! But as is the nature of the business we’ve had a few words with some rude people, but that’s to be expected in an environment fuelled by alcohol and testosterone!

Then again, all of the girls know how to handle themselves and the security staff at all the events make sure they keep a close eye on us, which is always lovely!

Do you think that the all-female nature of the charity makes it different?

I definitely think that the fact we are all females makes a difference, It certainly helps with the collections. Most of the events we attend are male dominated environments, which means they they are more easily approached by a woman. It also makes them more generous, I think.

It feels like there is a female empowerment message in your work. Do you feel that?

Definitely. I think we have taken something that some people view as a bit seedy and we have totally given it a re vamp! I’ve definitely felt a difference in the way people approach us at events from the start of the campaign to now!

People know what we are doing and that we are only there for the children and I believe it has given a new spin on the industry! We feel empowered to be able to do something so amazing, and to help so many brave children really gives you a buzz!

How do you see the charity growing in the future?

I just see us taking on more and more models and hopefully organising more and more events. We’re planning to arrange charity auctions and other types of events such as fashion shows in the future. If every year we can raise more than the last then that will make me a happy woman!

Favourite moment so far?

It would have to be at Christmas when we did a toy drive for all of the children we’d helped over the year! It was amazng to be able to drop off all the prezzies we’d donated and collected!

It’s has brought us really close together as a group of women. We are all extremely close, not just a random group of models, but really good friends! We support each other in ever aspect of our lives and it’s great to be a part of this and to have gained so many new friends!!

I cant wait to see what this year has to offer for the campaign!!!

You mentioned feeling closer as a group of women as a result of the campaign. Is the work otherwise lonely/isolated and what do you think has changed?

I think the modelling industry and ring girling can be quite bitchy and cold at times, which does make it sometimes isolating and lonely. Some of the girls in the industry are quite false, which I guess is why some of the girls in the campaign come and go whilst others have stuck with us.

It’s really nice that we have managed to find such a good bunch of girls. Everyone is really helpful, but also just very humble, and that’s very rare in this industry! When we find a new girl like that we grab on to her and help her as much as we can!

I was reading an interesting article in Sunday Times Style recently about positive messages for young girls. Modelling is often seen as presenting a superficial value system to young girls (I’m not saying this is necessarily correct), your campaign reveals that there is of course more under the surface, but doesn’t seek to change any existing stereotypes and assumptions. What are your thoughts on this?

I’m not sure that it’s the modelling itself that presents a superficial value system to young girls. Personally, I believe that it’s the air brushing and re-touching that warps and alters young girls values and sense of self.

A lot of young girls admire the stars and models who they see printed in the magazines, and compare themselves to the pictures that they see. But of course the truth of the situation is that the models and stars themselves never have and never will look like the images on the shelves. The end product is made up from what the editors perceive as beautiful, and this is what’s most harmful to young women.

Many people don’t actually understand what true modelling is and how demanding it is! You have to eat well and look after your body and your face as well as making sure you’re in great shape. The art of modelling itself - knowing your angles - how best to position your body - is something that takes time and experience to learn!

I know, and have always known, that there is a lot under the surface of every model and hopefully our campaign can bring this awareness to the general public and help young girls see that there is more to the industry than just having your picture taken. To be a great model you also have to be a great person!

You can follow Models For on Twitter at @models_for or email them at models_for@hotmail.co.uk

Posted on Wednesday, April 23rd 2014, by I Am Dan Eastmond

Tags models for glamour modelling women beauty charity wipe your tears children boxing ring girls photography

Things we like… kissing of course, and lots of it… but as well as that, this sultry and soulful snippet of electronica from unsigned (yes, we know!), sort-of-Russian siren Shura

Posted on Tuesday, March 4th 2014, by I Am Dan Eastmond

Tags shura touch youtube video

The Price of Everything

By Warwick Cairns

Here’s a question: “What is a cynic?”

And the answer?

“A man who knows the price of everything…”

Are you with me here?

Is the quote beginning it sound familiar? Care to finish it off?

Yes, yes. Of course.

