"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

The Empathic Civilization

This is a jolly good book, albeit a very hefty read, running as it does to 616 pages in three parts and 15 chapters; not to mention notes and bibliography and index running to a further 60 or so pages.
But the effort will reward the reader. Here is a fascinating history of civilization, but with a difference. It is written from the rather unique perspective of the evolution of human empathy and consciousness, showing how these correlate with the accompanying development of energy usage, from hydraulic power to wind and water mills and finally to our current use of finite fossil fuel resources. This loss of usable energy is called entropy. Rifkin draws on the first and second laws of thermodynamics that in simple terms state that the "total energy content of the universe is constant, and the total entropy is continually increasing." It is clear that our energy usage is unsustainable.
But on a more hopeful note, science is now showing that contrary to widely held views to the contrary, we are wired for empathy. What is more, the first months and early years of a baby's development are crucial to the development of empathy in the child as he grows. So early upbringing is crucial.

Rifkin tells us that we are on the cusp of an Empathic Civilization, with empathy spreading across the globe to embrace all humanity. But at the same time there is a “rapidly accelerating entropic juggernaut in the form of climate change and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.” Will empathy or entropy win, he asks? Can the developed West find a workable cultural, economic and political game plan for a sustainable and equitable future at the same time as the poor countries improve their economic conditions, and all this before we fall into an entropic abyss? “Can we reach biosphere consciousness and global empathy in time to avert planetary collapse?”
The future is very much in our hands, and Rifkin has his own ideas on how we may be able to avert disaster but we have very little time to spare in averting disaster, perhaps no more than a few decades, or a generation.

This is an extremely well researched thesis and I strongly recommend it to anyone who fears for the future of our planet. If you are skeptical or cynical about the current gloomy prognosis for the future of the world, then you should certainly read this book. With Rifkin's persuasive style I would hope that you could be converted to understand the enormous seriousness of the problems we face. I have written a review at Amazon.co.uk and at Amazon.com

I have to say after watching the violence that erupted out of the earlier peaceful demonstrations in Egypt this week, any hope of empathy seems a long way away.

1 comment:

edwinrutsch said...

My I suggest a further resources to learn more about empathy and compassion.
The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy
The Culture of Empathy website is the largest internet portal for resources and information about the values of empathy and compassion. It contains articles, conferences, definitions, experts, history, interviews,  videos, science and much more about empathy and compassion.

Let's Find 1 Million People Who Want to Build a Culture of Empathy and Compassion

Also, we invite you to post a link to your article about empathy to our Empathy Center Facebook page.

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