The Empathic Civilization

The Empathic Civilization : The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis

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In this sweeping new interpretation of the history of civilization, bestselling author Jeremy Rifkin looks at the evolution of empathy and the profound ways that it has shaped our development-and is likely to determine our fate as a species. Today we face unparalleled challenges in an energy-intensive and interconnected world that will demand an unprecedented level of mutual understanding among diverse peoples and nations. Do we have the capacity and collective will to come together in a way that will enable us to cope with the great challenges of our time? In this remarkable book Jeremy Rifkin tells the dramatic story of the extension of human empathy from the rise of the first great theological civilizations, to the ideological age that dominated the 18th and 19th centuries, the psychological era that characterized much of the 20th century and the emerging dramaturgical period of the 21st century. The result is a new social tapestry-The Empathic Civilization-woven from a wide range of fields. Rifkin argues that at the very core of the human story is the paradoxical relationship between empathy and entropy.
At various times in history new energy regimes have converged with new communication revolutions, creating ever more complex societies that heightened empathic sensitivity and expanded human consciousness. But these increasingly complicated milieus require extensive energy use and speed us toward resource depletion. The irony is that our growing empathic awareness has been made possible by an ever-greater consumption of the Earth's resources, resulting in a dramatic deterioration of the health of the planet. If we are to avert a catastrophic destruction of the Earth's ecosystems, the collapse of the global economy and the possible extinction of the human race, we will need to change human consciousness itself-and in less than a generation. Rifkin challenges us to address what may be the most important question facing humanity today: Can we achieve global empathy in time to avoid the collapse of civilization and save the planet? One of the most popular social thinkers of our time, Jeremy Rifkin is the bestselling author of The European Dream, The Hydrogen Economy The End of Work, The Biotech Century, and The Age of Access.
He is the president of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, D.C.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 688 pages
  • 153 x 235 x 47mm | 1,162g
  • Polity Press
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 1. Auflage
  • black & white illustrations
  • 0745641458
  • 9780745641454

Table of contents

Contents Introduction 1. The Hidden Paradox of Human History I. Homo Empathicus 2. The New View of Human Nature 3. A Sentient Interpretation of Biological Evolution 4. Becoming Human 5. Rethinking the Meaning of the Human Journey II. Empathy and Civilization 6. The Ancient Theological Brain and Patriarchal Economy 7. Cosmopolitan Rome and the Rise of Urban Christianity 8. The Soft Industrial Revolution of the Late Medieval Era and the Birth of Humanism 9. Ideological Thinking in a Modern Market Economy 10. Psychological Consciousness in a Postmodern Existential World III. The Age of Empathy 11. The Climb to Global Peak Empathy 12. The Planetary Entropic Abyss 13. The Emerging Era of Distributed Capitalism 14. The Theatrical Self in an Improvisational Society 15. Biosphere Consciousness in a Climax Economy Notes Bibliography Index About the Author
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Review quote

"A brilliant read ... that boldly challenges the conventional view of human nature embedded in our educational systems, business practices, and political culture." Huffington Post "The kind of reading fans of Jared Diamond and Richard Dawkins can sink their teeth into, with a contagious sense of urgency over whether we can 'reach biosphere consciousness and global empathy in time to avert planetary collapse.'" Publishers Weekly "A thoroughly entertaining read." Socialist Unity "Many in the scholarly, religious, and political fields praise Jeremy Rifkin for a willingness to think big, raise controversial questions, and serve as a social and ethical prophet." New York Times Rifkin is "one of the leading big-picture thinkers of our day." Utne Reader "Rifkin poses real questions that we've spent too little time thinking about." Washington Post
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Review Text

