According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Friday, February 15, 2013

Social Science, Empathic Civilizations, and Biosphere Economics in the Third Industrial Age

Social Science, Empathy, and Empathic Civilizations
Biosphere Economics in a Third Industrial Age

Jeremy Rifkin creates a fast-paced RSA panel animation around the several topics of human development and common cause - and in this case, the common cause of saving the biosphere in order to achieve a Third Industrial Age. An Age which will require the collective effort of many dissimilar peoples working closely with one another. Who can collaborate together, live together, and get along together peaceably, hopefully, and helpfully. The foundation for Rifkin's analysis is based upon his observation of the social trait "empathy" within the human civilization which pretty much tosses out the old evolutionary understanding of self-interest and self-propagation for the newer neo-Darwinian understanding of eusociality which we have talked about here before on several occasions. A theory that says that individuals and regional groups will sacrifice themselves for one another if to achieve the further propagation and extension of that civilization's self-interest. In recent movies we've seen a lot of these types of themes - 2012, The Battle for L.A., The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and even a few zombie and super-spy flicks to boot.

Overall, I'm attracted here to Rifkin's premise of social empathy (as an extension of eusociality) and its relevancy to various strong biblical themes of love, justice, well being, doing good, not lying, not killing, working together in common cause, and etc. Our tribalisms today have changed from a regional / religious bias to one that is attempting to be more broad-minded - even towards that of the Muslim nations in their hostility towards Western civilization (with, and without, due cause I might add). A Muslim world that is feeling the pinch of being left out to the fast pace challenges of this world's re-energized industrial revolutions underway in all parts of the globe. For "Who doesn't want a TV, a cell phone, a computer, and a drawing tablet all-in-one-kind-of-ipad and available at a low cost to families and friends!?!?" And if you were to have this type of technology then you'll also need roads, bridges, airports, electricity, water, sewage disposable, retail and food infrastructures, governmental stability, income and debt management. Consequently, being at war with one another (and each other) only prevents (regional) communities from having the goods and services being experienced by other 21st century economies. So maybe its time to begin working together and learning to sort out one's differences? At least that's my practical theory to why the Third Industrial Age may happen against the grimmer aspects of a nuclear holocaust, endemic pandemics, starvation, gang brutality and warfare, and the purposeless drive of hedonistic living and global despair.

... As a personal aside - and my plug for Christian evolution - when the RSA panel animation arrives to its discussion of Adam and Eve I'd like to note that I suspect Rifkin of pandering to the literalistic Christian crowd when mentioning Adam and Eve as two individuals, rather than as a representative group of genomic homo sapiens.... Which is all well-and-good because I accept the idea of a biblical creation by the hand of God - but from an evolutionary standpoint known as "Evolutionary Creationism." As such, the Genesis Story should be viewed as a comparative story and not as a literal story as is commonly understood by many Christians today. Thus, Adam and Eve were not actual, historic, human beings, but a representation of a small, surviving, grouping of early modern day homo sapiens. We can say this because Adam and Eve could be no less than a genetic population of between 10,000 - 15,000 homo sapiens in order to achieve today's genetic diversity and largeness of population. It could not be achieved with far fewer numbers, let alone two individuals - which would make it impossible. Hence, the species of homo sapiens came into its own as a population, and not as two individuals. Furthermore, the chromosomal structure of the modern day homo sapien female species occurred 100,000 years earlier than did man's (150,000 BC vs. 50,000 BC). So that Eve is known as the Mitochondrial Mother of All Living, and Adam as the first y-chromosome man. Even though homo sapiens, as a species, occurred much earlier, somewhere between 600,000 - 800,000 BC, during the time of the Neanderthals which eventually died out as a species around 130,000 BC. The references I've linked above will go into more detail of these genetic facts and migrations, including that of the Neanderthals. For more general information please refer to the sidebar under "Science - Human Origins"... where each of the earlier articles build a foundation in which to discuss the newer, more recent articles on this blog site. When I have time I should probably create a searchable index to make it easier for the reader who is new to Relevancy22. But at present there is no index available for the several topics of evolution except my cosmological index of past articles.

