By Jeremy Rifkin 2010-03-26

The global economy has shattered. The fossil fuels that propelled an industrial revolution are running out and the infrastructure built with these energies is barely clinging to life. Worse, more than two centuries of rising carbon emissions now threaten us with catastrophic climate change.

If that were not enough, we face a massive loss of social trust in economic and political institutions. Everywhere people are venting their frustration and increasingly taking their anger to the streets.

What is happening to our world? The human race is in a twilight zone between a dying civilisation on life support and an emerging one trying to find its legs. Old identities are fracturing while new identities are too fragile to grasp. To understand our situation, we need to step back and ask: what constitutes a fundamental change in the nature of civilisation?

The great turning points occur when new, more complex energy regimes converge with communications revolutions, fundamentally altering human consciousness in the process. This happened in the late 18th century, when coal and steam power ushered in the industrial age. Print technology was vastly improved and became the medium to organise myriad new activities. It also changed the wiring of the human brain, leading to a great shift from theological to ideological consciousness. Enlightenment philosophers – with some exceptions – peered into the psyche and saw a rational creature obsessed with autonomy and driven by the desire to acquire property and wealth.

Today, we are on the verge of another seismic shift. Distributed information and communication technologies are converging with distributed renewable energies, creating the infrastructure for a third industrial revolution. Over the next 40 years, millions of buildings will be overhauled to collect the surrounding renewable energies. These energies will be stored in the form of hydrogen and any surplus electricity will be shared over continental inter-grids managed by internet technologies. People will generate their own energy, just as they now create their own information and, as with information, share it with millions of others.

The new communications revolution will, like its predecessor, change the way we think. We are in the early stages of a transformation from ideological consciousness to biosphere consciousness. Scientists and the public are realising that all life is deeply interdependent. The very way we live leaves a carbon footprint, affecting every other human, our fellow creatures and the earth we cohabit.

This new understanding goes hand-in-hand with discoveries in evolutionary biology, neuro-cognitive science and child development that reveal that human beings are biologically predisposed to be empathic. Our core nature is shown not to be rational, detached, acquisitive, aggressive and narcissistic, as Enlightenment philosphers claimed, but affectionate, highly social, co-operative and interdependent. Homo sapiens is giving way to homo empathicus.

Our new ideas about human nature throw into doubt many of the core assumptions of classical economic theory. Adam Smith argued that human nature inclines individuals to pursue self-interest in the market. Echoing Smith’s contention, Garrett Hardin wrote a celebrated essay more than 40 years ago entitled “The Tragedy of the Commons”. He suggested that co-operation in shared ventures inevitably fails because of the selfish human drives that invariably surface.

If this is universally true, how do we explain hundreds of millions of young people sharing creativity and knowledge in collaborative spaces such as Wikipedia and Linux? The millennial generation is celebrating the global commons every day, apparently unmindful of Hardin’s warning. For millennials, the notion of collaborating to advance the collective interest in networks often trumps “going it alone” in markets.

This generation increasingly views happiness in terms of “quality of life”, forcing a fundamental reappraisal of property rights. We think of property as the right to exclude others from something. But property has also meant the right of access to goods held in common – the right to navigate waterways, enjoy public parks and beaches, and so on. This second definition is particularly important now because quality of life can only be realised collectively – for example, by living in unpolluted environments and safe communities. In the new era, the right to be included in “a full life” – the right to access – becomes the most important “property value.”

The shift from self-interest in national markets to shared interest on the biosphere commons, and the corresponding shift in property from the right to exclude others to the right to be included in global networks, is facilitating a vast extension in empathic consciousness.

In the earlier industrial revolution characterised by ideological consciousness and nation-state governance, Americans empathised with Americans, British with British, Chinese with Chinese and so on. What is required now, at the cusp of the third industrial revolution, is an empathic leap beyond national boundaries to biosphere boundaries. We need to empathise as a global family living in a shared biosphere if our species is to survive and flourish.

The writer’s latest book is The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis. This article has been adapted from an address prepared for the British Royal Society for the Arts

作者:畅销书作家 杰里米•里夫金 为英国《金融时报》撰稿 2010-03-26







这种新的认识与人们在进化生物学、神经认知科学和儿童发育领域的发现吻合——这些发现显示,从生物学角度讲,人类很容易产生共鸣。人类所表现出来的最根本的天性,并不像启蒙哲学家所称的那样是理性、冷漠、贪婪、侵略性和自恋的,而是关爱、高度社会性、合作和互相依存的。现代人(Homo sapiens)正让步于“同感人”(Homo empathicus)。

关于人性的新理念,让经典经济学理论中的许多核心假说遭到了质疑。亚当•斯密(Adam Smith)认为,人性促使人在市场中追求私利。作为对其论点的响应,加勒特•哈丁(Garrett Hardin)在40多年前写了一篇著名的论文:《公地悲剧》(The Tragedy of the Commons)。他表示,合资企业中的合作必然会以失败告终,因为人类自私的天性总会占上风。





本文作者的新书为《The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis》。本文改编自作者为英国皇家艺术学会(British Royal Society for the Arts)准备的一篇演讲稿。