The University of Manchester
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What does it mean to exist in complex relationships with machines? What insights can be offered to our understandings of these relationships by the theologically significant theme of ‘love’? What critical assessments can be made of our multiple uses of technologies in shaping our futures, by reflecting on our pasts?

Events and Outputs
> Robots vs Loneliness?
> Focus Groups
> Conference: Care and Machines
Useful links 

Disquiet over the prevalence of social and economic individualism has a long history. In a world of mobile Capital and increasingly mobile people, communities of common tradition and locality appear to be under threat from the advent of a fragmented market society. Are these complaints against individualism justified? And crucially, how should Christians respond to them? Digging down into the substance of these questions, this project will consider the theological, liturgical and scriptural resources Christians have for understanding the notion of individualism in relation to issues of education, public life and the formation of democratic citizenship.

Workshop 2 Morning Discussion Notes


September 19, 2008

Chris Groves – “Living With Uncertainty: Risk, Precaution and Care”

Peter Marris (sociologist) defined the politics of uncertainty.

Language is crucial to interpret meaning of theme. Risk = emotive word. Assumption of calculation and control for the future, implied.

Implies inequalities in power relationships which have a strong effect on peoples’ lives.

Map of uncertainty drawn by sociologist.

Uncertainty is what is left after all the calculations, it is in some way diminished and viewed as beyond the fringes = very reductive way of looking at things.

What about ignorance / non-knowing?

Risk = objective uncertainty, a property of the systems within which we need to deal with

Building sidewell B station example (1993): crises: Expected to cost two thousand million pounds, however If looking at risks more thoroughly = much more expensive (by about 7 million). Between planning and completion of station – Chernobyl occurred

(1983) – Hugely increased expenditure further.

Weber – social rationality of risk: Objective uncertainty (which cannot be factored into

equation) creates irrationality.

Issue of Time: Barbara Adams “Time print” Actions mediated through technology have

enormous repercussions (ie: GHD)

Uncertainty = central part of how we relate to the future.

Metaphors of control and ideas of risk – the more we use these terminologies, the more

we release the uncontrollable.

Risk worldview brings ethical commitments.

Q: What ethical resources can we draw on to change the issues of the future?

What about our responsibility to future generations?

What do we need to build in to our actions, rather than living with the illusion of

control over our circumstances?

Mark Charlesworth – “Tipping Points, Inertia, Ethics and policy”


Knowledge = M6 – could predict a change in traffic flow

Ignorance = what Stevenson thought of motorways whilst building a rocket….

Risk and security are illusions, we exist because God wills it.

If we can’t predict a controlled climate – then virtual ethics is better than economics or laws – you do the right thing b/c it’s the right thing not b/c of financial ideals.

Thousands of years of inertia have been built up – there could be catastrophic consequences and this is where ‘virtue ethics’ becomes necessary.

Biblical example of religion for motivation of change:

Ezekiel: Made you a watchman for the house of Israel…. wicked man will surely die for his sin…If you do not warn him you will (take responsibility for his sin)….If you warn him and he does not turn from his sin – he will die for his sin.

Virtue ethics addresses knowledge of climate change as a prophetic voice; it is our responsibility to speak out regarding this issue.

Roman Krznaric – “Empathy and Climate Change”

Scientific approach

Economics issue

Human rights issue

Distanced in time and space – how can we create empathy between them?

Two kinds Empathy

  1. Shared emotional response – mirroring, such as feeling emotionally moved by a baby crying
  2. Sympathy – predicting how someone else feels.
Empathy and Risk

Threats to peoples’ livelihoods eg: floods in India, food shortages.

We have an enormous knowledge of these risks, yet there is a huge gap between knowledge and action – how do we close the gap?

Empathy: = Mediating power.

Can spur on new forms of social action.

Evidence: Historic examples – rise of movement against slavery trade in Britain.

2nd world war; 1980’s live aid; Tsunami

Two ways to elicit empathetic responses:

  1. New conversations between politicians, young passionate people, conversations camps to get people thinking and caring about the future. Expands imagination.
  2. Experiences change our views of the world ‘written on our skin’

‘Climate corps’ for the EU…(like peace corps) to draw attention to developing


Social fragmentation, immigration – fights over fresh water.

