Growing demand in the developed nations, as well as in China, India, and other emerging economies, for diminishing fossil fuels precipitated the crisis. Purchasing power plummeted and the global economy collapsed. That was the earthquake that tore asunder the industrial age built on and propelled by fossil fuels. The failure of the financial markets two months later was merely the aftershock. The fossil fuel energies that make up the industrial way of life are sunsetting and the industrial infrastructure is now on life support.

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Apr 04, Marshall rated it really liked it Recommends it for: History buffs Recommended to Marshall by: NPR Shelves: non-fiction , psychology , culture This is an enormous book, covering the entire psychological history of our civilization, positing an argument for the direction we are now headed, what he calls "biosphere consciousness. He argues that we are on This is an enormous book, covering the entire psychological history of our civilization, positing an argument for the direction we are now headed, what he calls "biosphere consciousness.

He argues that we are on the brink of another such revolution, the communications technology being the internet and the energy regime being various distributed forms of energy production.

The best, but most long-winded, part of this book is the history. I found it fascinating to see history portrayed in this way. The author is definitely a believer in our civilization. For much of the book, he seems to blame the state of our civilization on entropy, rather than the destructive attitudes and beliefs.

He also gets a few facts wrong, but by the end of the book, it becomes clear that he really does get it, for the most part. I fear it will be too little, too late. Particularly as he brings in elements of entropy trends and energy-use trends that Rifkin has written about before, there is a danger in pulling in any random element to prove the case for an emergent empathic civilization.

Cognitive neuroscientists would buy into much of what Rifkin poses as a history of consciousness, and it seems almost intuitive and obvious how the empathic gene takes center stage over time - but also showing why each step in moving to multi-conscious empathy was a necessary step that would be difficult to skip. I find Rifkin to be a little too kind to the 19th-century Romanticists - I love Rousseau and Goethe, to be sure, but Byron and Shelley displayed an underside that showed that an excess of Romanticism can lead to Mussolini-style fascism.

Just ask Ezra Pound. In the 21st-century, this seems almost like a straw-man exercise. Does anyone believe in Freudian theory any more?

Maybe among the humanists Rifkin hangs with, residual trust in Freud remains, but my jaded postmodern and neuroscientist friends dismissed Freud years ago. Rifkin almost could have started with Part 2 of his book and formed a coherent whole. Many will criticize Part 3 of the book as being far too "kumbaya" for a world still dominated by materialist greed and war, but there are many who dismiss Pinker and Turchin, as well.

The trends toward an empathic, universal consciousness emerging are real ones, but as Rifkin says, they emerge on a backdrop of humans befouling their own environment. The point is, we fully recognize it and are trying to confront the damages we cause. Selfish acquisition and slaughter of the Other will always be with us, but empathy does indeed seem to be coming front and center.

Those who dwell in visions of Apocalypse will deny this, but the reasons for limited optimism are everywhere. Rifkin makes an important point when he says that in any era, remnants of the consciousness style of older eras remain, as evolutionary vestiges of unwanted limbs. Therefore, we should expect to still retain some forager mysticism, some Medieval monotheism, some Newton-era neutral objectivism, some Byron Romanticism, some 20th-century promotion of self-esteem, and some 21st-century multiculturalism.

The trick lies in getting the balance right. Rifkin thinks that narcissism in the era of Facebook and Twitter is actually less of a problem than it was in the s and s, and he might have a point, though there are still a plethora of fame and infamy -hungry narcissists on Facebook. But the results of the elections reinforce his point somewhat, but not so much in the fact that Obama was re-elected. Most Republicans gnash their teeth, not so much over four more years of Obama, but from a universal shift to gay marriage approval, pot legalization, rejection of politicians like Akin and Mourdock, etc.

I agree with the notion of a compassionate method of neutral inquiry, but if we go too far down the route Rifkin suggests, we end up in the post-modernist mush where any narrative is equal to any other narrative. The scientific method may be updated for the 21st century, but if we throw out the baby with the bathwater, we find that there would be as much validity for blaming Hurricane Sandy on witches or a vengeful God, as on climate fronts disrupted by human behavior.

Rifkin is a very sharp guy who has always displayed a few annoying tendencies in pop-psychology, whether writing about biotechnology or Europe or entropy.


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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. 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.


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Background[ edit ] Author Jeremy Rifkin had previously written several books that, like The Empathic Civilization, have attempted to extrapolate trends in the economy, technology, and society. For example, his book The End of Work concerns the changes that tele-commuting would have on the workplace, his book The Biotech Century concerns the expected impacts of genetic engineering, and his book The Hydrogen Economy concerns the economic and social effects that will result from the expected replacement of fossil fuels with hydrogen as an energy storage medium. His last book before writing The Empathic Civilization was The European Dream , published in , comparing the American Dream with the values expressed by Europeans in the post-industrial economy. At the time of publication, the year-old Rifkin was working as an advisor to the European Union concerning issues relating to the economy, climate change, and energy security, as well as president of the American non-profit organization the Foundation on Economic Trends. The new global economy will be based upon renewable energy , like wind power , solar energy , natural gas , etc. He calls this distributed capitalism because these energy sources are dispersed rather than centralized.

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