The Empathic Civilization

If I could read only one book this year, I would be happy with “The Empathic Civilization.”

My 3 main take-aways from this book were:

1. Empathy is key to establishing strong relationships in life that help you live more meaningfully.

2. Addressing inequality and poverty is necessary for a more extensive, global empathic consciousness.

3. The empathic/entropic paradox is serious. There is a pressing need to think beyond ourselves and our own borders.

Read on for a summary of the book…

“The Empathic Civilization” is a book about the central paradox of human existence (Amazon 2010). Author Jeremy Rifkin argues that human civilization is moving towards a level of higher empathic sensibility but also simultaneously unprecedented entropic destruction. While globalization and new avenues of communication and technology today have brought diverse groups of people together, they have also paved the way for global warming, proliferation of WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction), and risks of pandemic disease.

How did we get to this point? Rifkin traces the evolution of empathy from the Stone Age and Roman Empire to today’s Third Industrial Revolution. In the book he starts off outlining individual psychology (ie Freud) and how that played a role in shaping empathy by defining our view of ourselves and others. Citing new child development studies, Rifkin points out that people are born naturally empathic and have the capacity for being self-aware and hence altruistic. He then moves on to detail a history of civilization and how each great civilization eventually collapsed from overextending their energy regime, but not without first extending channels for empathy. In order to survive, our civilization today, he argues, needs to move beyond carbon-based fuel to more sustainable and renewable energy.

What I found most impressive about this book was how relevant, passionate, and thoroughly-researched it was. Although Rifkin is an economist, he draws from many other disciplines including history, philosophy, anthropology, religion, psychology, and medicine. Each sentence is loaded with information, and Rifkin masterfully weaves in narratives to make the reading smooth and seamless, though at times the writing can get a bit hyperbolic.

I highly recommend this book. This insightful book will cause you to rethink the way you’re living and the way you want to live. My brief summary here unfortunately cannot do justice to this 600+ page monster. It’s long, but it’s worth it.

I admit that this book was pretty intense. What do you expect when it’s asking how “can we reach biosphere consciousness and global empathy in time to avert planetary collapse?” Find out when you read the book!


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