... Overall, I find the idea of social empathy constructive for the re-visioning of Christianity away from its party lines of denominational differences unto the unifying lines of common cause and purpose. Something I've been describing as a gospel of human solidarity which views the atonement of Christ from the viewpoint of its universal application to humanity when linked to faith and the idea of God's Kingdom interacting with mankind today through the church (even though, eschatologically, there will be a "second half" to God's Kingdom becoming realised in man's societies, one brought on by Jesus' return to rule in order to put away sin and death). For those interested, I've provided a brief postscript below telling of six prominent atonement theories - as well as additional articles provided under the sidebar "God's Solidarity with Humanity" that may be referenced.

Generally, it has been one of the purposes of Relevancy22 to describe a newer type of Christianity - one that is both "postmodern" and "post-evangelic" (formerly here described as an "Emergent" or "Emerging" form of Christianity). A Christian faith that is being borne within the midst of our postmodernal societies that is relevant and ecologically minded. Consequently, I've been steadily working towards what a post-evangelic theology might look like as opposed to older theologies that have shown themselves to be less expansive; holding to more restrictive boundary sets; and showing a greater resistance to newer ideas - as one might expect to find in older evangelical or denominational assemblies. Here, I am more particularly interested in what a post-evangelical faith might look like as it expands the older, more historic definitions of orthodoxy. Or more rather, an orthodox faith that might lift itself upwards towards a broader, more synthesizing plane of theological postmodernism while holding to the historic core of its Christian orthodoxies.

But do not read into this the idea of theological ecumenicalism. For though this kind of post-evangelic (formerly emergent) Christianity is necessarily broader and more eclectic, it must also hold to the following criterion in order to remain historically orthodox: It must be a Christian faith that declares (i) Jesus as incarnate God, Savior, and Lord; to a (ii) Bible that is spiritually authoritative and inspirationally infallible with regards to all matters of divine salvation and regenerative life (but not necessarily inerrant as presumed in the more recent 1980s evangelical creeds); and to the important social concept that (iii) it takes a divine village - or, renewing Christian fellowship - to build a world. A divine village committed to the idea of "social empathy" as centered around the human elements of sacrificial love, service, and justice as displayed in Jesus' gospel - and enabled by His Holy Spirit - to the unempowered, overlooked, and forsaken communities of mankind. Which will require the social re-engineering of our business and governmental models towards the postmodern institutional models of social collaboration, global sharing, societal good will, integrity, openness, and the many virtues of biblical love - in order to succeed to its goals of renewing this old world in which we live in by divine fiat and decree.

Thus, God's solidarity with humanity is divinely centered through Jesus, and His invite to all who are hungry and thirsty to come to Him, and there find in Christ Jesus eternal bread and life-giving waters. Generally, this is what is meant by an atonement theory that embraces the aspect of human solidarity. That God's love is meant for all, not just some, but all. That it is effective to all. And that it does not turn away anyone who wishes to come. However, it is not forced nor coerced. And while wishing to avoiding any controversy of universalism, this doctrine would imply that God came to save not just individuals, but all of humanity. That Christ's atonement will eventually re-write the history of the world so that there will be a New Heavens and a New Earth encompassing one Kingdom of God. It is universal in scope and affectiveness. And is like the tiny mustard seed that grows monstrously large; or like new wine bursting the old wineskins and requiring new wineskins; or like the yeast in bread affecting all (sic, leavening all). God will not be denied.

Consequently, Emergent Christian theology affects many parts of the Christian story, church dogma and doctrine, practice and observation. And thus the effort to describing it here at this blogsite has been one of sharing all its many moving parts as it interweaves from one doctrinal thread to another creating a larger tapestry unappreciated until fully completed. Moreover, we should not expect past Christian ages to foretell the church's future history, unless of course, we wish to review the church in its many failures of living out God's love to the world and to each other at large. Certainly ecclesiastical hatreds and wars may continue, but it is hoped that the church is learning to be more Christlike, more sheeplike, more loving, kind, and wise. To bury the sword and restrike the ploughshare, to put on the breastplate of righteousness, with feet fitted with the gospel of peace (Eph. 6.14-15). That is the message of Emergent Christianity.

And with that, let us turn to the RSA animation along with several related articles to the topic at hand pertaining to global economics, the rescue of planet Earth, and the need to cooperate with one another. This is a very postmodern endeavor, do you not think?