How do we deal with conflict? – Coercion

Practical Examples:

US – prison projects where offenders speak to victims. An application of this to climate

victims can be developed.

Teaching, such as “Roots empathy” in Canada – reduces youth violence

Peace studies

Empathy to reduce gang violence in housing estates (based in Britain) crosses different ethnic backgrounds.

New laws and institutions can help but the revolution of human relationships is the one to be endorsed. Faces insecurity of societal functions.

Issues and Questions from the floor

  • If the discourse is problematic – how does an affirmation of strong uncertainty enable forms if it displaces the notion of an empty future – then what sort of future does it commend? Virtue seems to be empty.
  • What about the challenge of future population increase – 6-9 billion?
  • What is the time scale for the social change to happen with empathy method?
  • Reactive (empathetic) – can it be harnessed to pre-empt other uncertainties in the future?
  • What is the relationship between empathy and guilt and can guilt be a substitute?
  • Does your model of empathy lead to social and political change at all?
  • Empathy – desire for openness yet antithesis to security = closure. It doesn’t desire an ideal of ‘right’ (response to previous question)
  • Future as uncertain isn’t necessarily empathy – what are the interpretations of empathy?
  • Underlying future is not empty – raises the political questions. One way of making future more bearable is solidarity from a political project (welfare state) designed to create reciprocal relationships between people, so the future is less damaging from the present – how can empathy be related to this? What is the long-term ongoing project, which involves more than individual responsibility on relationships?
  • Virtual ethics – fulfilments of needs now versus ethical future
  • Empathy is a virtue, as is solidarity –
  • Virtue works at a philosophical level for Uncertainty (Mills)
  • Timescales – If all world religions faced environment and development issues, being 2/3 worlds’ population, and if we could speak as one voice against consumerism, in an organised fashion, it would have a significant effect.

Virtue goes beyond all other efforts (?)


“No borders” (an organisation which advocates immigrants safety against deportations)

The issue of population is politically loaded and at the heart of the problem but the response is unclear. Encourages “unhappy bedfellows’: conservationists and the anti-immigration right wing.

How can we stop telling people to have babies?!

Not populations alone but population vs. movement of population = dynamic.

‘We’ don’t want environmental refugees.

Can we respond empathically when we have to pay for housing people we don’t want around? Creates a ‘them / us’ situation.

What is the timescale? Takes a long time. E.g: women’s’ rights took a century to achieve overall political change; yet there are still social discrepancies.

What kind of people do we need to be to alive in a world in 50yrs time? This morality must be addressed. School educations projects can change in 5-10 years. You will need to keep renewing this. It is not a sole solution, but it is a medium to long-term issue. It is however ignored by policy-makers and it should not be.

Does it lead to change at all?

2nd world war evacuation – over 1 million children were displaced and this created empathetic response. New legislation of nutrition and education was made in this crisis.

Nicaragua education campaign – young people sent to teach English to peasants to bridge gap between middle and lower classes. It was very important in the Nicaraguan social movement.

Can it be used for events not yet happened?

When empathy is generated through educations projects – When we learn to see the world from others perspective, we can better perceive possible events yes.

Guilt – not good motivator for social action – highlights recognition but distances one from the problem (avoidance coping behaviour?). Empathy generates a human connection, which is more positive.


You cannot empathise alone. – Could endanger oneself.

What is the role of art to further us to future emptiness?

HG Wells

Aldous Huxley

George Orwell and his animal farm characters Winston Smith or Benjamin the carthorse

What will both show the challenge and solve the problem?

‘La Peste’ – Albert Camus.

What is the role of literature and art?

Christianity and ethics of capitalism with context of US?

All talk about greed being negative – a lot of commonality of beliefs – long term value of virtues – shared voice of basic policy of financial motivation = wrong.


What about Non-Human empathy relationships?

Rules and beliefs – are they sufficient to support us for the climate change?

Eg: Children evacuees and link with children’s’ legislation. Is there already a moral value there?

Roman response: What turned the emotional response to children into legislation?

