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

呼唤人性的集体意识
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

全球经济已满目疮痍。推动了工业革命的化石燃料正逐渐枯竭,用这些能源建造的基础设施勉强维持着运转。更糟糕的是,两个多世纪以来不断增长的碳排放,如今威胁着要给人类带来灾难性的气候变化。

如果这还不够的话,我们还面临着社会公众对经济政治机构信任的集体丧失。世界各地的民众都在表达着自己的挫折感,并越来越多地走上街头,发泄心中怒火。

当今世界怎么了?人类正处在两种文明的交替处,一面是进入暮年、苟延残喘的文明,一面是逐渐兴起、尚未立足的文明。旧的身份认同正在瓦解,而新的身份认同又太过脆弱,让人难以捕捉。要想了解自己的处境,我们必须退后一步问:是什么构成了文明本质的根本改变?

只有当更为复杂的新能源体系与通信革命融合时,才会出现重大的转折点,在此过程中从根本上改变人类意识。18世纪末出现过一次转折——当时,煤和蒸汽动力开创了工业时代。印刷术得到了极大的改进,成为了组织无数新活动的传播媒介。这项技术还改变了人类大脑的神经网络,引发了人类从神学到思想意识的巨大转变。启蒙哲学家们(除了个别例外)开始探寻人的灵魂深处,发现了一个执着于自主、并受到攫取财产和财富之贪欲驱动的理性动物。

如今,我们又面临着下一次重大转变。分布式的信息和通讯技术,正与分布式的可再生能源融合,为第三次工业革命创建基础设施。未来40年,无数房屋将得到改造,以收集周围的可再生能源。这些能源将以氢的形式储存起来,一切多余的电能都将通过由互联网技术管理、覆盖整个大陆的互联电网共享。人们将自行生产能源,就像他们现在创建自己的信息,并与无数的人共享一样。

与上一次革命一样,新的通信革命将改变我们思考的方式。我们正处在从思想意识转型到生物圈意识的早期阶段。科学家和公众逐渐意识到,一切生命都是高度相互依存的。我们的生活方式会留下碳足迹,从而影响到其他每一个人、其它各种生物、以及我们共同栖居的地球。

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。

如果这是个普遍真理,那我们该如何解释无数的年轻人在维基百科(Wikipedia)或Linux之类的协同空间里分享创造力和知识呢?千禧一代显然对哈丁的警告不以为然,每天都在颂扬全球“公地”。对于千禧一代而言,在网络中通过协作来提升集体利益,常常压倒在市场上“单枪匹马”的观念。

这代人越来越多地用“生活品质”来衡量幸福,促使人们从根本上重新评估物权。在我们的思维中,物权是排除他人支配某物的权利。但财产还意味着有权使用公共财产——有通行权的航道、享受公园及公共海滩等等。后一个定义尤其重要,因为生活品质只能集体实现——例如,生活在未受污染的环境和安全的社区里。在新时代,被纳入“完整生活”的权利(即使用权)成了最重要的“资产价值”。

从在全国市场追逐私利,到在生物圈“公地”共享利益的转变,以及从排他权到被纳入全球网络的权利的对应转变,推动了共鸣意识的大范围伸展。

在以思想意识和民族国家治理为特征的以往工业革命中,无论是美国人、还是英国人或中国人,都只会与本国人产生共鸣。在第三次工业革命初见端倪之际,人类需要的是在共鸣方面超越国家界限,扩展至整个生物圈范畴。人类要想生存并繁荣下去,就必须像生活在同一个生物圈的全球大家庭那样,学会共鸣。

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。

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