Anthropology, Empathy and the Other Regarding Emotions

In the worlds of counselling, education and social work, empathy is experiencing a mini boom. Brown’s video is only a snippet of the empathy industrial complex. Ok, that is gratuitous use of ‘industrial complex’, but hear me out. A good philosopher/friend of mine recently took a job with a non-profit that purports to bring lessons in empathy to schoolchildren across Canada and increasingly around the world. The program rests on the premise that developing empathy is a universal human trait, which reduces conflict. Indeed, the program is typically promoted in terms of its self-identified power as a “universal preventative intervention.”

However, it gained international attention when, following the London riots, Cameron’s Tory government responded by stating that rioting was a result of a “lack of empathy”. He quickly moved to introduce a pilot version of the empathy curriculum in the city’s “troubled” neighbourhoods.