Category: empathy

  • A quick reading note on empathy and morality

    Lunch reading today was the following:

    Matravers, Derek. “Empathy and The Danger of Inventing Words.” The Philosophers’ Magazine 85 (2019): 26-31.

    It helped me sort through a thought that has been rolling around in my head enough to put it in to words that may or may not make sense. I am not sure yet. I guess I am still trying to figure out why people so desperately need empathy to be “real” and “measurable” even when it contains its own contradictions/impossibility (see annotated reading pages in the photos that were part in the tweet for a good explanation of the contradiction in the two primary ways empathy is used) :

    Because society has not successfully secularized morality outside of moral philosophy, “empathy” has become the social arbiter of an idealistic moral code. The empathy code attempts to evacuate “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” from the pages of the bible into the collective consciousness of humankind.

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  • Empathy is an Ideology: Or, Who is culturally pathologized by the ideology we call empathy?

    I made a sort of zine-ish thing that are some draft thoughts on Empathy as an ideology. You can read it online here or download it with the link below to print out yourself. If you print it, it needs to be double sided, flip on the short edge, for every page after the first page (the first page is the cover and should be printed alone). With the double sided print you get a short little booklet one you fold the cover and interior pages in half. Details on making your own zine-ish thing and how it can help support course material can be found at the end of the post.

    How To Make Something Like This

    I’ve been exploring the flexibility of Google Slides recently. I’ve created a couple of infographics for work that I can’t publicly share, helped a few people design syllabi, etc etc. So when I decided I wanted to play around with the visual language of a zine using digital tools, I knew there HAD to be something out there. I found it at STL’s Zine Library – Resources & Support. There is a link to a Google Slides Template that you just copy to your google slides and then you are ready to go.

    In order to do this digitally but still get the look and feel I was going for I used a combination of royalty free photographs and clip art that I edited in Photoshop, the Paper App for iPad to create the illustrations and some of the text. As I knew what I wanted to do and had a sense of the copy I was able to get this done over a weekend.

    I do projects like this to help me untangle my thoughts, and I think in certain courses working with different formats is good for students too. If you are a google slides campus (my current institution is), it is an easy way to take advantage of the affordance of the platform. And if students don’t have and iPad and apple pencil, all of this can be done on paper, photographed with cell phones, and then added to the slide deck. If it is done in a course this would be a candidate for a collaborative project/concept study guide where groups put together a very short digital “zine” on an assigned concept that can then be shared with the whole course.

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  • draft thought: empathy is the predictive analytics of feelings

    “Empathy in Psychotherapy: A Vital Mechanism? Yes. Therapist’s Conceit? All too Often. By Itself? No.” John Shlien

    Because people love me, they often send me things happening out in the world where people are grappling with this thing we call “empathy” (please continue to do so watching this unfold is helping me think through things).

    Yesterday I was sent the tweet above about a Vice article “The Anatomy of Empathy” which I’d missed where a doctor and a masseuse have what they are calling “mirror-touch synesthesia”. My initial thought: if you are calling it something other than “empathy” why is it being called empathy? My second thought: lolsob.

    Here is a very short story. Once upon a time an amazing mentor asked me what I meant when I said “empathy”. This led me down a reading hole. I read moral philosophy, psychology, neurology, cultural theory, religious studies, decolonial theory, phenomenology, aesthetics, history, etc etc I mean, it was a lot. I read a lot. As far as I could find empathy is made up. The timeline in the article is wrong. It appeared long before 1967. There are a few other things that are inaccurate so I am taking the background portions with a grain of salt. The thing I am thinking about after reading it though is…

    Empathy is predictive analytics for feelings.

    The ability to predict and imagine the current and future state of a person is dependent on the amount of data (towards humanization), the empathizer has.

    I am glad that a doctor and a masseuse are able to feel the body of others more. And it makes sense they would learn to super feel for the other they are caring for. All disciplines seem to agree that whatever empathy may be it is extremely biased and not as altruistic as we imagine it to be, like most technologies (if we choose to see feelings as a technology for navigating/experiencing the world). Given that both of their jobs and their ability to do their job well is dependent on having a deeper understanding of the body, being able to create an image of an empty body in their mind that they feel through seems like an amazing tool for them to be able to predict (by imagining the body of the other as their own) what the best course of treatment will be.

