EMPATHY

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If sympathy registers the distance between people that for democracy's sake-from some perspectives- must be overcome emotionally by emotional self-development toward the projection of compassion, empathy's aesthetic implies a nervous system continuity between a person and her object. It's said to be spontaneous, kinetic; it is said to confirm the real continuities in the being-such of things that can be experienced, not just imagined abstractly. In theory one can empathize with anything, feel inside of it: from person to person, to thing, to animal, to artwork, to rock, stone, and tree, to idea, to a cookie.

I feel floury. Feel my graininess in you. Become different because you feel it. Then make a more capacious politics. Or bakery.

O empathy, I don't understand you.


Sometimes, when it becomes a therapeutic technique, empathy gets ugly. It's the oh-so-superior approach. Down with sympathy, up with empathy! Empathy, when it's willed, feels to me like emotional imperialism. "I feel your pain." No, fucker, you really don't.


The New York Times, reporting on primate morality: "These four kinds of behavior — empathy, the ability to learn and follow social rules, reciprocity and peacemaking — are the basis of sociality." I love peacemaking as a scientific category of behavior (March 20, 2007; http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/20/science/20moral.html).

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