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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 One of the finest social critics of our era delivers his boldest work in this erudite, tough-minded, and far-reaching manifesto that identifies the widely misunderstood trait of empathy as the best - and possibly the only - model for international relations and global survival in the early 21st century.
Never has the world seemed so completely joined - 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.
The very way our brains are structured dispose 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 in the early stages of a third great shift in human consciousness.
In the first stage - the agricultural era - human consciousness centered upon faith; in the second stage - the industrial era - it centered upon reason; now, as we begin to make the transition into the third stage - an era of information and globalization - human consciousness is increasingly structured around empathy. We are poised on the cusp of humanity's greatest experiment to date: In essence, this shift in consciousness is based upon reaching out to others.
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But to resist this shift in human relations and modes of thinking, Rifkin argues, 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.