“A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

So, who wrote that?

Oscar Wilde is always a good one when it comes to quotes. It’s always him or the other one, I find: him or Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill as in

“Sir, you are drunk.” (Bessie Braddock)

“Madam, you are ugly. In the morning I shall be sober.”

Or Winston Churchill as in

“If you were my husband I would give you poison.” (Nancy Astor)

“If I were your husband I would take it.”

But in this instance if you guessed Wilde you’d have been right. It’s from his play Lady Windermere’s Fan. But for multigazillion bonus points, can you say what comes next? No? Well, here’s the next line.

"And a sentimentalist, my dear Darlington, is a man who sees an absurd value in everything, and doesn’t know the market price of any single thing.”

Value and price: that’s my theme for today. Value and price and the relationship between them. And also, for a sort of subsidiary theme, little-known second parts to well-known things. Which have to do, ultimately, with value and price, as we’ll see. Now, to value and price and the relationship between them.


Here’s another quote for you:

A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!

Yes, you know that one, too. Spoken by the hunchback King Richard III on the battlefield, fighting on foot after his own horse has been killed.

And you know, of course, that it’s not Oscar Wilde, this quote, and not Winston Churchill, and not even Noel Coward (“I like long walks. Especially when they are taken by people who annoy me” - how can we have forgotten him earlier?) but the other King of Quotes, William Shakespeare.

Now you know, and I know, that however horses were back then, they didn’t generally cost an entire kingdom. But with the hunchbacked king on foot in the middle of a fierce hand-to-hand battle, and conspicuous, and vulnerable, the value of a horse had just shot right through the roof, on account of it being the one thing that would save his life. Ditto the value of a breath of air to a drowning man, or a single minute of life to a man - let’s imagine Saddam Hussein, say - standing on a gallows trapdoor as he hears the click of the lever being pulled.

So, we know that there is a relationship between value and price. We know that what we value more, we are prepared to pay more for. And, conversely, when it comes to what we value little, well, you’ll find it hard to get people to part with tuppence for. And we know that values change, and prices change with them. Back in the 17th Century, you could have bought one of the 750 copies of the First Folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays, including the horse quote, for a pound. Allowing for inflation in the intervening centuries, that would be about £100 at today’s prices. Whereas try and buy one today and you’d be hard pushed to get one for less than £2 million.

So price is a reflection of value: things cost, by and large, what people are prepared to pay for them.

But there’s a lesser-known second half to all this - value, in turn, is often a reflection of price. Which is to say, people often think more highly of expensive things, for no other reason than how much they cost.

Now, I can imagine you sort of half-agreeing with this. Thinking of some people to whom this applies rather a lot, but feeling somehow more grounded and genuine yourself, and not swayed by such shallow materialism.

And there are people who do seem to be very conspicuously swayed by high prices. The sort of very wealthy people who have solid gold taps, for example, or Bentleys painted the colour of their favourite nail-varnish. There’s a joke I heard in Moscow about two oligarchs who meet in a bar. One admires the gorgeous silk tie worn by the other.

"Ivan!" he says, "Where did you get that tie? And how much did it cost you."

At which Ivan smiles knowingly.

"A little shop down the road from here," he says, "Very exclusive. Very expensive. They only let a select few into the shop. This cost me 20,000 roubles! Can you believe that, Oleg? Twenty thousand for a tie!"

Oleg looks at him pityingly.

"You fool," he says, "There’s another shop just around the corner. You could have picked up one of those there for 30,000."


Now, you may sneer and feel yourself superior to the superficial super-rich, but research shows that the same principles apply rather closer to home. Have you ever been to an expensive restaurant and noticed how good the food tastes? Or savoured the complexity of a glass of vintage wine? Well, if you have, there’s a reason you had such a wonderful experience. The price.

