Posted: 12:01 pm on 4th March 2015

friendsI know at WasteWatch we go on about the ARC grants but they keep giving.  Now we love it when people get along, but a $179, 700 tax-payer funded investigation into being friendly is pushing it.

Especially when the friends being investigated died 500 years ago and are from the Apennine peninsula.

The grant gave one lucky researcher the chance to examine “concord among humanists, philosophers, theologians, poets and political writers during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in the Italian peninsula”.

A true motley crew!

But fear not, the ARC are also looking out for you and me.

To help us understand, they have invested in compassion too. A $397,900 grant to “test whether empathy relies upon us simulating the emotion of others in ourselves” will be completed in 2018.

By then WasteWatch will be as concordant with the ARC as Machiavelli was with Vettori… we hope.

Alex Russell 


T.F.Meek says:

Dear CIS, Your comments were a trifle longwinded however do I understand your Apennine reference was to Machiavelli?! Cheers your loyal reader!

Michael Cunningham says:

Alex, I took issue with Tim Soutphommasane’s take on empathy on ABC Online. He claimed, inter alia, that empathy “is deeply political. Little wonder then that it is so frequently resisted and so difficult to realise.” I replied on 16/11/2014 as follows:

“The Concise Oxford Dictionary (2001) defines empathize as “to understand and share the feelings of another,” with empathy being the ability to empathize. The Shorter OED (1959) defines empathy as “the power of projecting one’s personality into, and so fully understanding, the object of contemplation.” It is nonsense to claim that empathy is “deeply political.” Having empathy requires the capacity to understand and respond to the experiences and emotions of another. It is a quality dependent on being open to others, giving attention to them rather than oneself, being able to avoid or put aside judgement of the person and their situation. It is a quality which is enhanced by developing one’s own self-awareness, humility, compassion and powers of observation. One might consider this a spiritual process, but it is not a political one.

“Of course, the “true test of empathy” is not whether you say the right thing, it must be a genuine concern with and for the object of your empathy. Again, this is not political; and to say that it is about “acknowledging a horizon of context that extends perpetually beyond what you can see” is bizarre (even if he actually said perceptually), it adds no value or understanding.

“Jamison’s claims that empathy is made of exertion, something we do because we should or because it is asked for also suggest that he is not empathetic, he does not understand the quality and has no basis for pontificating on it. Empathy is spontaneous and unselfish, it is a quality almost all have and which we can develop further, and it is likely that it developed in humans living in groups long before politics existed.”

I also responded to a post supportive of TS by someone calling himself Professor:

“Professor, I think that you are falsely dismissing those who do not share your views as not having empathy. People may have empathy for someone in a particular situation, but differ from you on how best to address that situation, particularly if there are ramifications which go beyond the case of that person. For example, it is possible to empathise with people using people-smuggling boats to seek a better life in Australia, while believing that overall it is better to deter that form of immigration.”

Alex, I think I can answer the ARC-supported question on empathy with a one-pager, and save them a lot of money.

Alex Russell says:

I agree Michael, and thank you for pointing me in the direction of Tim Soutphommasane’s article. I can’t be sure what the conclusion is; it seems to be a broad assessment of how empathy – or lack of – is used in politics amongst other things. I certainly agree with you that to say it is inherently political would be misguided. Authentic politics should be awash with empathy because of the fact that empathy exists outside of it, and a clear understanding of all positions provides grounds for a more fertile debate.

Get in touch with the ARC Michael, and claim your money!

Alex Russell says:

Hello! The Apennine reference was indeed regarding Machiavelli, but also all the “humanists, philosophers, theologians, poets and political writers during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in the Italian peninsula” that the $179, 700 would help to study.

Thanks for reading!

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