R.E. Slater

February 15, 2013

*I have more recently been redescribing "Emergent Christianity" or "Emergent Theology" with the less kitschy title of "post-evangelical" as the former term of the 1990s has been falling away into general ecclesiastical disuse or evangelical abuse. [res, 4/2014]

Postscript -
*I chose "God's Solidarity with Humanity" as an example of Jurgen's Moltmann's Atonement Theory, which is one of six popular views of atonement theology. As such, I attempted to write with this redemptive theme in mind. Other popular atonement theories would be the penal subtitutionary atonement view popular among many Evangelical and Reformed churches, the union with God atonement theory, the ransom captive, moral exemplar, and Christus Victor atonement theologies. Tellingly, the latter is the more widely acclaimed orthodox view because of its vision of the Kingdom of God to come.

And if left to chose between either of the six atonement theologies I would not. For I do not find it necessary to chose one theology over the other as each brings something necessary to the burgeoning table of Christian theology. As such, it behooves us to live in tension with each aspiring claimant while keeping our hearts and minds open to the larger mosaic of God's fermenting redemption as it expands to fill all the world with His promise of renewal and reclamation.

RSA Animate - The Empathic Civilisation

The Huffington Post
re "The Third Industrial Age"

... Social scientists, in turn, are beginning to reexamine human history from an empathic lens and, in the process, discovering previously hidden strands of the human narrative which suggests that human evolution is measured not only by the expansion of power over nature, but also by the intensification and extension of empathy to more diverse others across broader temporal and spatial domains. The growing scientific evidence that we are a fundamentally empathic species has profound and far-reaching consequences for society, and may well determine our fate as a species....

... The new biosphere politics transcends traditional right/left distinctions so characteristic of the geopolitics of the modern market economy and nation-state era. The new divide is generational and contrasts the traditional top-down model of structuring family life, education, commerce, and governance with a younger generation whose thinking is more relational and distributed, whose nature is more collaborative and cosmopolitan, and whose work and social spaces favor open-source commons. For the Internet generation, "quality of life" becomes as important as individual opportunity in fashioning a new dream for the 21st century.

The transition to biosphere consciousness has already begun. All over the world, a younger generation is beginning to realize that one's daily consumption of energy and other resources ultimately affects the lives of every other human being and every other creature that inhabits the Earth.

The Empathic Civilization is emerging. A younger generation is fast extending its empathic embrace beyond religious affiliations and national identification to include the whole of humanity and the vast project of life that envelops the Earth. But our rush to universal empathic connectivity is running up against a rapidly accelerating entropic juggernaut in the form of climate change. Can we reach biosphere consciousness and global empathy in time to avert planetary collapse?


The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis is a 2010 non-fiction book written by Jeremy Rifkin. It connects the evolution of communication and energy development in civilizations with psychological and economic development in humans. Rifkin considers the latest phase of communication and energy regimes—that of electronic telecommunications and fossil fuel extraction—as bringing people together on the nation-state level based on democratic capitalism, but at the same time creating global problems, like climate change, pandemics, and nuclear proliferation. Rifkin extrapolates the observed trend into the future, predicting that Internet and mobile technology along with small-scale renewable energy commercialization will create an era of distributed capitalism necessary to manage the new energy regime and a heightened global empathy that can help solve global problems.

The book was published by Jeremy P. Tarcher Inc. as a hardcover in January 2010. It was noted as being well-researched and covering a significant breadth of academic fields. However, reviews were mixed; several reviewers found that while Rifkin provided a convincing overview of the development of empathy, he did not provide sufficient proof that increased empathy would necessarily bring people together to co-operatively solve global problems.

by Jeremy Rifkin

Review by Andrew
February 16th, 2011

Something intriguing is going on when an economist writes a book making a case for the importance of empathy in our lives. Jeremy Rifkin teaches at the Wharton Business School in America and leads the Foundation for Economic Trends. He teaches CEOs how to be better CEOs and has over 15 books to his name, including The Empathic Civilization.

