The Empathic Civilization

Fascinating stuff:

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  • Barbara

    Could the guy have stuck to MRI instead of starting a new religion? Where is his proof that the soft wiring of a medieval peasant was different from our own? Any evidence he or she lacked empathy?
    Any evidence that human beings have changed physiologically in any way, shape, or form since the Middle Ages?
    In other words you lack empathy and are a totally, I mean, totally, mean person if you fail to swallow AWG and save the planet.
    Another fascinating attempt to claim a scientific basis for an ideology.
    Does a great job in pointing out what we already know – children raised in violent, abusive homes torture animals and go one to do nasty things to other people.

  • lethargic

    What is anti-all-humanity-empathy about the teachings of Christ?

    I don’t think the word means what he thinks it means. The word empathy really doesn’t apply between species or across larger divides (the whooolllle eeeeaaaarth). That might be sympathy or sensitivity, but not empathy or compassion.

  • kmk

    If we are evolving empathetically, then how come the global push for abortion?

  • anonymous_coward

    “There is no empathy in heaven”

    hmmm…why is this video on a catholic blog? Is it to teach is to empathize with our secular brethren?

  • http://sailorette.blogspot.com Foxfier

    He seems to be defining “empathy” as “feels pain when something else is damaged.”

    What a very limited way to look at the world….

  • Greta

    Empathy is simply another word used for control by the left. If you have empathy, of course you must love taxes. If you have empathy, you must accept the gay lifestyle. If you have empathy for women, you have to accept abortion. If you have empathy, you have to accept global cooling warming climate change. If you have empathy, you cannot condemn the Islamic terrorists because they are part of the family of the religion of peace and there can be no profiling.

    It is interesting in mid stream he talks about heaven as a place which cannot have empathy. I think that heaven is the one place where you can afford to have empathy because God will have screened out those who define empathy with gay lifestyle, abortion, and the other earth driven control factors that the left uses empathy to define.

  • John Dickerson

    I assume this is the same Jeremy Rifkin who has been annoying me for the last 35 years: link

  • http://www.zazzle.com/shanasfo shana

    “hmmm…why is this video on a catholic blog? Is it to teach is to empathize with our secular brethren?”

    My guess would be that if we only chatted about things we agreed with on Catholic sites, we’d have precious little with which to engage these kinds of debates and ideas with real persons when the occasion arises. I appreciate being clued into the next new secular ideas. I’ll be sideswiped with it soon enough among my secular-minded friends and it is nice have thought things through in advance.

    I don’t know about you, but it is always easier for me to rise to an occasion intelligently when I’ve had ample time to mull over and consider something thoroughly before the occasion arises. ;)

  • NanB

    Interesting video. My only question- if there is no empathy in heaven why has Our Lady appeared on earth so many times?

  • Steve Colby

    Fascinating indeed. The Evolutionary Biology aspects are interesting (monkey brains light up when they see me eat lunch). HOWEVER (comma) when the speaker talks of saving our species and saving our planet, and asks “Why stop here?”, it is as if the previous 60,000 of human evolution were only possible by the dedicated efforts of the Royal Society.

    We need to “rethink the institutions of society and prepare the groundwork for an empathic civilization.” It sounds Utopian – but there is no empathy in Utopia.

  • http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/ Patrick Armstrong

    Seems to be a lot erected on rather little.

  • Alan

    After the Haiti earthquake “the entire human race was in empathic embrace.”… Really? Or was it mostly the evil industrialized west which responded. Just asking.

  • Anniebird

    Liked the illustrations!

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Considering the horrible history of the 20th Century, the evidence would lead one to believe that we’re losing empathy, and compassion for our fellow man, not gaining it.

    20th Century style carnage, wiping out whole classes of people because they stand in the way of progress, or are “untermenschen”, would have appalled people of earlier times, even most of the warlike ones!

    (The Mongols, Aztecs and ancient Assyrians would probably have been okay with it.)

