"Something Must Be Done" Institutional and Public Empathy in the Case of Darfur

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What are the limits to one's empathetic responsibility for other human beings? In a world in which we are all connected in increasingly complex ways and are vicariously witness to some of the most horrific tragedies ever imagined, the justification has never been stronger to examine the role of empathy as it moves through these stages. Using scholarly texts and media or official reports, I describe the connections between media treatments, public opinion and the allocation of international aid in the Darfur situation as a case study. The rationale for this work is to investigate the extent to which institutions and publics, particularly in Canada, are guided by the empathetic imperatives ('something must be done') which are regularly expressed through notions of nationalism and global citizenship. Should these actors -institutions such as the Canadian Government and the United Nations and the publics they represent - behave as if empathy mattered in the practical exercise of responsible power? This question is explored conceptually and practically in the dramatic and contested context of Darfur in southern Sudan, a humanitarian crisis that demonstrates staggering discrepancies between public political representations of empathy and their translation into practice. The findings of my investigation suggest that presumably responsible institutions lack the political will with which to achieve the full translation of empathy into practice, despite the theoretical position they have adopted that prioritizes this empathetic regard for other human beings. While further research in this area is essential to grapple with these issues in more depth, my hope with this work is that the atrocity of Darfur can demonstrate the importance of a method that prioritizes the alignment of action with theoretical principles and that this might enhance the ability to prevent future occurrences. conclude that it must finally be made acceptable both on the domestic front and internationally that indeed, 'something must be done'.
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