    But why imagination? There is a book, Empathy: A History by Susan Lanzoni that goes into the history of empathy from Germany, imported to the US in the early 1900s, where it percolated having first two meanings and then one as a psychology of the imagination. The story of empathy I find most fascinating has to do with Carl Rogers, a humanist psychologist, heavily discussed in the article the image comes from. He apparently decided to focus on “empathy” because he had a woman patient who was smart (maybe even smarter than him), and it led to a breakdown of sorts apparently (see page below).

    Anyway, the article is wild. Psychedelics make an appearance too. All that to say, in clinical settings it seems that empathy is always used to predict feelings of the other in some form through mirroring in the mind. The limits of our dataset will limit who we are able or mirror either in emotions or physical feeling. I am always struck by the negative outcomes in healthcare for black women when I think of this because there are two parts to being treated, the provider needs to both be able to mirror your body in their brain to some degree and/or feel that you are worth feeling for in such a way that will lead to treatment.

    Black women often have to establish a relationship with a physician over time before they can be taken seriously as a person, they do not get treatment until they are able to convince the person to take them seriously. There is no predictive apparatus built into western culture that would allow people to feel for and into black women in that way. From personal experience, I can say I was sick for a very long time (more than a decade). When I moved back to the NYC metro area I was able to change all my doctors to women of color. That was the point where I was finally taken seriously and finally had a team of doctors who wanted to figure out what was actually going on, and they did. Was it empathy? Maybe? if you think understanding and feeling for another human as though they are worthy of feeling for and doing so and understanding the implications down the road is empathy. sure.

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  • Hate Thyself.

    Another reminder has come to pass that thoughts are fatal for certain people. The homo sacer  that is the foundation of this country. The extra-judicial murder of black men and boys is a given. Black women have the same fate but the cultural figure of woman or female means that it cannot be made public with the same amount of glee that befalls black men.

    And so I question empathy. The role homo sacer plays in society forecloses those who are not in that space to empathize or feel compassion for homo sacers existence. Homo sacer can never be human. To ask homo sacer to empathize with his or her self is to ask homo sacer to see their self as society has structure his or her existence. We are not homo sacer though. We are fully formed humans who love and hate and feel unlimited potential and limited opportunity just like the rest of you. We find joy in little things better than the rest of you though, because that is all we are afforded. We dance loud. We speak loud. We laugh loud. We exist loud. so that the world has to reckon with our existence.

    I am one amongst the many but here are my thoughts on the soul murder and actual murder society continues to publicly place on certain people who are reduced to bodies deserving sacrifice to make the world feel safer than it is. I already know empathy with me is foreclosed by my blackness.

    I will not be complicit in my own murder. If you thinking I’m a threat justifies my death what reaction should I have when you are before me? Your empathy does not extend to the potential moment of my death. In fact, it seems to be something that many look forward to because when it happens to another I am asked to understand where the murdered was coming from.

    To ask of me to empathize with those who hate me is asking me to hate myself. To ask me to empathize with the people whose actual thoughts may kill me is asking me to preemptively murder myself. I refuse.

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  • Empathy and The New Mission (decolonizing empathy)

    Still reading and writing but wanted to share a draft of a part of where I am and how I am framing some thoughts.

    On the surface letting of empathy may seem like a bad thing. To the contrary, to let go of empathy is to allow a new space of meaningful and positive spaces. Rather than trying to feel the pain of others, allow space for critical or deep listening. Do not try to enter the crisis, or be the person. Instead listen, observe, be with. There is nothing special about being with another nor is any suffering exceptional unless the work is done to make it so. The lull of oppression defines colonization but it is invisible as long as some feel it acutely and others less so. Often when people are able to point to the more oppressed, rather than understanding their own suffering, they empathize with those who are allowed no other story. Occasionally they come up with plans to help or speak for these wretched or damned people so that they might have a bit more (but never everything and never equal). And when that fails, there is pointing “at least we are not as bad off as them. They must really deserve it.”