  • Alexander S. Anderson

    I’m guessing that when he states that there’s no empathy in Heaven, he’s drawing from a Protestant worldview in which there is no purgatory and those who are in Heaven have no contact with their fellows back on Earth. From the Catholic viewpoint, the Church Triumphant shows its empathy to those suffering on Earth or in Purgatory.

  • JDC

    Hoo boy. Cleanup time:

    Barbara: There actually have been quite a few physiological differences between humanity now and humanity 500+ years ago. Small things, mostly; we’re larger on average, for one example. Gradual changes in physical inputs such as diet have brought on other chemical and microbial changes, too, but this is not relevant to anything in the video. “Soft-wiring” does not refer to physiological changes, but cultural and psychosocial changes, which are undeniable.

    Also, your last point is inaccurate. Though many violent tendencies can constitute learned behaviors and constitute part of a larger cycle, it’s not the only factor at work. Some of the very kindest people I know happen to have been victims of childhood abuse. Since you are interested in MRI technology, I would recommend that you take some time to look up the differences in both the physiology and activity of the brain of an actual born sociopath.

    Not sure where your remarks about climate change come into this, also, but again, if physical data is your number one concern, you should be pretty eager to address the larger problems at hand, vis-a-vis climate change.

    lethargic: Unfortunately, you are incorrect; empathy is, most simply put, being able to put yourself into another’s shoes. There is no part of that which limits expressions thereof to a particular phenotype.

    anonymous coward: It surprised me, too. I guess sometimes there is something to be said for getting perspectives outside of one’s usual milieu. :)

    Or, as Shana pointed out, I guess you can view this as an opportunity to gird up for war, or produce rhetorical antibodies or what-have-you. To each his own!

    Foxfier: Actually, that is just one aspect of empathy. If it seems like a limited view, it’s because you appear to have come away with a limited view of the subject in particular.

    Alan: Yeah, pretty much. Sucks to be one of those non-industrialized nations. “Good luck on your decision to be poor,” am I right? Also, I found “Mark 12:41-44″ written on a dollar today. What do you suppose it means?

  • CEP3

    The quote Barbara was addressing is at 5:14:

    “We know that consciousness changes in history.”
    The way our brain is wired today is not the way a medieval serf’s brain would be wired, and their brain wouldn’t be the same as the wiring of a forager hunter 30,000 years ago.

    The main part of Barbara’s question was:
    “Where is his proof that the soft wiring of a medieval peasant was different from our own? Any evidence he or she lacked empathy?”

    That question remains unanswered. (Calling it “undeniable” doesn’t do the job.)

    We don’t have the actual brains of the ancients to study, but what we do have is the output of those brains. This is why I doubt we are wired so differently at all:

    When you read the classics of Ancient Greece, or the plays of Shakespeare, or the desperate cries of the Psalms, are you struck by how foreign and strange the emotions and behaviors are? Are you baffled by the joy, the sorrow, the fear, the love, the self-loathing, the jealousy, the humility, and the arrogance, etc…that you find? Or, like me, are you struck to the core and engaged deeply because YOU HAVE FELT THE SAME THINGS as many of those ancient characters? (Dare I say, empathized with them?)

    The illustrations only serve to further prove the point. (I don’t know what input the speaker has or doesn’t have, but the point remains.) When it comes to the three archetypes and how they are wired, the drawings distinguish thusly:

    hunter-forager: belonging, sex, food, shelter
    medieval man: food, social position, god
    modern man: coffee, apps, football

    Once again, I completely understand that the illustrations are meant to be humorous, as well as informative. Still:

    “Belonging, sex, food, and shelter”

    This is the hunter-forager. Can you honestly say that this list evolved even one iota over the millennia?

    “Food, social position, god”

    Food is still there, but somehow sex fell off the list. I guess the medieval folks just weren’t wired that way. Social position and god? Some might call that… belonging!

