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Gnomon
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PostSubject: Empathy versus Entropy   Thu Dec 01, 2011 4:27 pm

I'm currently reading the latest book by Jeremy Rifkin, The Empathic Civilization. In the Introduction he says, << We are on the cusp, I believe, of an epic shift into a "climax" global economy and a fundamental repositioning of human life on the planet. The Age of Reason is being eclipsed by the Age of Empathy. >> He retells history in terms of a paradoxical and dialectical relationship between Empathy and Entropy. He doesn't make it explicit, but I think of Empathy, in this context, as a form of psychic energy; metaphorically a bonding force that holds conscious beings together into a social group against the disintegrating forces of nature, summarized as Entropy.

From the book jacket : << Rifkin describes the emergence of a new economic system---the Third Industrial Revolution---that is ushering in an era of "distributed capitalism" and the beginning of biosphere consciousness. >> In chapter one he says, << . . . the very term "empathy" didn't become part of the human vocabulary until 1909---about the same time that modern psychology began to explore the internal dynamics of the unconscious and consciousness itself. . . . The precursor to empathy was the word "sympathy" . . . Unlike sympathy, which is more passive, empathy conjures up active engagement . . . >>

In the chapter on Cosmopolitan Rome and the Rise of Christianity, he summarizes the rise & fall of the Roman Empire in a new light : << . . . it is a classic example of a recurring theme in history, where the synergies created by a new energy and communications regime facilitate more complex social arrangements, which in turn, provide the context for a qualitative change in human consciousness. . . . played out in a dialectic between a rising empathic surge and a growing entropy deficit. >>


The book
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PostSubject: Re: Empathy versus Entropy   Fri Dec 02, 2011 9:08 am

I don't know... Based on what I've seen lately I think we may be heading for a period of entropy.

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PostSubject: Re: Empathy versus Entropy   Fri Dec 02, 2011 5:22 pm

Aaron wrote:
I don't know... Based on what I've seen lately I think we may be heading for a period of entropy.
Sounds like you need cheering up. Read the book, it'll place social & economic Entropy in a new light. Remember, it's always darkest just before dawn. According to Rifkin, it's always Entropiest just before a resurgence of Empathy.
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PostSubject: Re: Empathy versus Entropy   Fri Dec 02, 2011 8:39 pm

Like WWII?

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PostSubject: Re: Empathy versus Entropy   Mon Dec 05, 2011 4:17 pm

Aaron wrote:
Like WWII?
Ouch! You do need cheering up.

If it's any consolation, I recently saw an article which labeled the Cold War, and associated client-state wars, as WWIII, which like WWII was merely a new phase of the previous war. So now we are in the post-war phase of that recent widespread unpleasantness. Ironically, as our ability to wage wider wars increases, so does our ability to wage peace (empathetic interactions, such as mutually beneficial business dealings) on a global scale.

Actually, Rifkin's theory has little to do with sporadic outbreaks of overt violence. It's more about our individual and collective methods for dealing with the us-versus-other problem. Primitive extended families had little empathy for other wandering families, until they eventually merged into tribes, then into city states, then into multi-city kingdoms, then into Imperial nations, and so forth. We may now be in the early stages of a global tribalism with empathy and antipathy that crosses ancient borders.


Basically, the book is about the evolution of social, economic, and religious beliefs & behaviors. Who do we accept as "us", and who do we exclude as "other"? Rifkin provides the historical & scholarly facts & details to fill in the gaps of our intuition about how we got to the situation we now find ourselves in; and perhaps how we can alter our collective course into the future.
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PostSubject: Re: Empathy versus Entropy   Mon Dec 05, 2011 11:48 pm

It sounds similar to Spiral Dynamics.

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PostSubject: Re: Empathy versus Entropy   Wed Dec 07, 2011 3:37 pm

so does empathy hold herd or pack animals together?
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PostSubject: Re: Empathy versus Entropy   Wed Dec 07, 2011 5:10 pm

michael1111 wrote:
so does empathy hold herd or pack animals together?
Yes, but. Herding animals, especially big-brained ones like elephants, display obvious signs of empathy toward their herd-mates. The author refers to the recent discovery of "mirror neurons" in the limbic system of animals. << Mirror neurons allow humans---and other animals---to grasp the minds of others " as if" their thoughts and behavior were their own.>> In other words, when I see you suffering, I feel your pain, and when you are excited, I feel the same joy or panic.

However, in human animals those feelings may be expressed in much more subtle behaviors, even in the language of poetry. The highest expression of empathy is Love, but the particular form of Empathy the author focuses on is Altruism, the behavior that binds people into mutually supportive groups, including business associations. As the circle of altruism expands over time, the more "others" come under the umbrella of fellow feeling; theoretically. And now, with the advent of the internet, even people we know only as digital abstractions can be trusted to interact altruistically, and predictably.