In 2001, at the University of Bordeaux, Frederic Brochet carried out a psychological experiment on oenology students studying there. Oenology is the study of wine. The department is just down the university corridor from the boules department and the Gallic shrugging department. Probably. But anyway, these wine students: he gave them two bottles of wine to evaluate. One was a bottle of cheap supermarket plonk. The other was some grand vintage or other from a fancy chateau. Or so they thought. Asked to describe the expensive wine, the students gave lengthy descriptions, using adjectives such as “complex and full-bodied.” Asked to describe the plonk, they talked about it as “weak and flat.” Except. Except that they were describing the exact same wine, with different labels on. Being expensive led the students to believe it must be better and more valuable.

And it’s more than just belief. There’s evidence that knowing wine is expensive actually makes it taste better.  In an experiment at California Tech Institute, bottles of wine ranging from $5 to $90 were compared. Again, it was the same stuff in all the bottles - but this time the tasters were connected to a brain scanner. While tasting the wine, an area in the ‘pleasure zone’ of the prefrontal cortex of the brain would light up every time they drank the wine. But when they thought the wine was expensive, it actually lit up more. Which meant, in essence, that they were actually enjoying the flavour more.

So price affects value as much as value affects price, though we might think otherwise.

All of which leads me to the little-known second part to my story today, which concerns a book I’m writing at the moment and, ultimately, matters of value and price.

A year or so back I wrote an adventure novel, set in the English Civil War. My agent touted it around the London publishers, and got back pretty much the same response, time after time: yes, yes - there’s some nice writing there, but it won’t sell. It’s the period. We’ve tried with some of our own authors, and no-one buys books about that period. It won’t sell to the US, either: they really won’t get it.

So the perceived value, and consequently the price they were prepared to pay for the manuscript, was around zero.

We did speak to one publisher who we thought was going to give us a different response. “Love it!” she said, “Great characters. Great writing.”

Which was good.

"But there’s just one little problem.”

The problem?

"The period. Could you set it in the Elizabethan era?”

My first response was “Well, this Civil War novel: the one with Cavaliers and Roundheads in it, and Oliver Cromwell and Prince Rupert of the Rhein. What part of it, exactly, do you want me to set in the Elizabethan era?”

My second response was “No. Bugger off.”

And my third response, a couple of months later, was “Hmmm. I wonder…”

Which is why I sit here now, some tens of thousands of words into The Master Thief, a new novel set in London in the last years of the reign of Elizabeth I. It’s why I sit piling up page after page of its particular mix of street crime, candle-making, journeys from rags to riches and back again and inept hopeless rebellion, and wondering how, and where, things will end up on the old value-price equation.

Posted on Monday, December 30th 2013, by I Am Dan Eastmond

Tags warwick cairns value price quotes

Our Little Hymnal - An Interview with Dr Andrew Pratt

By Christopher Morley

So we’re feeling all Christmassy in the office, the home fires are burning and we’ve listened to The Pogues and Kirsty McCall so often that our ears have threatened to leave us. Thank heavens then, that Christopher Morley managed to escape to chat to Dr Andrew Pratt, he of the Hymn Society of Great Britain & Ireland, about hymns, writing them and ‘soul-caking’.

What do you know of the history of hymns as we would know them today?

I guess that people have always been singing. There is some evidence to suggest that we sing before we talk – think of the sing-song language of a parent and child. A few years ago Steven Mithen suggested that Neanderthals sang – it goes back a long way. As for hymns they help you to remember – think nursery rhymes and folk songs, or singing along with whoever on your iPod; it’s the music, the rhyme and the rhythm that make it work. In the Bible that shows up best in the Psalms though our modern use of them doesn’t, for the most part, do justice to the Hebrew or the music.

Why do you think hymns & carols are such an important part of Christmas-time?


Come Christmas, well, nearly a hundred years ago someone described carols as ‘simple, hilarious, popular, and modern’. To his ears it was a bit nearer pop than church. The reason? They began as folk songs – songs of the people and they were not just for Christmas. We’re nearer to Morris Dancing and ‘soul-caking’, more in the pub than the chapel, mixing history, tradition and now.

And the carols we sing now in churches have, to some extent, been ‘domesticated’. They are less likely to shock or touch the earthy hilarity and fun of their predecessors. And they often present a Victorian picture-postcard view of Jesus’ birth than anything nearing reality – a squalid birth to an unmarried mother, uprooted by politics, heading into exile to avoid a local genocide which, according to the story, others suffered instead.

