Feeling into Action | Boston Review: Entangled Empathy: An Alternative Ethic for Our Relationships with Animals byLori Gruen

Yet empathy is a word I have always distrusted. Deep and enigmatic, at best it means being present to or with another being; at worst it calls forth a moral surround as exclusive as it is well intentioned.

Along with sympathy, and often confused with it, empathy summons an intensely humanized world, where our emotional life—how much we feel for or with—matters more than the conditions that cause suffering and sustain predation. Examples are all around us. To consider but one, we all know the sad excesses of sentiment that followed the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Money flowed to the coffers of international aid organizations and NGOs, but it never reached the hundreds of thousands of Haitians who continued to live as displaced persons in camps. Inhumanity can easily be moderated, legitimized, and even reproduced by the humanitarian concern that is analogous to it….

But recent attacks on empathy have been as problematic as the postures of self-serving affirmation they criticize. David Brooks, in his New York Times column, condemns empathy as an easy “shortcut. . . .

September 28, 2015