Take a look at this (10 minute) YouTube video, narrated by Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Empathic Civilization:
Is such an expansion of our empathy a likely evolutionary outcome? It would be easy to point to examples of entrenchment and tribal-like attachment to our self-identified group. Genocide still persists across the globe; jingoism is commonplace; and to this day U.S. news reports consistently tell us how many Americans were killed in natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and plane crashes when they happen outside of our borders, as if American lives are more important than other lives; as if we Americans all care more about American lives.
As someone who has always found this news reporting bizarre, even as a child; who was just as dismayed by people starving in Ethiopia as by homeless people on the streets of New York where I grew up; and who could not understand why so many people thought it was fine to abuse (and then eat) pigs but not dogs and cows but not cats, Rifkin’s Empathic Civilization made perfect sense to me. I watched with that proverbial “aha” when someone articulates what has felt like an unspoken truth one has held for decades.
But I’m well aware that not everyone feels as I do. Will the empathic civilization be the direction we head, or will such potentially looming dangers as growing human population and limited food, water, and other necessary resources; peak oil; climate change refugees, and so on, cause us to become more identified with the “in group,” more tribal, more hostile to the perceived “other”?
At the same time as so many people in so many nations are expanding their empathy in an interconnected world; as racism, jingoism, sexism, classism, and homophobia diminish in pockets across the globe, we still talk about competing with other nations for power and still watch as age-old hatreds seem never to be resolved.
But I believe that we are indeed moving toward the empathic civilization Rifkin describes, and that one day we might actually create the Star Trek world I’ve yearned for every since I watched my first Star Trek episode at age 13 — a world in which our nations are at peace, prejudices have vanished, and we are explorers rather than conquerors.
Zoe Weil, author of Most Good, Least Harm
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