    “Apps, football, and coffee”

    Come on. We’re not wired for those things. They just got invented and we like them. What are we wired for? Well, I think a good list might go like this:

    “Belonging, sex, food, and shelter”

    It is an interesting video, and an interesting argument. But this “different soft-wiring theory” is a major premise, and a glaring weakness – never a good combination.

  • http://sailorette.blogspot.com Foxfier

    JDC
    Foxfier: Actually, that is just one aspect of empathy.

    Exactly why I pointed out that his use was oddly limited.

  • anonymous_coward

    @shana and JDC:

    The blog post has the subtitle “Fascinating stuff:” leading one to believe that the poster believes/admires what is said in the video. Every Catholic should recognize this as the falsehoods that it is and not consider it fascinating.

    “Homosexuality: Fascinating stuff:”
    “Abortion: Fascinating stuff:”

    Not!

    [I'm not going to apologize for, or go into in-depth discussion on every video I find interesting enough to post. "Interesting" is just that: interesting. I was unaware that as a Catholic I was supposed to close my mind and refuse to so much as listen to other people explore their ideas and theories, whether I agree with them, or not. I find many things "fascinating" that I do not, ultimately, subscribe to. There are all kinds of ideas out there, and I find it useful to be aware of them. My experience as a Catholic has been that all ideas are up for discussion, but there is only one truth. Your miles may vary. You, of course, are free to dislike any or all of my videos and to dismiss them as "not fascinating at all." But if you're going to imply anything at all about my faithfulness, anonymous coward, I suggest you will ultimately be saying more about yourself than about me -admin]

  • JDC

    Cep3: Your points are well-received, but I find them ultimately a bit… reductionistic. You’re primarily looking at this from the most primitive of perspectives, i.e. that which constitutes our animal consciousness. Our social consciousness is considerably more complex and nuanced, and the thing that has changed the most.

    Again, this comes down to the phrase “soft-wiring.” Here’s a basic rundown of the difference. “Belonging, sex, food, and shelter” are more of the hard-wired, instinctive needs – the lower echelons of the famous Hierarchy of Needs put forth by Maslow. What HAS changed is our reason, by way of an ever-evolving view of the world through the lenses of countless cultures, faiths, and scientific specialties, and the syntheses between them all.

    The result is a sequence of snapshots depicting civilizations with a different set of high-brain structures and priorities. Just to give an example, mirroring the expansion of the social unit that Rifkin briefly discussed, our very concept of time, particularly oriented towards “the future,” has grown with us. The hunter-gatherer never sat around wondering when we’d have hoverboards and heads-up displays built into our sunglasses. Indeed, his conception of the future extended roughly to “survive long enough to see the tribe grow.” Even the agrarian serf had no idea that the world could be more than it was, but the concept of future-cognizance was already a bit more nuanced – long-term political and agricultural repercussions were becoming comprehensible, and curious minds were building upon millennia of folk wisdom to make their immediate fiefdom or valley civilization operate as efficiently as possible. It’s not to say that the hunter-gatherer didn’t have an innate capacity to learn about things like irrigation and soil-tilling and a metal-based trade economy, but that such a thing was utterly alien to his very episteme.

    The way things are interpreted, the system of priorities and social structures, these make for very different sorts of consciousness, with vastly different views of human society, the world around us, our place within it, and the potential for what may yet be. That is what I am saying by undeniable. To say that these differences are not significant would be as absurd on its face as saying “all cultures are the same,” and disregarding entirely factors ranging from epistemology to ethics to aesthetics to social structures, etc.

  • CEP3

    In his classic work “Orthodoxy”, Chesterton begins by speaking of a fictional “…English yachtsman who slightly miscalculated his course and discovered England under the impression that it was a new island in the South Seas.”

    He goes on to say that, in his discovery of universal truths, he is just like that yachtsman.