    Empathy is already its own failure because it is the embodiment of a colonial sentimentality based on missionary thinking. It is a reimagining of the civilizing mission in an ever increasingly electrically mediated world. Letting go empathy should be central to any decolonial project, especially as we need to work across difference to imagine and create new worlds. Empathy, on the other hand, is the birth, death, and pain of the life of the Other all experienced simultaneously. The turn away from radical activism to radical empathy is an emptying out of direct action in exchange for a return to a European sentimentality that recenters the self as the only space of critical engagement. Further, the Other, unfeeling and unreal as birthed and killed through empathy, is imagined to be incapable of a critical awareness of the self because the Other is too clouded by their own imagined tragic past to through which everything is filtered. Empathy disregards actual interactions with the Other and disables the possibility for a dialogue where the Other can provide a perspective, comparison. This lack of dialogue is a pre-foreclosure of the possibility of mutual recognition.

    If the only version of an other person that can be seen is the one that can be imagined and felt inside of themselves, many others will always be invisible, a passing curiosity, or less than human. Feelings are fickle and easily changed when trying to connect to the unrecognizable through avatars of the self. Rather than understanding decolonization as a political project of undoing, I understand it to be a project of what can become. In that sense, letting go of empathy and facing its other side, is a decolonial project. Understanding decolonization as an orientation towards the future complicates empathy as empathy creates a false engagement with the past that concurrently erases the present and denies those who are not part of the existing power structures, those who are only real through empathy, the ability to be part of the future. This is an enforced affective incompleteness for those who exist outside of dominant power structures. Decolonization and time, primarily as informed by Frantz Fanon, are central frameworks for my understanding the other side of empathy. I do not have an answer to how we might replace empathy though. What I do have is a provocation on the temporality bound in colonial ideals of goodness and badness, of missions, and almost humans, where we might imagine what might become if we replace understanding and connection through feeling, or empathy, with mutual recognition, action, and perhaps compassion. Without a compassion based on a radical transcendent self-love, to let go of empathy does not stop the self-alienation and annihilation so central to colonial thinking that is designed to launch people into an existential crisis that requires the Other so that the self can be defined, valued, and grounded in the past and present colonial structure of power and difference.

    To be oriented towards the decolonial requires that a thing be grounded present and the future. Decolonial dialectics (Ciccariello-Maher 2017) requires a very specific emptying of the past in order to become a yet-to-be defined new. It requires an acknowledgment that certain people denied their humanity, move through the world as a vast emptiness that takes up space in order for white supremacy and other colonial systems of power and oppression to be maintained. It requires that time is given and not given to certain bodies to define what it means to be whole. Time is essential to maintaining existing power structures as people are taken and kept out of time. The statement, “These people are backwards” refers not to a spatial location of people, but rather, denotes a temporal orientation that implies an aspect or the whole of a person or group has not stayed in time with the dominant mode of progress. Empathy then is an inherently colonial phenomenon as it tries to tie the ontological present to an imagined past through mind or psychic control that feels like embodiment which then defines and creates the future. Even further, empathy allows for the other stay as the invisible other side as the Other’s existence is ignored. The Other’s value and life are imagined into reality by those in power to ensure their continued oppression or exclusion, even as the imagined life in no way corresponds with reality. In empathy, the other is re-Objectified and voiceless to ensure the Other can either be ignored, saved, or condemned not by themselves but those who have the liberty of their imagination becoming reality by birthright. It is important to note that empathy came about in America as psychologists attempted to figure out what to call the psychology of imagination in the early 20th century (Lanzoni 2018). This means that empathy is predicated on the ability to imagine some other thing or just the Other. It in no way is tied to realness, and thus, is the space where a thing is brought into being by the previous experiences, stories, beliefs, and rituals that already exist in a given culture.

    Works Cited:

    • Ciccariello-Maher, George. Decolonizing dialectics. Duke University Press, 2017.
    • Fanon, all of it
    • Lanzoni, Susan. Empathy: a Short History. Yale University Press, 2018.

