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+12 votes
If anarchism is framed in a way such as the good guys working for a better future ie a vague social anarchist perspective, what do you perceive as the consequences of individualist anarchy and the values of empathy?

Or even just in more general terms what is your relationship to empathy as anarchists?
by (790 points)
edited by
how do you describe empathy? at least for purposes of this discussion....thanks.
I think this definition works: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
I like this question selftormentor.

Can you tag it though so it indexes better? The tags tab at the top of the page might give you some ideas of things to tag it with (just don't tag it with anarchy, anarchism, or anarchist, because those are redundant on this site).
I have difficulties with both affective & cognitive empathy. Affective (emotional) empathy is responding "properly" to another's emotions and cognitive empathy is to recognize and understand one's emotional state. I have difficulties more with affective more so than cognitive, as cognitive empathy can be learned, while affective cannot, from what I understand. Anyhoot, my relationship with empathy isn't that great to begin with. I'm 'autistic' and probably not that interesting, so that probably explains it, or something.

I'm sure some wiser or more knowledgeable folks on that matter will provide some interesting answers.

I'm sure some wiser or more knowledgeable folks on that matter will provide some interesting answers.

i would put will-to-be-interested (or interest) up against either knowledge or wisdom, most days of the week.


great comment, dot.
I understand.

What does fwtw mean?
for whatever that is worth.
Empathy is useful and lack of it puts people in danger because they fail to grasp what other beings are feeling. For example: why have a tiger as a pet? From an empathetic perspective it's just not going to work and is probably abusive and cruel, they are far too large of creatures to be confined to people's homes. Pets themselves an issue for those who don't like obedience and domination, yet of course there are many ways to co-exist with an animal.

I think that empathy is worthwhile subject matter to discuss and all, but the considerations stated in your question are just terrible. Please kill me if i ever become a good guy working for a better future.

4 Answers

+5 votes

Wonderful question. Definitely up-voted!

Right off the bat, I'd like to nip the tendency to equate altruism and empathy in the bud. I'm not saying that the questioner is making this equation, but that I've seen it at work in discussions with more so-called socially-minded peeps, anarchist or not. Using egoist language, altruism is spooky; empathy is far more sensual. Altruism has a tends increasingly toward the abstract at play in logic, argumentation and the psychological tyranny of morality, not necessarily in that order.

Empathy, on the other hand, may be likened to arousal, welling up uncontrollably, embodied. It is apt to say, 'I'm moved' or 'I'm touched.' I realize this may be a simplistic binary model, not able to plumb the depths, but I do find it a useful, if only provisional.

For me, there's no such thing as empathy, but the word serves for a host of feelings arising always from somewhere at once similar and familiar. Now, these feelings may manifest in ways which others may label as altruistic, sometimes they don't. Empathy doesn't negate all senses of cruelty, after all, any more than a joyful life does. As such, I find these feelings contextual, not necessarily anthropocentric, and sometimes inter-plays in weird ways with so-called non-living 'things' which at first glance most people would think of as an object. Take this very-short story attributed to Hemingway, 6 words in fact:

"For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

Where does it take you?  I recall what I felt the first time I heard this, for I feel it in some way every time I hear this. The feelings aroused over a presumably 'non-living thing.'

Deeper still, I tend to feel those empathetic springs well up most intensely with those I've known for longer and with whom I choose continued play. It seems pretty obvious I 'value' these relations. They make up a great deal of my life, after all. One might say we re-spirate one another by way of mutual in-spiration. A deeper sense of mutual aid indeed.

When socially-minded types invoke the specters of altruism, I sense a presupposed notion of mass-social scales underlying the invocation, and I question whether or not those invoking have deep connections with others and/or are always on the move, never settling long enough for formations of empathy. With the latter I have no issue with per se, but when the preaching begins on how others should live, they've lost me to be sure.

In sum, I think it may be important to have socially-minded anarchists take some of the burden of demonstrating where they're coming from in using notions like 'empathy,' 'better future,' 'values,' 'good,' 'society,' rather than taking on that burden readily for them and unilaterally. I've not been fooled so much by these words for a while now, and at times have grown weary of, and irritable toward, the expectation to explain myself within a simplistic framework of 'good society/bad individuals' or some somber dirge like it. All in all, no one has a monopoly on these feelings. I simply feel them in one, unique, way.

Edit for clarity and again.

by (7.5k points)
edited by
nice answer. i like how you addressed the altruism vs empathy issue.
+5 votes
On another recent question I said I get along with lots of people, but am close to few. Frankly, the people who know me best either know to keep me at arms length because I am not empathetic, or they are continually heartbroken because I give zero shits about their feels.

To back track, I do care about the feelings of people I know and care about, because I care about them, and, more importantly, I care about how their feelings and their reactions to their feelings might impact my world.

Good news for me: I have worked in social services, so I can feign caring for miles. Bad news for me: anyone else with similar experience knows when I am full of shit.