Now, to further explore my current theme of Dissemination, I have four options for you nudging readers. Compare what you know of Rifkin’s message if you:

1. Judge the book by its title. (instantaneous)
2. Read the book. (the effort of finding the book and going through the 600+ pages)
3. Watch this video. (about 10 minutes)
4. Read the book review below from a hack. (that’s me)

Technical Bits

The scope of this book is enormous. In just over 600 pages, Rifkin tracks the course of human progress by describing a kind of map for the changes in our consciousness, our energy consumption and our communication revolutions. We are currently at a point where the level of trust between individuals needs to be so high that we require a system in place that will allow global consciousness to flourish, energy use to be less damaging, and access to information to be universal.

I’m a little jealous of this writer. He employed a phenomenal research team to compile, compress and check all the resources that were examined for this book (25 pages of tiny endnotes and a Bibliography boasting nearly 300 titles). But with the resources available to him, and the goal of explaining what we have all been doing here on planet Earth, he better be thorough in his work. I’m probably not qualified to evaluate the even-handedness or quality of the sources, but I would imagine some deep scrutiny would suggest there are opposing sources not suitably rebutted and rallying sources overused. Such is the nature of publishing…


Rifkin’s main point in this book is this:
At the very core of the human story is the paradoxical relationship between empathy and entropy. Throughout history new energy regimes have converged with new communication revolutions, creating ever more complex societies. More technologically advanced civilizations, in turn, have brought more diverse people together, heightened empathic sensitivity, and expanded human consciousness. But these increasingly more complicated milieus require more extensive energy use and speed us towards resource depletion.
The irony is that our growing empathic awareness has been made possible by an ever-greater consumption of the Earth’s energy and other resources, resulting in a dramatic deterioration of the health of the planet.
The book is separated into three parts, each with five chapters. There is a straightforward and concrete style to Rifkin’s writing. He isn’t trying to exaggerate his vocabulary or impress his reader with convoluted acrobatics. He wants the weight of the ideas to drive the message, I think. However, a lot of the sentences are long and strung together with many ‘and’s and ‘or’s. He puts lists and qualifications and histories together all in one thought. Maybe that’s the compromise that comes with his scope.

Part 1 is about rethinking what it means to be human, and Rifkin explores the different ideas that we have used through history to describe our ‘nature’. Also, he gives a detailed explanation of the history of psychology, showing how the narrative within that one discipline has changed so radically. Rifkin drops Latin descriptions of human beings throughout these chapters as a kind of teasing theme. He goes from homo erectus (the upright small-brain creature, to homo homini lupus (the savage beast to his fellows), to homo ludens (the playful character-actor) to what Rifkin refers to as homo empathicus (the emotionally literate, sharing collaborator).

The following chart is my attempt to summarize Rifkin’s breakdown of history:

He explains the relationships between the three as follows:
The convergence of energy and communications revolutions not only reconfigure society and social roles and relationships but also human consciousness itself. Communications revolutions change the temporal and spatial orientation of human beings and, by doing so, change the way the human brain comprehends reality. Oral cultures are steeped in mythological consciousness. Script cultures give rise to theological consciousness. Print cultures are accompanied by ideological consciousness, while early electricity cultures spawn psychological consciousness.
Each more sophisticated communication revolution brings together more diverse people in increasingly more expansive and dense social networks. By extending the central nervous system of each individual and the society as a whole, communications revolutions provide an ever more inclusive playing field for empathy to mature and consciousness to expand.
Rifkin is not trying to say there is some sort of ‘invisible hand’ at play here. Each of the listed types of consciousness, for example, can be found simultaneously in cultures throughout the world. He goes into great length on how the collapse of Rome created a long history of separate populations in Europe and stagnant technological growth. As well, very early on he discusses the importance of keeping in mind the universal law of entropy. What he is saying is that when the convergence happens, there is a shift in how we represent ourselves, how we understand ourselves, how much we come to trust others, and how we shape the direction of our ‘progress’.

Part 2 is about civilization. There are some brilliant micro-histories plotted out in this section — the shift from ‘we’ tribal identities to ‘I’ individual and citizen identities; the birth of recognizing individuals before the law instead of by familial ties; the history of relationships towards deities; slavery from Rome to Europe to America and its end; property and ownership from physical items to intellectual works; the introduction of privacy in personal lives; the birth of the chair in European furniture; the creation of childhood; how affection and romance entered and became an expectation in married life; the formation of nations and subsequent conscious construction of official languages for those nations; the rise of romance novels; the effects of radio and television on our consciousness, and more. And each time, Rifkin traces back to his main point, that our consumption of energy rises and our communication technologies become more sophisticated and our collective consciousness extends so that barriers between self and other and world dissolve and need re-interpretation. Rifkin also focuses on the writings of specific historical figures like St. Augustine and Jean-Jacques Rousseau in order to illustrate the changing nature of consciousness and self-identity.

