The Empathic Civilization

The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis, by Jeremy Rifkin.  Penguin Group, 2009.

We who care about animals have had to develop our empathy beyond what mainstream society is willing to do, and one of Rifkin’s earlier books, Beyond Beef, addressed the meat issue.  Here he looks at how we treat our fellow humans, making a detailed and lengthy case–over 600 pages–that worldwide we are becoming increasingly empathic (able to care about the well-being of others, even others whose culture and language are very different). Recent surveys have shown that we are becoming more accepting of interracial marriage and mixed race children, homosexuality, the disabled, etc. compared to a few decades ago. We’re also coming to see that excess wealth beyond what we need to be comfortable does not increase our happiness.

The book is filled with intriguing factoids; e.g. in a section on the development of personal privacy, he tells us that except for kings’ thrones, there were no individual chairs until around 1490. Who knew?

The ultimate question he raises is whether our increasing empathy will be sufficient to counteract the social and environmental disintegration resulting from climate change and dwindling fossil fuel supplies. He’s upbeat that we’re going to make it. Wish I could stick around until 2075 or so to see what happens.

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