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  • Draft Thoughts on The Temptation of Empathy and Oppression in Pedagogy

    I do not believe that there is such a thing as radical empathy, clearly. I believe empathy always already dooms itself to fail. That said, there are still occasions when radical empathy might be valid, namely, when a person holds power over the life and livelihood of another I am inclined to not say empathy is bad. That being said, I maintain that it is evil, even in this situation. The most prescient example of this for me remains how easily Pedagogy of the Oppressed becomes a dowsing rod for good pedagogy for so many without critically engaging all the levels of erasure that happen in this situation.

    [An Aside: I have a whole other rant about men who, in their quest to be Good Feminist who empathize with women have taken up referring to students, when speaking in general as only she, and how that positions girls and women as always in the process of becoming whole and receiving knowledge]

    Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Empathy

    To empathize there needs to be a reference model created. While yes, education in many ways reifies existing power structures the classroom is a space of potential.

    To see students as the oppressed and the role of the teacher/professor as the one to make students aware of their oppression, or to engage with students with the blindfold of oppression coloring who they are is to deny them of their innate human potential. It falls back on that missionary model inherent in this form of empathy where a person, assumed to be more complete because they hold power, needs to open themself to feel the suffering of the Other. To understand the Other through their oppression is the only way to enable meaningful interaction, work, and discussion because without it there is no connection. Based on my limited observations as someone who tends to listen more than I tend to speak I think it is fair to say that humans are naturally curious. We seek out things that pique or interest and are often drawn to tantalizing experiences. Formalized learning is one of those rare experiences that contains varying degrees of pleasure while at the same very quickly becomes a space in the service of reinforcing the status quo. When students are the oppressed and the teacher represents power and the teacher has to fix the dynamic it robs the students of their own agency and forces student into a very narrow role. “The oppressed” is the dehumanized by another name. When a person can clearly identify those who “the oppressed” are, the identifier is oppressed by the idea that the oppressed have to exist in that space. Teaching then becomes about feeling, connecting with the oppressed. Empathizing with the oppressed, the students, is a perverted form of understanding that just as easily could be captured by acknowledging that everyone in the classroom, the teacher and the students, are human.  It also ignores that even when a person has an existence that might be defined by many forms of structural oppression, they are still capable of making and having meaning, joy, happiness, curiosity, and dreams. It forecloses the joy of learning and lights the path forward in a particular way.

    There is an essay in Roland Barthes’ Image, Music, Text that changed the way I understand teaching, “Writers, Intellectuals, Teachers”. In the essay the reader is shown how the classroom is like the couch of the psychoanalyst. The problem is we usually have it backwards. We assume that it is the teacher/professor analyzing the students. In reality, it is the person at the front who is speaking, sharing, shaping the space as though they are on the couch of the psychoanalyst. Those observing, the real analysts, are the students. Acknowledging that when I am in the front of the room people will learn more about me than they will about the subject opens me up to not trying to “understand” the people learning from me, or “figure out where they are coming from” so I can instill some deep knowledge or meaning into their life. Instead, I open up the space of ownership by stepping away from the seat of power so that we are in a dialogic space, me with them and more importantly them with each other.  The classroom is a space of becoming, for everyone. Teacher, student, listener, observer. We all occupy those roles. To enter the space as a place to save the oppressed, and to react to stories of teachers lack of compassion towards their students with calls of empathy is to foreclose the potential for radical ways of becoming that are only possible in the experimental space of the classroom.

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  • Draft Thoughts on Empathy and Decolonization

    If the only version of an other a person an individual able to see is the one they can imagine and feel inside of themselves, many others will always be invisible or less than human, no more than a passing curiosity.  Something as mundane as the immense joy that comes from eating a favorite dish becomes peculiar to disgusting based on cultural palettes and morality. Feelings are fickle and easily changed when trying to connect to the unrecognizable through avatars of the self. Empathy is already its own failure because it is the embodiment of a colonial sentimentality based on missionary thinking. Letting empathy should be central to any decolonial project, especially as we need to work across difference to imagine and create new worlds.