"A brilliant read ... that boldly challenges the conventional view of human nature embedded in our educational systems, business practices, and political culture."Huffington Post"The kind of reading fans of Jared Diamond and Richard Dawkins can sink their teeth into, with a contagious sense of urgency over whether we can 'reach biosphere consciousness and global empathy in time to avert planetary collapse.'"Publishers Weekly"A thoroughly entertaining read."Socialist Unity"Many in the scholarly, religious, and political fields praise Jeremy Rifkin for a willingness to think big, raise controversial questions, and serve as a social and ethical prophet."New York TimesRifkin is "one of the leading big-picture thinkers of our day."Utne Reader"Rifkin poses real questions that we've spent too little time thinking about."Washington Post
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Rating details

694 ratings
4.02 out of 5 stars
5 40% (276)
4 34% (236)
3 18% (123)
2 6% (42)
1 2% (17)

Our customer reviews

At 674 pages, 57 of which are notes and index, Jeremy Rifkin's The Empathic Civilization is not a book you'll sit down and read in an afternoon or evening. But if you're a person who is concerned about global or local issues, it is a book you will want to read. It is packed with invaluable information and insight about steering a (relatively) safe course through the sometimes rough seas of our rapidly changing, interconnected world. Though it took me a while to read, I find every minute spent with it informative and valuable. The information alone makes The Empathic Civilization worth reading because of the insights the information brings. To many people, perhaps, the idea of an empathic civilization is oxymoronic. "An empathic civilization? You have got to be kidding! Any reading of history will tell you that!" "Not so fast," Rifkin says as he leads you back to December 24, 1914 on the fields of Flanders as World War I ground into its fifth month. "Take a look at what's happening." Contrary to all expectations about human nature, beginning with the Germans lighting candles on Christmas trees sent to the front, young men on both sides of the battle line began singing Christmas carols where a few hours earlier they had been killing each other. It ran contrary to what everyone believed about human nature. "[W]hat transpired in the battlefields of Flanders on Christmas Eve 1914 between tens of thousands of young men had nothing to do with original sin or productive labor. And the pleasure those men sought in each other's company bore little resemblance to the superficial rendering of pleasure offered up by nineteenth- century utilitarians and even less to Freud's pathological account of a human race preoccupied by the erotic impulse. "The men at Flanders expressed a far deeper human sensibility - one that emanates from the very marrow of human existence. ... They chose to be human. And the central human quality they expressed was empathy for one another" (page 8). Still not convinced? Think about it - if the central human quality is aggression, would we have survived this long as a species? If an empathic impulse is embedded in our biology, why doesn't it show up in our history? It doesn't because "tales of misdeeds and woe surprise us. They are unexpected and, therefore, trigger alarm and heighten our interest" (emphasis mine) (page 10). What captures our attention and interest is expressions of empathy. It just might be, Rifkin suggests, that aggression, violence, selfish behavior and acquisitiveness - long considered basic human drives, "are in fact secondary drives that flow from repression or denial of our most basic instinct", which is empathy (page 18). Reading my facebook page on an average day, it is empathy that is most often expressed, even when the emotion expressed is frustration and anger. What we seek is connection ... and this is the key to creating a global consciousness - the sense of belonging to a world, and not just to our own little part of it and our own little "tribe". As a species, we are embedded in the life of the entire planet. What you and I do in our small part of it, affects every other part. Like it or not, we are all interconnected as a part of a living global ecosystem. Tamper with one part, we affect every other part. (A great companion book to this one is E. O. Wilson's The Creation, which is reviewed in a separate post. A biologist, Wilson explains the biology of our global ecosystem in a way that this non-scientist easily understood it.) Because of the Internet we are already interconnected. What we need to do with that comprises the bulk of Rifkin's book, which is divided into three major sections: I Homo Empathicus; II Empathy and Civilization; and III The Age of Empathy. "By rediscovering our cognitive past," Rifkin writes, "we find important clues to how we might redirect our conscious future. With our very survival at stake, we can no longer afford to remain unmindful about how empathic consciousness has evolved across history and at what expense to the Earth we inhabit" (page 178). E. O. Wilson would heartily agree with that. So do I.show more
by George Polley
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