But there are always a few predators around, who treat herding behavior as a sign of weakness, an easy exploit. So outside the Garden of Eden we must keep one eye on our empathic fellows, and one on the antipathic others stalking around the herd. pig cat
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PostSubject: Re: Empathy versus Entropy   Wed Dec 07, 2011 6:04 pm

but cannot empathy lead us to divide? i don't see it as necessarily a thing to pull us together. we might empathize with the plight of somebody and join them in a show of solidarity, but against whom?
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PostSubject: Re: Empathy versus Entropy   Thu Dec 08, 2011 2:32 pm

michael1111 wrote:
but cannot empathy lead us to divide? i don't see it as necessarily a thing to pull us together. we might empathize with the plight of somebody and join them in a show of solidarity, but against whom?
Yes. Actually that may be the underlying problem that Rifkin is addressing. People have always behaved altruistically toward family, tribe, religion, etc. But they have also tended to make moral distinctions between our-tribe & outlanders, Jews & Gentiles, Sunnis & Shiites, etc. For example, the Medieval Jews were forbidden to charge interest on loans to fellow Jews, but they were allowed to profit from loans to gentiles. Since Medieval Christians also viewed Usury as a sin against their fellow tribesmen, some Jews quickly got rich by lending to kings and popes.

Nevertheless, the book illustrates with copious facts that there is also a distinct evolutionary trend toward expanding the definition of "us" to include more and more of "them" (other tribes) under the umbrella of altruism. However, the European Union is an example of the current imperfect situation. Although officially unified at the upper levels, when the economy gets tough, the tribal instincts kick in, and the circle of altruism gets smaller & tighter on the lower levels of society. Rifkin uses the analogy of thermodynamic Entropy as the destructive divisive force of Antipathy in history, which is countered by what I call creative "Enformy" as the constructive uniting force of Empathy. Yet I don't think that G*D is directly guiding the course of history, but merely set the thermostat, then allowed hot & cold to oscillate in a self-choreographed dance of creation.

"Against whom?" That depends on how you define "us" and "them". Sunnis and Shiites are both followers of the prophet Mohammed, and both are antipathetic toward Jews, who are fellow descendants of Abraham. But in war-ripped Iraq, again the tribal herding instinct sets fellow Islamists at each-other's throats. However, if Rifkin is correct, at some point in the future those ancient dividing scars may fade as globalizing economic interests make allies of former enemies.
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PostSubject: Re: Empathy versus Entropy   Thu Dec 08, 2011 3:33 pm

actually, after i sent this i realized that regardless of the side it's all the same game.

i might root for the underdog but i'm making noise for the dog.
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PostSubject: Re: Empathy versus Entropy   Mon Dec 12, 2011 10:49 pm

DEIST SENSE & SENSIBILITY

One reason I posted about The Empathic Civilization on this forum is that I thought a history of the evolutionary expansion of social inclusiveness might also reveal some of the emotional & intellectual impetus behind the modern Deist movement. I had already surmised that what we now call "Deism" is a gradually emerging philosophical perspective that has been a long time coming, and that it embodies two contradictory reactions to previous worldviews that ironically feed off each other.

In the chapter on The Romantic Era, the author says : << The Romantic movement was a reaction to the Enlightenment fixation on Reason.>> Which was itself a reaction to the Medieval suppression of independent Reason under ecclesiastical authority. So it seems that these alternating waves of "Sense & Sensibility" have continued down to this day. Referring to the Romantic impulse behind the French Revolution, he noted that it was << a movement that would come to challenge virtually all of the assumptions of the Age of Reason.>>

During the Enlightenment era, the ascendance of Reason had replaced the political intrigues of a Divine Kingdom on Earth with an abstract mechanistic worldview, where God was more like an aloof Engineer. Then came the emotional Romantic backlash which preferred to think of the world in concrete and organic terms. << It found inspiration in nature rather than in mathematics and eschewed the Enlightenment philosopher's description of a distant watchmaker God who would up the universe, set it in motion, and then remained aloof. . . . In the Romantic cosmology, God was less the creator of nature than its soul.>> In essence, they << chose to elevate nature, endowing it with supernatural qualities.>>

Some of this may sound familiar, because Modern Deism is still dealing with those same two antithetical worldviews. Under the ecumenical umbrella of internet Deism, we now have Pagans and Wiccans who identify with the down-to-earth and back-to-nature approach to religion, and also Rational Deists who object to the sentimentalities and superstitions of less rigorous religious beliefs. It remains to be seen whether these partly parallel and partly opposing forces can be resolved into a single stream of religious understanding and practice. Can Sense & Sensibility unite or simply coexist? confused

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PostSubject: Re: Empathy versus Entropy   Fri Dec 16, 2011 4:25 pm