I had to wonder if Rifkin was having some fun in this section. At one point he makes mention of the “nature of human nature”. When discussing the changes in consciousness of the late 1800s, he says it was the artists of the period that had the biggest impact on changing the “perspective on perspective.” If I ever meet Jeremy Rifkin at a social function or informal gathering, I would be tempted to ask him for his opinion on why academics feel the need to generate abstractions of… well… abstractions.

Part 3 is about today and tomorrow. Rifkin uses his research team’s collected statistics in great mass in this section. A lot is known numerically about today, after all. These chapters are written with a balance of caution and possibility. He spends a lot of time discussing the Millennial Generation (the population growing up never knowing a world without the Internet), and how they seem to be caught in a curious dialectic. They are the most sharing-oriented, socially conscious, and globally aware generation, while at the same time the most possession-driven, narcissistic, and self-consumed.

Rifkin seems to see these two directions playing out in the energy industries of the world as well. He uses his economics background in this section to describe just how much the world depends on fossil fuels, but his explanations come from the voice of a matter-of-fact teacher using general language and simple examples. He also mentions at length the emerging ‘intergrid’. Companies are using the Internet as a model for energy production, decentralized distribution and collaborative, non-hierarchical management.


Another one of Rifkin’s playful themes in the book can be seen in the derivations he finds for Descartes’ cogito ergo sum. This phrase is often translated as “I think therefore I am.” Thought, ergo some kind of existence. However, our psychological consciousness has brought us to a point where involvement becomes the key to our being. I participate, therefore I am. And in the present consciousness the individual expects rights of access and the free flow of information. The idea of embodied cognition and its growing application is important for Rifkin. With such interaction comes the idea that we change as much as we change the world also. I am involved, therefore I exist. Rifkin puts together philosophical tradition with psychological examination and emerging modern concepts over and over again in this book. And by doing so he paints a detailed picture of our very fluid, changing ‘natures’, but also our potential global direction.

In some ways, there is very little new in Rifkin’s The Empathic Civilization. But, he does bring it together with a new vision. And he brings a lot of it together. But as we all should know by now, a 600-page cinder block of a book does not always disseminate well. The vision can get lost, the anchor can be brought up, and the message can become so distorted that it cannot help but to look inconsistent or self-refuting.

Full disclosure: Yea, I’m a convert. I’m very tempted to use this one book for the rest of the year and devote the blog to spreading Rifkin’s ideas. There are so many specific things in this book that I want to chew on, so many directions to move in, but the constraints of a blog post are too limiting (I’m already 800 words over my self-imposed guideline for post-length).

Usually, if I agree too much with what I’m being told, that’s a sign for me to look deeper, find something. I haven’t found that yet in this book, except for some worries about the level of trust that is needed to achieve such a brave, bright, new empathic world. The book is somewhat too focused on European and American history. This may suggest a blind spot in his information – Asia might not want to play a part in the empathic game he has laid out. But then again, Asia’s progress may still fit in terms of energy use, communication technologies, and the debut of dramaturgical consciousness. After all, it was Asia that gave us the gift of karaoke…

For all the build-up, the end of Rifkin’s book didn’t deliver complete satisfaction for me. I was left with the sense that maybe we could pull ourselves into some global balance and fight off the jabberwocky of entropy for a while longer, but the amount of change necessary is tremendous. He’s banking on the malleability of human nature. As a result, this book is an amazing thought experiment on how we can be, how we can look at our history and what direction we can take. But that still leaves the door wide open for how we actually respond to living in the world.

I do want to trust everyone. I really really do. I want to believe in technology. I really do think it can save us, or at least make us aware enough to change. I do think understanding empathy is important and can heal the darker sides of our consciousness. The world Jeremy Rifkin sees possible is better than the world we have now, and the route he outlines might get us there.

But, I don’t know if we’re ready.

No comments:

Post a Comment