    Rather than understanding decolonization as a political project of undoing, I understand it to be a project of what can become. In that sense, letting go of empathy, facing its other side, is a decolonial project. Understanding decolonization as an orientation towards the future complicates empathy as empathy creates a false engagement with the past that concurrently erases the present and denies those who are not part of the existing power structures, those who are voiceless and invisible, the ability to be part of the future. This is an enforced affective incompleteness for those who exist outside of dominant power structures as well as a for those who, after going through an experience designed to create empathy either through technology or culture. Decolonization and time, primarily as informed by Frantz Fanon are central frameworks for my understanding the other side of empathy. I do not have a frame to replace empathy, though I do allude to and push on a few suggestions I find useful for my own thinking. What I do want to do is provide a provocation and a space where we can let go of temporality bound in colonial ideals of goodness and badness, of missions, and almost humans, to imagine what might become if we replace understanding and connection through feeling, or empathy, with mutual recognition, action, and hopefully compassion. Without a compassion based on love of self, to let go of empathy does not stop the self-alienation and annihilation so central to colonial thinking and launches a person into an existential crisis.

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  • 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]

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  • Draft Thoughts on Empathy Gathered from Various Digital Notebooks

    These are most likely incoherent notes (really draft thoughts) that I’ve collected in the various digital spaces I jot down notes to myself collected in one place. I was hoping there was a way to make them make sense but I don’t think there is. The topic is empathy because I personally have a hard time with it and spend a lot of time thinking about it as I try to make sense of how we humans interact in my own head. It often seeps into my work and rants. Please note these are just my thoughts and not a judgment on anyone else. If empathy works for you, keep at it. 

    I sort of understand where you are coming from, but rather than claiming empathy I offer you my solidarity.


    I grew up knowing there were people who would rather see me hanging from a tree in their yard than have me as a guest at their dinner table. Still, I was raised to try to understand and empathize with people despite their hatred, shortcomings, etc. That would somehow make me “better”. I never quite knew what it would do for them, though, or my safety.

    In 4th grade, we read Number the Stars and I became mildly obsessed with understanding what makes something as horrific as the Shoa (Holocaust at the time) happen. By the middle of 6th grade, I wondered why there weren’t as many books on slavery? Why was it that it was so easy for me to get books on the Shoa but there were no resources for me to learn about the holocaust of my own people, even as I knew that there were places I was not welcome, where people would want to hurt me for just being in their neighborhood. Instead of “never forget” for me and my family it was “get over it”. To the credit of the special school where I was a student, instead of Columbus day we had resistance festivals and we watched Mississippi Burning and took a field trip to see Malcolm X at the theatre… festivals and dramatized films circulate differently than books in school and other spaces of knowledge production though.

    By the early/mid-90s as I was going to middle and then high school I’d moved on to reading books on religion and meditation and massively consuming news. There was so much suffering. I tried to empathize with everyone. Rwanda happened and I cried. When Kosovo started something broke. At school, I was still being told by laughing peers how they could never “bring a black person home” lest their dad kill them. I’d overhear jokes where the punchline was the N word. I remember one year in my yearbook a girl’s senior quote was to her boyfriend “I love you [random dude name], my jew basher”. I went to the teachers and the principle, crying out of anger and fear. Every time I was told that “I didn’t understand the context,” or, “I should lighten up because they are just jokes”. But my family passed down the memory of those who would rather see me in a tree than a guest at their dinner table. If they were willing to kill their sons for knowing they spoke to someone like me, what might they do to me for existing? I had nothing left to understand.

    At 16 I no longer had empathy and I started to try and recenter through… whatever I thought meditation was at the time…

    I met a man. He grew up Catholic and always thought he would be a priest. But something happened and he left home at 16 and ended up hiking from central Asia to India. In India, he decided he was not going to be a priest. He changed his name to Ramdas and became a monk. As he grew into an adult he had a hard time making sense of some of the oppression that he saw as part of Hinduism. He spoke to one of his gurus, a seer, who told him he wouldn’t stay a monk and that he would get married and have kids. He laughed. A year later, after almost a decade of being a monk. He became Buddhist and came back to the states and enrolled college. He went through and eventually decided to get a Ph.D. in religion. While finishing his Ph.D. he met the woman who would become his wife. In the future they would have two kids and he would teach where I went to undergrad. Ramdas helped me finish working through how to live in this world with so much pain where, as I told him, “I can’t have empathy for people who would sit there and watch the Rwanda genocide happen and do nothing”.

