Monday, January 17, 2011

The Empathic Civilization

"…what is needed is a more transparent public debate around views of freedom, equality and democracy…a moratorium on the hyperbolic political rhetoric and incivility and begin a civil conversation around our differing views on human nature. This would offer us a moment in time to listen to each other, share our feelings, thoughts, concerns and aspirations, with the goal of trying to better understand each others' perspectives, and hopefully find some emotional and cognitive common ground." - Jeremy Rifkin on his book "Empathic Civilization, The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis" 

Human nature, what is it? How are we really designed to operate, why do we experience such extremes within human nature?  To love or to hate, create or destroy, we do all of these, it is within our nature to kill with one hand and nurture with the other.  Its hard to decide what is right and wrong - can we even fairly judge.  The spectrum of human behaviour is so huge and we are all part of it. 

Jeremy Rifkins book is a detailed explanation of how we came to be a culture of incivility, and how he sees that empathy is the way forward for us as a civilization.  He makes a connection between "cognition" and consciousness" and claims that we can program ourselves to be more empathetic.  However love and empathy should not exclude the intellectual aspects of our being.  We need to honour all aspects of our nature, not slice and dice, removing the bits we dont "like".  We should be seeking balance in all things and not the separation of being.

Empathy is the ability and willingness to relate - not just cognitively or emotionally, but spiritually - to what another is feeling and thinking. By being empathic, we choose to "walk in another's shoes," without egoistically needing to "fix," teach, tell, one-up, advise, sympathize, interrogate, explain or "set them straight."  This could also be described as unconditional love for another.

Lack of empathy is characterized by a callous unconcern for the feelings of others and lack of the capacity for empathy.  Self motivated behaviour that overrides the needs of others, and a lack of remorse for the effects of that behaviour.  Intellectualizing rather than "feeling", producing coldness and sense of removal/distance from ones own behaviour.  A lack of willingness to observe ones own weaknesses, a feeling of superiority over others - narcissism.

There are four levels of consciousness:
1. Unconscious - instinctual, biological
2. Subconscious - habitual, without ones awareness, reactive
3. Conscious - aware, intelligent, conceptual
4. Higher Consciousness - intuitive, guiding, truthful, universal

On which of these levels does the empathy or lack of it manifest, or is it a product of all four.  How much of this is learned behaviour or genetic.  Do we have the ability to change from one to the other, would we change if we had the choice?  Perhaps we need to integrate all the aspects of our nature so that light and dark may exisit in symmetry.

"The story we are told about human nature is that man is inherently self-interested, pleasure-seeking, sinning and utilitarian – doing the minimum to get the maximum benefits for oneself, and that this nature is driven by a life that is nasty, brutish and short. Indeed, all we have to do is take a cursory glance over history, and we’ll see the world stricken with crime, wars, genocide, power games, and greedy, greedy people taking advantage for themselves, to the detriment of everyone else" - Jade Keller - on the nature of being human

It would seem that since the beginning of our civilization the prevalent human behaviour has been antisocial and lacking in empathy - sociopathic.  In every case the barbarians won.  Will we change?  Should we change?  Is empathy merely a painful waste of time?  While Avatar carried a nice Utopian fable that resonated with humanity, is it just another fantasy?  Are we destined to rape, pillage and dominate the weak till the end of time? You decide...

RSA Animate - The Empathic Civilization

The Corporation - Documentary "What Kind of Person is it"


  1. Still haven't seen that movie, and that's the second time you've mentioned it :P Am I missing out?

    I know for a fact that empathy does not occur in the unconscious state by your definition. I instinctually help people in need, not to be a good guy, it just happens, in the same way I can be destructive for no apparent reason.

    I'd hazard to say by your definition, it occurs in the Conscious state, as it takes emotional recognition to empathize with someone, I think. To see their emotions, what they're going through, et cetera. If you can't see them in anguish, why would you think there is something wrong with them?

    The only difference between the Barbarians and Modern Superpowers is that our warlords wear suits and have world destroying nuclear arsenal pointed at each other.

  2. lol, avatar was a relatively bullshit movie, but i liked the deeper message within it. it moved me the same way the matrix did, for similar reasons - i.e. humanity is living a lie

    i help people if i think they need help, but i cannot stand patheticness, i think its self indulgent, and well....pathetic.

    my question, is empathy hardwired into us - a biological thing, or a learned thing. hard to say, we would not have prospered as a species had we not some degree of empathy. for example, was our lack of empathy towards other tribes, a deeper form of empathy for our own tribe. that now in modern times has become confused in a world of overpopulation and overlapping of cultures.

  3. Empathy can be prevented. It's all about your formative years. It's sort of, naturally occurring during normal circumstances, if you will. Neglect plays a large part in triggering ASPD in those with the genetic predisposition. Does one need that predisposition though? Speculation.

  4. Also, I can relate to most of the list on that front page. I don't see anything remarkably special about that, requiring a High Sensitivity designation.

  5. hmmm, re: sensitivity, bit like horoscopes you reckon, all of the above applies lol.

    having only really stumbled on this whole subject, i'm still feeling my way around. i find it utterly facinating.

    empathy can be prevented? wouldnt stifled be more apropriate?

    i think aspd can vary in severity due to a combination of factors like the ones you mention. like most things, i dont feel there is a black and white formula

  6. Agreed to all of the above.

    Nurture plays a large role in how it manifests.

  7. did you read my 3 parter on emotions? the association between emotions such as empathy and the outcome states of the iterative social contract as modeled by game theory is an interesting concept.

  8. yes i did....the effect of our emotions on our behaviour is quite a complex subject. as you say the instinctual and biological reflexes can influence this quite heavily. but in an everyday sense, biology and gender aside, what is an "emotion", is it a learned response to external stimuli, or an inherent quality that is apparent in us from birth, the guidance of which, moulds our ability to empathise with the external world.

    i'm not so convinced that genetics play a such huge part in our socialisation. the human brain develops most rapidly from birth till the age of 3. we aquire a subset of behaviour and learning at this time, that provides the foundation for everything else. perhaps this is the key.