Can there be such a thing as a non-religious hymn?

It all depends on what you mean by non-religious. Many faiths have hymns that are religious but not Christian. My background is Christian so that’s where I speak from.

Hymns and carols which take Jesus’ humanity utterly seriously will likely ride light to angels and halos, shepherds and wise men in stables. They may not sound very Christian or churchy. But then ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ from Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ was greeted by many as blasphemous whilst actually, in a ‘simple, hilarious, popular, and modern’ way, touching on the message of crazy hope in the midst of utter despair.

All religions would appear to have some form of musical element to worship – have you experienced any other/similar cultural traditions in different faiths?

Plenty, but I have no real familiarity with any – you’d have to ask someone else for that. But for the moment let’s list Hindu and Sikh, Jewish, neo-pagan, and, perhaps surprisingly, Islam if we are to take some of the later songs of Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens) into account.

Do you have a particular favourite hymn/ spiritual song?

Many. The ultimate favourite is by someone called Frederick Faber. He was a Church of England vicar in the 1800s. He became a Roman Catholic. He wrote ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy’. Faber couldn’t conceive of a God condemning anyone and had, I think, little time for people who condemned one another. A later verse has the line ‘We magnify his strictness with a zeal he will not own’. It wasn’t that he disregarded good and bad, moral and immoral. He just knew that people turn themselves into ‘gods’ condemning those that don’t keep human laws, who don’t toe the line as they see it.

To Faber God was more discerning, understanding, compassionate – accepting all people as they are, where they are – and I’d want to say – and I think he would – black or white, straight or gay, male or female, of whatever name or creed. What we do, perhaps counts more than what we believe, but what we believe can sometimes make us do horrendous things in the name of belief.


Faber was far sighted. He believed that God offered, ‘grace enough for thousands of new worlds as great as this’. Very 21st century!

When did you begin to write hymns?

In 1979 when I went to study theology and to train for Methodist ministry. I was a teacher and a scientist. At one point I had intended to become an academic marine biologist. My direction changed, but learning about theology and the church presented me with challenges that didn’t altogether make sense. Tutors used language and jargon that I didn’t understand. I’d already written some awful ‘verse’ – certainly not poetry – and I began to find that translating theology and thoughts into ‘hymns’ (also pretty awful!) helped me to grapple with things and better understand them.

It’s gone on like that! I’m still struggling over a thousand hymns later.

Talk us through your approach to writing a hymn.

I have to have an idea or a line. Sometimes someone will say something casually, in conversation or a meeting. I’ll pick up on the natural rhythm of what’s said, a twist in the language, and it will set me going. I sometimes write while sitting in boring (don’t tell my boss!) meetings or in response to something on the TV. I wrote a response to 9/11 in the form of a hymn and had it picked up in the US inside 24 hours of the event. A year later, along with nine others, it was published in the ‘Philadelphia Inquirer’ in commemoration.

At other times writing is more a matter of craft. I was asked to write hymns for readings used Sunday by Sunday in churches. That meant writing between 2 and 5 hymns a week for three years; it’s amounted to around 150 hymns a year. For this I start with the Bible and try to get to the meanings and feelings beneath the words. So for a carol we ‘See the eyes of Mary shine’ and notice ‘Joseph’s roughened hands’. I like to use down-to-earth contemporary language that can make sense when read as well as being ‘just a good sing’. I like to make people think. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it can turn out to be a banal cliché.

What’s it like to have your work performed & appraised by others?

I mentioned the 9/11 hymn. I never thought that would last beyond two or three weeks. It is humbling and moving when someone else picks up on your work and uses it. I am not a musician, I just do the words, so when someone like the American classical composer Carson Cooman asked to write some words for him to set to music it was a big affirmation.

In another sense you become detached from the words. They have a life of their own. Taken by surprise, I sometimes wonder where they’ve come from.

Did you feel a genuine calling to write hymns?