    I think he laughed at me. That was one of our later conversations. He said, “Just because you think they did nothing doesn’t mean they actually did nothing.” He said that all over there are people who seem like they are bad who are capable of good. We had lots of talks too, about people who truly believe what they are doing is good even if the results are horrific. I remember after taking a course on eastern and western mysticism I was baffled with where I was in terms of really understanding how intertwined good/evil are… and he finally told me to read some things (that are of course now forgotten) on compassionate love… that I short hand to compassion…. Which is bad. I did, and I realized I can love everyone, as a human, and I could want peace for them. But I didn’t and couldn’t understand everyone. And even if someone believes something they are doing is good and just, it isn’t always. I decided that my goal was to be a more compassionate being going through life. It requires letting go of understanding and expectation. But it also leaves openings for connection and recognition. I am awkward and slow to open up to people, but when I do it is intense. We don’t often get to interact without judgment. This is what compassion allows for me.

    Lightly annotated definitions from around the web

    Empathy is not Sympathy! Sympathy isn’t bad if love is centered.

    Early 20th century: from Greek empatheia (from em- in + pathos feeling) translating German Einfühlung.

    I think Einfühlung is really into feeling… which is sort of different? Or one feeling.

    The dictionaries have feelings on it too. Always one sided. Always an “other” or and “object” so I guess empathizing is turning the “other” into an object so I can erase the other and/or strip the other’s agency to make their feelings my own… well, not make them my own, but understand.

    the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
    the imaginative ascribing to an object, as a natural object or work of art, feelings or attitudes present in oneself:
    By means of empathy, a great painting becomes a mirror of the self.
    Simple Definition of empathy
    : the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings

    Full Definition of empathy
    1: the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it
    2: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this
    [mass noun] The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

    Sympathy isn’t bad if love is centered.

    a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.
    verb (used with object)
    Archaic. to compassionate.

    Simple Definition of compassion
    : a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc.

    Full Definition of compassion
    : sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it

    sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.
    “the victims should be treated with compassion”
    synonyms: pity, sympathy, empathy, fellow feeling, care, concern, solicitude, sensitivity, warmth, love, tenderness, mercy, leniency, tolerance, kindness, humanity, charity
    “have you no compassion for a fellow human being?”

    BUUUUUUUUT really compassionate love… that is the real goal. I’m not there yet. I try though.

    Approaches to defining Compassionate Love from wikipedia
    According to Underwood’s framework, which has informed a substantial portion of the scientific research, 5 key and defining features of compassionate love include:

    1. Free choice for the other
    2. Some degree of accurate cognitive understanding of the situation, the other, and oneself
    3. Valuing the other at a fundamental level
    4. Openness and receptivity
    5. Response of the heart[5]

    Maybe someday writing…

    speed towards the future or leave it behind

    deep thoughts on the relationship between empathy/oppression. Readings on empathy outside of performance? I’m also thinking of these things wrt to how they relate to identity and lived experience in digital/non-digital/”seen as ‘other’ contexts. and how the version of self that is “other” is different than the not “not” me but are collapsed into one in digital contexts.

    Theoretical Stakes of Empathy and oppression.

    With the rise of digital media, people around the world are more connected than ever before. Forms of transportation such as bicycles, boats, and cars, connected clans and civilizations to those beyond where their eyes could see. Connections led to both cultural gains, and catastrophic losses through war and disease. Electronic media was different. Rather than taking people further than they could see, it made that which is further away suddenly appear in high definition as one in front of many without carrying disease or war. In fact, electronic media allowed for individuals to sit in front of disease and war without risk of being contaminated by the losses and risk they might bring. That does not mean that there was no harm in the images and sounds transported through electronic media. Electronic media in many ways annihilated the need for physical war and disease for the destruction of people. Instead, they could be symbolically destroyed in front of an audience of the world. While there is still physical oppression, electronic media, much like the other shared cultural framings of History and Education, oppresses culture on a psychic level. In our current world dominated by digital media and social networks, where everyone is able to have a voice, rather than using that voice to speak to the universal suffering that characterizes humanity, at this point in history, it is still used consciously and subconsciously as a place to further the little bits of power that alleviate some of the psychic pain of our current human condition.