In the Romantic Era chapter of The Empathic Civilization, I just came across a description of the brief historical period referred to as "The European Revolutions of 1848" or "The Springtime of the Peoples", Wiki - Revolutions of 1848 :
<< The Romantic era peaked in the flush of revolutionary euphoria that swept over the capitals of Europe in the spring of 1848. . . . The insurrection came in the wake of several years of poor harvests, a continent-wide recession, and banking panic. . . . Only months later however, the Romantic vision the young revolutionaries fought for lay decimated in the streets. . . . In 1968, young revolutionaries of the baby-boom generation would take to the same streets in Paris as well as Washington, DC, Berlin, and cities around the world, their cries echoing the sentiments of their comrades 120 years earlier.>>

I don't remember being taught in school about the << . . . only continent-wide revolution in European history.>> Is it true that those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it?

Now, 43 years later, we have world-wide recessions, banking panics, droughts & floods, springtime of the Arabs, and young romantics "occupying" Wall Street. Should we expect those peaceful romantics to turn into violent revolutionaries if their vision of a more equitable society is not realized? Crying or Very sad


“We learn nothing from history except that we learn nothing from history.”
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PostSubject: Re: Empathy versus Entropy   Sat Dec 17, 2011 2:04 pm

They've already turned violent in many corners of the world.

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PostSubject: Re: Empathy versus Entropy   Thu Dec 29, 2011 6:13 pm

Aaron wrote:
I don't know... Based on what I've seen lately I think we may be heading for a period of entropy.
Chapter 12 is titled : The Planetary Entropic Abyss. So the author shares your pessimism for the near future. But chapter 15 is, Biosphere Consciousness in a Climax Economy. So Rifkin is still hopeful that we, collectively, will find a way to leap the looming abyss.

In chapter 14 he says, << But if human progress has, up to now, required a continuous increase in entropy to feed a growing empathic sensibility, is the race destined to end in the ultimate human tragedy---finally arriving at biosphere consciousness in the end days of human civilization? >> After raising the likelihood that Entropy (dissolution, despair) could eventually overcome Empathy (expansion, hope), he answers his own question with a hopeful projection of his Empathic thesis. << But there is also another possibility---that we may be approaching the end of this long stage in human history and the beginning of a wholly new journey.>>

When I get to the final chapter, I'll report on his notion of "Biosphere Consciousness". I don't think he means anything like the Global Consciousness of New Age philosophies, but that remains to be seen.


Empathy = social, psychological, economic & ecological expansion of inclusivity

Entropy = the hidden costs of building and maintaining those burgeoning economic and emotional bonds.
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PostSubject: Re: Empathy versus Entropy   Fri Dec 30, 2011 3:17 pm

I do believe in evolutionary consciousness (that consciousness evolves through stages of development) and that it has the ability to manifest itself at an inter-subjective group/social level, however I don't believe it happens uniformly within society. IMO there will always be segments of society that are less evolved than others.

Has the author addressed hierarchy at all? Also has the author addressed what the physical "objective" correlate of the subjective feeling of Empathy is?

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PostSubject: Re: Empathy versus Entropy   Mon Jan 02, 2012 7:28 pm

Aaron wrote:

Has the author addressed hierarchy at all? Also has the author addressed what the physical "objective" correlate of the subjective feeling of Empathy is?
In the next chapter, that I haven't read yet, he mentions that human societies are beginning to evolve from a hierarchical industrial model toward a non-hierarchical collaborative networked model similar to the internet. I'll have to get back to you on the "physical correlate" of empathy. But here's a possibly relevant quote: << The idea of embodied experience takes us past the Age of Faith and the Age of Reason and into the Age of Empathy. >> Meanwhile, back to economics . . .

<< The price for maintaining a global economy on the shoulders of increasing consumer debt, however, has been the depletion of American family savings. . . . the United States is now a failed economy. >> The book was published in 2009, before the failed states of Europe began to sink into the abyss of bankruptcy.

<< . . . the global economy continued to expand by depleting the accumulated American savings reaped during the forty-year growth spurt of the Second Industrial Revolution that began at the end of World War II and ran its course by the late 1980s. . . . We now face a new phenomenon. It's called "peak globalization", and it occurred at around $147 per barrel. Beyond this point, inflation creates a firewall to continued economic growth.>> Note : current crude = $98 - $107 http://www.oil-price.net/

But then he looks on the brighter side, and forecasts what he calls "Distributed Capitalism", as a model for the next economic phase, based on information technology and renewable energy rather than fossil fuels. << The use of distributed information and communications technology, as the command and control mechanism to organize and manage distributed energy, ushers in a powerful Third Industrial Revolution with an economic multiplier effect that should extend well into the second half of the twenty-first century and beyond.>>
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