I began writing by accident but it developed into a calling when I found other people said that what I was writing was helpful to them. I want to write words which try to make sense of the world, the cosmos, as I understand things as scientist and a human being. I put these alongside my faith. The writing sometimes puts seemingly contradictory world views side by side, sometimes something has to give and we move on, discarding worn out belief, gathering new scientific or religious understanding. Sydney Carter, who wrote ‘Lord of the dance’, once said his creed was ‘nothing fixed or final’. That’s about it I suppose, a continuing exciting adventure in trying to make sense of ‘life, the universe and everything’, as someone once said!

Finally, tell us about your work with the Hymn Society

The Hymn Society tries to promote the use and study of hymns. It works in Great Britain and Ireland, but has sister societies in other parts of the world. Hymn writing and study is very much an international affair. I have links in Australia, the USA and Finland amongst other places.

I edit the Bulletin, which is the Society’s quarterly magazine. This comes out four times a year and has a very mixed readership from those who are mainline academics, through writers and composers, to those who just like singing hymns and are interested. I get the excitement of seeing new bits of research first. I work with two other editors so things are not just published on my say so. The Society includes people of many different denominations and a very wide range of religious outlook, so there is always the need to provide a mix of material for the range of members and readers. That and mixing with, sharing with, folk in this country and around the world in a passion that has taken over my life (ask my wife!) is great!

Posted on Monday, December 23rd 2013, by I Am Dan Eastmond

Tags hymns singing christmas faber the hymn society dr andrew pratt

A Mile In Your Moccasins

By Warwick Cairns

There’s an old Red Indian saying.

I know, I know.

But the ‘American’ part of ‘Native American’ – well, that takes you back to Amerigo Vespucci, doesn’t it? Amerigo Vespucci was the Italian explorer who, along with his chum Christopher Columbus, could be said to have kicked the whole thing off, that whole ‘Europeans conquer the New World’ thing.

Where do you start with this correct terminology thing, and where do you stop?

But as I was saying: there’s an old Red Indian saying.

Or is there?

I mean, there is a saying that I’m thinking of, but whether it’s really old, and whether it really originated where it’s meant to have done, well, that’s a whole other question.

It’s a bit like the ‘Old African Saying’ you hear quoted every now and then.

You know the one: “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Big place, Africa.

No-one seems to be able to be any more precise about it than that.

Anyway, the saying I have in mind on this particular occasion is this:

“Never criticise a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.”

You can sort of tell it’s meant to be from the Wild West, can’t you?

It has the word ‘moccasins’ in it, see? If it had been from somewhere else -  Ancient Rome, say - it would have had something like ‘gladiator sandals’ in it. It probably would have had miles in it too, being as how the mile is a Roman measure. But I’d have imagined that the Red Indians would have come up with some other measure of distance. Something buffalo-related, perhaps.

I think, sometimes, people like having that sort of provenance to their proverbs. Sort of noble and wise, yet unsullied by the sophistry of progress and still in touch with the earth and the fundamental truths of life.

You can imagine the venerable old chief, sitting there in his fringed buckskins and his feathered war-bonnet, sucking slowly at his pipe as he considers his next words, the medicine-man at his shoulder, doing things with a bag of bones, while all the tribe sit cross-legged before him, waiting rapt.

And then he speaks.

“Never criticise a man,” he says.

And you cannot help but listen.

You cannot help but listen, even as the young braves come cup-handed, bringing smouldering leaves to the pile of wood heaped beneath the timber frame from which you hang suspended by your ankles. Even as the young women gather up their pointed sticks.

You cannot help but listen, even though you don’t even speak their bloody language.

But how wise, you think, nevertheless: how very, very wise.

I suppose where this is all leading to, this walking a mile in another man’s moccasins, is the importance of empathy. The ability to understand – and share – the feelings of another.

I would say that it’s one of the things that makes us human, except that it isn’t, really.


You can have empathy and not be human.

And you can be human and not have empathy.

Dogs, for example.

One of the few species, they are, who ‘catch’ yawning from seeing people yawn.

