Draft of Empathy Manifesto #1: Emerging Technologies (VR) or Technically Feeling

I feel you, man.


Because we can never truly know another’s feelings or perspective, it is better that we not feel at all instead of going down the path of self-actualizing at the cost of temporary self-annihilation coupled cannibalization that we have come to call “empathy” across all parts of society tasked with cultural reproduction. That is to say, empathy is an illusion at best or simply, as is said in moments of deep reflection, bullshit!


Here is the list of things I know to be true (which should not be confused with Truth) about empathy:

  1. Feelings and emotions are chemical pollution of the brain that cloud accuracy of experience.
  2. Reaching radical empathy is to have successfully dehumanized.
  3. Empathy leaves the other stuck in time and place.
  4. You are my Other… and I too am yours does not mean WE ARE THE SAME.
  5. Mediated experiences and the empathy they *inspire* is an illusion.
  6. To be in the shoes of an Other still leaves you with your own feet.
  7. Empathy is deployed and used politically as though it is pure transference or communication.
  8. Respect, Compassion, Mutual Recognition, and Assumptions are better frameworks.
  9. Your irrational feelings are my murder and you cannot empathize with the dead.
  10. The body having empathetic sensations is the body seduced and overwhelmed by its own feelings.
  11. Empathy = DEHUMANIZATION and ALIENATION (first of the Other and then of the Self)


The disenfranchised, the marginalized, the at-risk are expected to perform their pain and discomfort for those who know only comfort. Those who know only comfort do not realize they sit in a position of privilege and power. Rather than trying to step into the discomfort of others, people should learn to confront, interrogate, and be aware of their own discomfort (preferably with a smile) because empathy is empty.


Empathy Manifesto #1: Emerging Technologies or Technically Feeling


Look at our emerging technologies! The circulating belief that the ability to see someone as human, to empathize, only if you can inhabit their body as espoused by current emerging virtual reality technology is a reaffirmation that the white male body is the universal body. The version of the “Other” created by the white male gaze and desire is a pitiful and incomplete, incapable of experiencing joy and happiness. The human, reduced and converted to experience then ejected from their body is actualized as a “thing” to temporarily inhabit but never encounter. This lack of encounter and human connection, executed as narratives of trauma, for the purpose of creating empathy for a select few means that the relatives and descendants of those reduced to experience will never exist beyond the virtually real trauma of their kinfolk.


Questions Arise:


  • What does it mean to design empathy in an experiencer or viewer of some mediated experience?
  • What becomes of users and creators when their own bodies start  to disappear as they take on the bodies of others, bodies that render other humans into consumable nuggets of suffering?


This is what is being sold with the current push for “affordable” virtual reality technology being positioned as the next and most world-changing emerging technology. These technologies are new methods of emotional control through the false connection known as empathy. They control by increasing distance between people due to the false sense suppressing the self that happens with overstimulation due to the ever-increasing high fidelity and definition of our technologies. It is no wonder that after going through the mediation of electronic machines the experience feels like an increased connection to some Other, be it people or experience. The connection electronic mediation creates is false and this dilemma is not new. Look to history! When technology is deployed in uneven power relationships (both real and potential, but never imagined) at a societal level and as a central component of how the world is designed the empathy shaped morality becomes the foundation of multigenerational trauma. “Moral” empathy imprisons people in the events they survive and the places they are imagined to occupy or were born.


Yet empathy is seen only as a grave danger for the empathizers who understand “them” through the pain of these events or places (because “they” are incapable of joy). Understand them from and through place (because “they” cannot exist here with you; “they” are always far away). Feel “it” in you because they are not human (“they” are pain and place). “They” are an extension of that which you can never be (because you are good/well, and you belong). “They” are not human (“they” do not belong with you). “They”, the dehumanized, are incapable of dreams and joys of their own because they are the carriers of the pain you cannot face/acknowledge. “They” are less than other. “They” are an experience to be consumed and regurgitated as if it is your own. “They” are technology. A virtual reality. A skin that can augment your experience. A skin that can be quickly removed. A skin that is not real. “They” are a skin you put on because you are skinless.

[with thanks to MinneWebCon for so many amazing conversations post-keynote and people who read early bits and pieces of my jumbled thoughts that are still in draft mode]

One response to “Draft of Empathy Manifesto #1: Emerging Technologies (VR) or Technically Feeling”

  1. […] Jade E. Davis, Draft of Empathy Manifesto #1: “To be in the shoes of an Other still leaves you with your own […]

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