    And there is always Fanon. The explosion will not happen today. It is too soon… or too late. This is empathy for me. It is the never ending distance of your feelings becoming real to me only after they’ve already occurred for you. They are endless misinterpretation and out of timeness with the real. It is Time and the Other. Empathy becomes the inability to recognize the love in yourself in a pursuit that has already failed because the emotions we empathize with are always already the past. If we empathize too soon, we are already too late. We’ve already failed to recognize the human in front of us.

    The oppression of empathy is the call to mutual recognition of the other and a recognition that even I am other for an imagined you that is a reflection of myself. Being empowered is the opposite of oppressed and it is defined by being in a position to continue oppression. Empathy is how we recognize oppression and it is based on the continued alienation of the oppressed in the name of understanding. Empathy, loss, and fear are experienced alone. Even in collective pain, the intensity is individually determined.

    When media, society, and technology theorist Marshall McLuhan coined his famous phrase, “the medium is the message” (1964) he also stated that all technology is an amputation of the human. While McLuhan is often used to explain the role of technology in society, what is missed is that the initial medium for McLuhan is always already the human body and the neural pathways, pathways that pre-exist the electric age, creating meaning through internal electrical impulses that move through the pre-defined pathways of the body that create sensation and meaning. The moment those impulses move outward and try to create meaning or a message, they are already and amputation because all things outside of the body are external even as they represent the individual. Thus, the very act of trying to commune with another human is an act of amputation that we imagine as a cohesive whole through our attempts to empathize and understand. While we get that if someone touches a hot pot they probably experience burning pain (unless their neural pathways are not properly connected, which does happen), and we know that that is an unpleasant experience, we are unable to feel their actual pain. We create a theoretical copy of ourselves to experience the burn of the Other. The medium, the human, is the message of the social imaginary.
    Much like Benedict Anderson’s discussion of European’s “discovering” new worlds in the chapter “Old Language, New Model’s” in Imagine Communities, Machine Learning’s new fascination with big data that is bleeding out to other disciplines is a recreation of things already discovered: In order to commune with others we create large patterns that we then re-create. The most obvious example of this would be language. The new models though favor a more mathematical or scientific mind. Rather than being dependent on having a shared language or experience that can be understood with only a theoretical amputation of the self, these require a complete amputation in the form of thinking machines that run without human presence. Machine learning and the big data it analyzes has been so far removed from a theoretical human medium that when humans are reintroduced to the configuration of information, the human is unable to cognitively make sense of where it came from, thus Google’s learning machines out learning their creators and human monitors. Despite the inability of the human to understand the origins of what the machine is putting out, I would still argue that if we go back to the nodal point of interest, the social and big data, the output is still a creation of the human mind inasmuch as it is recognized as having some meaning of importance, even if it is outpacing the mind that created it in terms of finding connections.

    We can see so much more now than we could in the 90s. We are not better off for it. This is a limit of empathy for me.

    We moved our empathy bias onto big data where there is no room or context for compassion. But big data is an object, so we can empathize.

    The biggest myth I’ve identified to date in trying to understand how we can move from Big Data to individuals is that there is no social in big data. There are things that happen in Big Data that have strong effects on the spaces we conceive of as being part of the social (the area of most interest for me being the ethical/legal space). In big data, there are no nodal points, only strings, and vertices. Big data inherently reduces the actions that my ethnomethodological heart would call individuals to neutral points on a graph or system that is interlinked with other points that might be individuals, objects, or things, as organized by some algorithmic system that was original programmed based on programs of other people to output information that can be read by whatever needs to read it to begin another action. The reason I say “read by a whatever” is because the reader might or might not be human. A good portion of the reading of Big Data that is done is done by other machines and algorithms in an endless loop of finding something that resembles meaning (a command) and producing actions based on the meaning, all defined by patterns in the behavior of programmed recognizable points. This is interesting because the most successful instance to date of a machine learning to read big data is from Google. The model being used by the machine was the human brain (which of course is different than the human mind, the mind being where we understand the social, but that is another paper). Naturally, one of the first things their neural network learned to do was recognize cats.