And it’s not just a matter of seeing a mouth opening and copying - if the researchers at the University of Tokyo are to be believed. What they found – what they published in their report this past couple of months – is that dogs, humankind’s oldest animal companion, catch yawns from people in a way that shows empathy between the species. Which is to say, they respond more to real yawns than to fake ones, and they respond more to their owner’s yawns than to the yawns of a stranger.

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Porto in Portugal have found that dogs’ stress hormone levels rise and fall in direct relation to their owners’.

Empathy, you see.

Non-humans with empathy.

And meanwhile. Meanwhile, back in the human world, you have psychopaths. Now, it used to be thought that psychopaths had no empathy at all, being as how they’re such unfeeling, self-centred bastards and all. They were thought to have no empathy whatever kind of psychopath they might be - whether the mad axe-wielding serial-killer variety or else the more common manipulative, self-serving sociopath kind that many people rightly or wrongly believe their bosses to be.

Rightly, most probably.

According to studies, there are, proportionately, four times more psychopaths in the boardrooms and management suites of big businesses than there are in society as a whole. Psychopaths know how to get ahead in business, you see.

But here’s the thing – it used to be thought that psychopaths had no empathy at all. Now, however, it turns out that they do – but just as an optional extra.

Again, just this past couple of months, at around the time the dog-yawning study went to press, researchers at the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands, were publishing their report on psychopaths and how they feel. And it’s not quite how we thought they felt.


According to Christian Keysers, the author of the Dutch report, “The predominant notion had been that they are callous individuals, unable to feel emotions themselves and therefore unable to feel emotions in others. Our work shows it’s not that simple. They don’t lack empathy but they have a switch to turn it on and off. By default, it seems to be off.”

That must be nice for them, the psychopaths.

I mean, if you have no insight into how others feel, then you’d wonder why you’d go to all the trouble of doing something really bonkers – I don’t know, building an underground torture-chamber in your basement and kidnapping people off of the street to do unspeakable things to. Because if you did that, and if you had no sense of the effects of it on your victims, no appreciation of it – well, you’d be bound to question whether it was worth all the effort of doing it. Maybe you’d take up a less demanding hobby instead.

Whereas it turns out that they can feel what others feel, after all.

But only when they want to.

There is a link, I think, between empathy and cruelty.

There was an interview I read a while back with what you might call a ‘champion’ torturer from Cambodia, or somewhere like that. I don’t know if there was an actual championship, or any sort of award for it, but he was one of the best, if there is such a thing – if not the very best. He was much in demand for his skills, and frequently called upon to do the honours whenever a local paramilitary thug needed to be particularly beastly to someone.

What he said was this: he said that he hadn’t always been good at it. He’d actually started out being quite a rubbish torturer. It wasn’t that he didn’t hurt people enough – quite the reverse, in fact. He beat some people senseless, and beat others to death. Blood everywhere. But he was crude, you see. He had no style, no panache. He was a long way from being the respected figure in the torturing community that he later came to be. But then, he said, gradually and with practice, he began to get a feel for his trade. He learned to vary the pace and severity. He learned to watch the signs and cues given out by his victims, rather than bludgeoning blindly ahead. He learned when to offer small mercies like a glass of cold water to drink; and when, suddenly, to snatch those small mercies away – the water flung in the face, the glass smashed and… well, we’ll draw a veil over that.

But what he did was more than just a technical thing. It was an emotional one. He learnt to establish a bond of empathy with his victims, and this made his skill as a torturer all the more terrible. Because of this bond he was able to see inside them and sense exactly what they were feeling; and because of this he was able to devise ever more cruel and subtle refinements.

Writers do the same. In tragedy and in comedy, from Macbeth to Alan Partridge, they allow you insight into a character’s inner world – and at the same time they heap misfortune and embarrassment upon him – deserved or otherwise. And you feel for him, while at the same time relishing the feeling.

The bond of empathy is a knife that cuts two ways.

Which sounds rather like it ought to be some kind of old Red Indian saying.

Posted on Sunday, September 1st 2013, by I Am Dan Eastmond

Tags Warwick Cairns empathy literature yawning psychopaths