Empathy plays a huge role in how I relate to people (and my anarchism), it is also a thing whose role diminishes over time. And that is not something I am proud of or happy about. That I become more hardened and cruel is terrible, it is a dangerous slope to find oneself on, but one we have to find our way up. I don't like myself, and I don't like almost anyone else, but I do empathize with them, and to some extent, that empathy pushes me forward.
by (22.1k points)
too bad you don't like yourself - though not liking almost anyone else is a bit more understandable.

i can empathize with much of what you said in your answer. particularly the diminishment of empathy over time.

in general, i have always been a fairly empathetic person (when i was young, even to a fault). the "hardening" that you referred to also happened to me, pretty dramatically. though not till a bit later in life. and it was (i strongly suspect) at least largely a result of a few traumatic events in my life - losing a few people i was very close to (death), and going through a very bittersweet separation from my wife/best friend of almost 20 years. i can remember numerous moments of truly overwhelming (almost life threatening) grief and sadness, where i could almost literally feel myself "hardening" from the pain i felt. kind of developing "thick skin" on the fly and in the moment.

i still have some empathy, but now it seems quite a bit more selective and targeted. and i can always (usually?) tell when my protective shell is being triggered.

you used the word cruel in referring to yourself and your hardening. do you see a direct correlation there? to me, lack of empathy does not necessarily imply cruelty, although it surely can. come to think of it, being cruel - however one actually defines that - does not necessarily imply a lack of empathy, either.
Isn't caring about someones feelings sympathy rather than empathy? Like you could pity someone, but don't specifically understand their feels-feels could be an example of sympathy.

Empathy can still apply in the negative. Like if you felt pleasure or joy out of someone else misfortunes is a negative example of empathy, which in turn, could be considered cruel.

Thank Xenu I'm much to robotic for this shit lol.
yes...and then we have "compassion" as well....words...

'Isn't caring about someones feelings sympathy rather than empathy?'

i think caring about the feelings of others may be called all sorts of stuff depending on context and degree. but, sympathy means, at root, 'feeling with' and the human, all-too-human tendency toward co-miseration is one reason that i have little empathy in sympathy. ;-)

it is; I do feel emparted feelings related to others, which is what I was trying to say. I always know what the sympathetic response is, even if I don't actually feel it. Frankly, I think sympathy is cheap and empty. Empathy I value, even if I have an empathy deficit.

That I become more hardened and cruel is terrible, it is a dangerous slope to find oneself on, but one we have to find our way up.

I am wondering about this, and if it is a slope that one could prevent oneself from falling down.  I feel like I can control my feelings to an extent, the more I nurture feelings the more I will feel them, maybe not all feelings, but for me it works this with empathy.  Is it worth it to not even approach this sentiment?

i guess it kind of begs some sort of question about what it means to "feel", as well as what it means to be able to describe those feelings. describe, not necessarily categorize - though for some there is very little difference.

i remember years ago, a couple anarchist friends were talking about compassion. one, a hippie-dippie type, said he had compassion for every living being. the other, a bit more of a warrior type, was saying how he reserved his compassion for those who earn/deserve it.

a binary discussion, yet i found it raised interesting questions in my own mind.


funky@.....yes, this....

"what it means to "feel", as well as what it means to be able to describe those feelings. describe, not necessarily categorize"

i think most people (i include myself) often get so caught up in categorizing, labeling, and defining (and quantifying), that we forget to describe what we see, hear, feel, experience....we forget to tell our stories and our perceptions of them, which continually opposed to the static appearance that usually accompanies a category or label. basically, what AF wrote about "empathy" not existing as a "thing".

+1 vote
While I think obviously there is room for ones anarchism to be tied to empathy. Or at the very least room to have empathy as an anarchist, I think an interesting lens to explore this topic through is that of sociopathic, psychopathic and some autistic people. In this way where there may be those who desire empathetic relationships within an anarchist framework and as anarchists but I think it is important to understand that not every one is empathetic or wants to be.
by (130 points)
The lack of empathy thing with autists, such as I, is some have difficulties identifying their emotions and then isolating what they are to then express and address it with another person. It's like there's a disconnect from the moment. When something depressing or crazy insane occurs to someone else, I may appear to be blank to them since it's difficult to identify the particular feeling at that moment. If someone asked me how I am feeling, I have like five or six words to try to describe what I'm feeling, but if they try to probe deeper, I'll say "I don't know" or "give me a month to mull it over." The technical term for this is alexithymia.

That makes it more difficult to identify what someone else is feeling and then put oneself in their position. If I have difficulties doing it with myself, it's much harder to put myself in another persons shoes at the moment. I can identify more obvious feelings of another, like if they're crying, I conclude they are sad, but it doesn't get much deeper than that. To others, it makes it appear that I don't care because I'm have difficulties with their pre-established "rules" for how I should respond or behave and in some time frame. On top of that, I'm a poor communicator in person which is another story for another time.

Sometimes I feel like I'm Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation in his quest to be more "human." He's constantly asking Geordi to explain human emotions and then when it's explained, he's just like "interesting" and carries on whatever he was doing. With AmorFati answer, I find it very confusing and don't really know what he's talking about. The question itself borders on being meaningless to me. So I hope that helps clarify the lack of empathy thing with autists.
0 votes
i guess the depth and scope of one's empathy could be impacted by an anti-authoritarian perspective. eg, maybe i have empathy for all living things (however i define "living"). as i develop my critiques of authority and its role in my life, i could become far less empathetic toward those i see as authoritarian.

mutual aid clearly does not require empathy, but having some sure makes it easier and more enjoyable to me.

my desire to associate with another may well be affected by how empathetic they appear to be, depending on the context of that association.

just thinking "out loud" here.
by (13.4k points)