    Only, it didn’t actually learn to recognize “cats”. The machine learned that there was a connection between this phenomenon of grouping pixels together in a specific way that became a pattern of unknown name that was only recognized as “cat” when a human reader took the information the machine had compiled, looked at the pattern of the pixels and recognized a “cat”. Up until that moment, the machine had simply algorithmically found a pattern in the noise of the data and noted that it was a recurring instance. “The Social” we find in big data is like the Google cat, only even more imaginary, inasmuch as there is no algorithm that can output “the social”. “ The social” is something we define in our scholarly pursuits to understand the phenomena that occur in patterned sets amongst individual actors linked together by contingent circumstances defined for the purpose of our scholarly projects.

    Big Data represents a strange occurrence of “homogeneous, empty time” (Anderson 24), a concept he borrowed from Benjamin. Benjamin discusses this term in the context of history being “fulfilled by the here-and-now”. Big Data lacks a here-and-now as it represents an unending displacement and movement. When we don’t allow the “here-and-now” to exist due to the pace, scale, and processing required to make sense of big data, there is never a “now”. Big Data, as it is used, understood, and conceptualized today, does not allow a space for human experience. As a result, it erases any chance for a social experience to come into being within the data. Whereas traditionally the role of social science has been to explain and explore the diversity of human experience, to create meaning out of this finite thing we call life, all big data seems to be able to offer us is the near future, through predictive analytics. When we move towards understanding everything as a bit of data in a large data stream that can tell us something about the future, we erase the inherently human. And because we erase the human, the ethical components of big data are hard to place, because there are no bodies in data. There is no sociality inherent in the data. For all the metaphorical space big data takes up in certain scholarly circles, the data are empty. Yet we still empathize with their findings.

    And today…

    Media does not create empathy. It numbs and reifies existing positions structured by systems of uneven power, Lack/lack, and unfamiliarity. It is also great for propaganda.

    People expected others to vote against Trump because of how he and his supporters spoke about marginalized people. The problem is, if empathy could fix things, marginalization wouldn’t exist so starkly as it does in the first place.

    TO win with logic there has to be a shared emotional foreground. That was never created. Empathy was assumed rather than recognition of common ground being created.

    It is always worse for the next generation in historical traumas because people are reacting to a ghost. The thing from the past, long gone, is no longer fixable, but the damage can never heal. You can never beat a ghost because it is not of this world. It is locked in a foreign past that we grasp for in order to give now meaning. Nostalgia, making things great again, reminds me of McLuhan addendum, the rear view mirror is a different kind of nostalgia. It isn’t about the past, it is about hope for the new future. There are too many people suffering for all to be made well, so let me take care of me and mine. Interesting, but him with them over there. We’ll leave you behind too.

    We cannot continue to sugarcoat the past. It only terrorizes the future.

    Racism and economic slavery are our heritage. Before all else. Everything we are bleeds in relation to that original wound. Even the adopted children, those who came through Ellis island long after the end of slavery had to be indoctrinated into this truth and empathize with the enslavers, trying to make a better life. Even today the ability for people who are being marginalized to empathize with those who continue to carry the burden of slavery, even when their position here marks them as participants in similar suffering,  often fail to empathize those enslaved.  We’ve been pathologized. We should go with what those who are suffering but not as much as us. Others who are suffering assume auto-empathy from us. It is unfair. It is taxing. It kills.

    Today’s interpretation reality seems to be…

    If you want to survive here others must suffer (scarcity?). If you can dehumanize or distances yourself from the suffering you don’t feel it (lack of empathy) so it isn’t real… or, better, those who are suffering have earned it.

    The suffering we endure is of our own design but not really our choice (it’s that inheritance problem). Rather than letting go of the past, we must embrace it. All of it. I approach my ancestors with compassion. And I remember the stories my family always told me about my ancestors. I remember the fears they raised me with and question if I should have given those fears to my children as well. Most of my ancestors never had much to offer because of life conditions but they had hope for the future. For the generation that managed to pull on the chains of oppression to attempt a better life, all they received was a “wish you well”. I wish everyone well in this moment.

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