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

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Penguin, Dec 31, 2009 - Political Science - 688 pages
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"One of the leading big-picture thinkers of our day" (Utne Reader) delivers his boldest work in this erudite, tough-minded, and far-reaching manifesto.

Never has the world seemed so completely united-in the form of communication, commerce, and culture-and so savagely torn apart-in the form of war, financial meltdown, global warming, and even the migration of diseases.

No matter how much we put our minds to the task of meeting the challenges of a rapidly globalizing world, the human race seems to continually come up short, unable to muster the collective mental resources to truly "think globally and act locally." In his most ambitious book to date, bestselling social critic Jeremy Rifkin shows that this disconnect between our vision for the world and our ability to realize that vision lies in the current state of human consciousness. The very way our brains are structured disposes us to a way of feeling, thinking, and acting in the world that is no longer entirely relevant to the new environments we have created for ourselves.

The human-made environment is rapidly morphing into a global space, yet our existing modes of consciousness are structured for earlier eras of history, which are just as quickly fading away. Humanity, Rifkin argues, finds itself on the cusp of its greatest experiment to date: refashioning human consciousness so that human beings can mutually live and flourish in the new globalizing society.

In essence, this shift in consciousness is based upon reaching out to others. But to resist this change in human relations and modes of thinking, Rifkin contends, would spell ineptness and disaster in facing the new challenges around us. As the forces of globalization accelerate, deepen, and become ever more complex, the older faith-based and rational forms of consciousness are likely to become stressed, and even dangerous, as they attempt to navigate a world increasingly beyond their reach and control. Indeed, the emergence of this empathetic consciousness has implications for the future that will likely be as profound and far-reaching as when Enlightenment philosophers upended faith-based consciousness with the canon of reason.
 

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I picked up this book at the library - I have always thought Rifkin was an odd author - straddling somewhere the line between public intellectual and pop-sociology - but he has been right about some trends over the years. I read the summary on the dust jacket and thought "they should fire the editor who wrote this - it doesn't make any sense". And then I started the book. The summary on the dust jacket is the author's introduction. I gave it a try but honestly he lost me in the first chapter talking about how historians focus too much on the negative and don't see the evolution of empathy. I am thinking about slavery - everything from building the pyramids to the march on Selma, WW I, WW II, the gulag, the Holocaust, Stalin's purges, the Cultural Revolution, Rwanda, Darfur ... even if you stay in only in the 20th century it is hard to find much in the way of empathy from above or below in human behavior.
The opening of the book uses a probably apocryphal story of a handful of soldiers on the Western Front singing Christmas carols across the trenches as a sign that "they chose to be human", and then went back to slaughtering each other? I don't get it and the book goes down hill from there. The empathetic human in me goes out to the poor trees that were wasted publishing this nonsense.
 

Contents

Title Page
HOMO EMPATHICUS
TWO THE NEW VIEW OF HUMAN NATURE
THREE A SENTIENT INTERPRETATION OF BIOLOGICAL EVOLUTION
FOUR BECOMING HUMAN
FIVE RETHINKING THE MEANING OF THE HUMAN JOURNEY
SIX THE ANCIENT THEOLOGICAL BRAIN AND PATRIARCHAL
SEVEN COSMOPOLITAN ROME AND THE RISE OF URBAN
TEN PSYCHOLOGICAL CONSCIOUSNESS IN A POSTMODERN
ELEVEN THE CLIMB TO GLOBAL PEAK EMPATHY
TWELVE THE PLANETARY ENTROPIC ABYSS
THIRTEEN THE EMERGING ERA OF DISTRIBUTED CAPITALISM
FOURTEEN THE THEATRICAL SELF IN AN IMPROVISATIONAL SOCIETY
FIFTEEN BIOSPHERE CONSCIOUSNESS IN A CLIMAX ECONOMY
NOTES
BIBLIOGRAPHY

EIGHT THE SOFT INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION OF THE LATE MEDIEVAL
NINE IDEOLOGICAL THINKING IN A MODERN MARKET ECONOMY
INDEX
Copyright

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About the author (2009)

One of the most popular social thinkers of our time, Jeremy Rifkin is the bestselling author of The European Dream, The Hydrogen Economy, The Age of Access, The Biotech Century, and The End of Work. A fellow at the Wharton School's Executive Education Program, he is president of The Foundation on Economic Trends in Bethesda, MD.

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