A: Social organisation – ‘Women’s Institutions’ – lobbied government to write letters to national papers.

In WW2 government was very open to overcome fears.

Applied to Climate change? – Affinity grass roots councils / groups, national and regional organisations are more structured ie: “Climate Outreach Information Network” (“Green party”).

Kinder-transport (Jewish Children) came into Britain in final years of peace, which was against government’s general policies of the time.

Who was the instigator? A Very politically minded, determined, moral group of people.

Quaker groups – non-conformist churches

How can courage eliminate all risk?

It cannot. Typically there is a positive relationship between different virtues (prudence = intellectual rather than moral) but can be a tool of a propelling virtue of courage. As your prudence improves, so does, understanding that leads to empathy, justice etc improve.

Ethics of finitude. What is the contrast with an empty or unknown future? What is

a ‘full’ future? What is the reforming of moral frameworks?

Triangular relationship between moral, perception of risk and action.

Utilitarian based: Ethics of finitude, denies certain aspects of uncertainty in order to control. Virtue idea and empathy and care and narrative (how we understand ourselves in tradition which can predict the future)

To understand finitude to give access to future – care is very important (virtue also).

Aristotle applied virtue to temporal and future. If you sympathise, you can apply by imagining being in the future and looking back to past actions. Need to understand how life has gone; have you made a positive contribution to the welfare of the planet etc?

There must be a lot of judging oneself and shame. Empathy and judgement are relating in a similar way to solidarity and empathy. How does judgement turn into action?

Ethical values are about reawakening our sense of narrative and tradition.

Movement of population – even small pockets of people moving have a

destructive effect on society?

Can be considered very positive, e.g. eastern European immigrants of recent years.

It is not so much the movement but the condition into which they are subjected.

Importance of experience of empathy leading to positive action?

Impacts of trauma – Palestine and Hamas influence.

How can we separate oneself from emotional response when it can cripple the individual? This raises negative feelings such as guilt and fear, which are debilitating.

Military ordinances – changing security. Military think-tanks are very alert to climate change. But their job is to secure their country / alliance. “Close the castle gates’ instead of empathetic response.

Population migration, Spanish and French navies are aware now of threat from N Africa over Eastern Europe. India is securing borders of Bangladesh –Keeping a lid on things rather than addressing the solving factors.

Seem to be working against empathy, or only empathising with own nationals.

National climate = very dynamic (archaeology) Ice receding over Britain occurred over a few decades rather than a century!

Now growing season = 45 weeks longer than it used to be over 10-15 yrs.

Cooling, 5-15yrs increased temperature (we have a window to work within)

Prophesy of suggesting the possible. Climate change by human inducement can speed up the above process.

Activist and campaigner / working with ‘defra’. – Attention was on attitude change, expecting people to change their behaviours – people actually shape their views to what they do!

Strategies for discussion and effective organisation are necessary

Environmental science – Human beings have evolved to life in a specific context – observation and prediction are possible, yet complexity of society has now pushed the barriers of what is predictable and what is not.

Empathy is a transportative action, which can take us beyond predictable and ‘normal’ behaviour.

Security Services queried

Strategic argument: We assume we are protecting something worth protecting – is this worthwhile. The country being protected could be doomed.

By extending empathy – openness across boarders, this improves our foreign links, befitting future possibilities for people.

Rumsfeld ‘unknown unknowns’ military, which was flexible, better connected, reduced hierarchy.


You cannot close the gates in a common world. “Sustainable security” = long-term individual focussed.

War on terror from single-minded military – it is impossible and poor security principle!

New ways to uphold security need to be held in common with the common world state.

Q: Is the military a potential model for where we should all be going?

2 aims: They are about maintaining security and their own careers.

How much do we know about CO2 loading in the atmosphere in the same way as currency exchange rate? Ignorance is disconcerting.

We need to trust authority – how am I engaged in science? Tipping points for runaway climate change predictions differ between scientists. Conflict is unhelpful for cause.

Artist: depict the changing shape of Britain under flooding. We cannot conceive the changing shape of our land – how can we understand others’ situations of different geography. Practical problem for empathy.