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The Dark Side of Empathy: Mimesis, Deception, and the Magic of Alterity

  • Nils Bubandt (a1) and Rane Willerslev (a2)

This article challenges the tendency, both academic and popular, to assign empathy the status of a virtue. The widespread inclination to associate empathy with the morally and socially “good”—with compassion, understanding, cultural bonding, and non-violent sociality—ignores what we propose to call the “dark side of empathy”: that is, the multiple ways in which empathy is routinely deployed to manipulate, seduce, deceive, and dehumanize others by means of vicariousness. Two diverse ethnographic cases, of hunting in Siberia and political violence in Indonesia, provide the empirical background for a discussion of the complex relationship of empathy to mimesis, deception, violence, and sociality.

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