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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

BOOKS: The Empathic Civilisation by Jeremy Rifkin

It’s a hefty book weighing in at over 2 kilos. I might have passed it up, but my curiosity was piqued when Tom Harper at a Low Carbon Roadshow rehearsal spoke about how it documents a shift from psychological thinking to dramaturgical thinking – how we’re becoming actor-directors in a shared production, as opposed to analysts and controllers of a set of problems. Then Rupert Read wrote an excellent piece about our fear of mortality based on the book in the OneWorldColumn.

Why is The Empathic Civilisation relevant to Transition? Because its central debate is that empathy comes into play at the precise point when the energy that maintains a civilisation’s increasingly complex systems begins to run out. Rifkin brings this paradox to our attention because instead of total societal collapse, we could reach out to our fellows and do something different. We don’t have to go the way of Rome and entropy. Collaboration he argues always “bests” competition, as he charts the global movement towards mutual understanding between races and genders. The more advanced a civilisation becomes he argues the more co-operative and freethinking it becomes - intolerant hierarchical religions, for example, give way to egalitarian spirituality. Rifkin works methodically through Western philosophy to find our rarely-recorded “hidden history”. The book lacks the ease and economy of social reportage such as Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, but it’s well worth picking up with both hands, even if you only dip in occasionally. The passages on embodied empathy replacing a disembodied seeking of ideals and perfection (Chapter 5) is particularly good.

The Empathic Civilisation -The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis by Jeremy Rifkin (Polity Books) £17.99