    “I am the man who with the utmost daring discovered what had been discovered before… for this book explains how I fancied I was the first to set foot in Brighton and then found I was the last. … I am the fool of this story… I did, like all other solemn little boys, try to be in advance of the age. Like them I tried to be some ten minutes in advance of the truth. And I found that I was eighteen hundred years behind it. I did strain my voice with a painfully juvenile exaggeration in uttering my truths. And I was punished in the fittest and funniest way, for I have kept my truths: but I have discovered, not that they were not truths, but simply that they were not mine. When I fancied that I stood alone I was really in the ridiculous position of being backed up by all Christendom.”

    To me, Mr. Rifkin, is very much like that yachtsman. He’s landed upon what he thinks is new ground, He just hasn’t yet learned that it’s already settled, and that it’s called Christendom.

    At 4:37, he asserts, “There is no empathy in heaven. I guarantee you. I’ll tell you before you get there.”

    Why?

    “Because there’s no mortality…because there’s no suffering.”

    Well, that might be a good point. But, what about this. What if the God in heaven, came down to earth, and was incarnated. What if he then experienced, fully, both mortality and suffering? Is empathy then allowed in heaven?

    Later, Rifkin speaks of the evolution of empathy. At first only shared within and tribes and common blood, it was later expanded to “a new fiction”: religious ties. He lists, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as three similar examples of faiths that withheld empathy from “the other”. The next “fiction” that divided was the concept of nation-states.

    Once again, there is another possible analysis:

    Judaism, did stress an empathy primarily within the group. In fact, in the Old Testament, it could be still be considered a ‘tribal’ unit, based on blood. The revolution of Christianity was that it DID NOT RESERVE EMPATHY only for other Christians. It still doesn’t. Judaism, has long been the same way. Certainly, treatment of the non-believer is debatable within strains of Islam, but within the teachings of Christianity, a global, non-selective empathy is undeniable.

    Salvation is offered TO ALL.

    Romans 5:18 – “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.”

    Matthew 28:19 – “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…

    Furthermore, empathy, love, concern, right-action were, and are, demanded FOR ALL – even for those who made Christians their enemy.

    Luke 6:27-31 – “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

    Mr. Rifkin’s global brand of empathy, is perhaps not as new a concept as he imagines.

    At 9:28 Rifkin announces, “Guess what. We all came from two people, the Bible got this one right.”

    As far as I can see, everything Rifkin got right, the Bible already had right. Meanwhile, everything he added to that, he got wrong. Empathy is not our “core nature” – selfish sinfulness is. Empathy is not repressed by parents, and education, and government. Just the opposite, it is parents who attempt to instill empathy in a child – a child who cries, not only when another child cries, but when that other child has a bigger cookie that he does.

    We do not have to “re-think the human narrative” (9:56). It’s been perfectly thought out, and revealed, by it’s Author. And, unsurprisingly, any truth we happen upon, was already there.

    Once again, as Chesterton learned, “I have kept my truths: but I have discovered, not that they were not truths, but simply that they were not mine. When I fancied that I stood alone I was really in the ridiculous position of being backed up by all Christendom.”

  • JDC

    anonymous_coward: What do you mean? What in particular do you find to be so glaringly false (and thus not interesting)?

    Also – and this is just me throwing out my two cents – I find that virtually everything is fascinating, if you approach it with the right mindset. Exploring the ethical ramifications of abortion, for example? Plenty there to consider, how could so important a topic be anything less than fascinating? Is every subject that trips your moral alarm instantly unworthy of note? I would think that if you have enough skin in the game to be grossly offended by something, you’re already admitting that you take at least some interest in said subject, even if it is of a dissenting variety.

    Even assuming that there is some sort of objective reason for the revulsion at play, how consistently is that applied? Murder is pretty bad. Would a detailed biography of Vlad the Impaler not be interesting? Hell, pick any famous despotic butcher from a hat. “That Pol Pot guy? Eh. Just kinda makes me yawn and fall asleep. Doesn’t hold my attention, you know?”

    Or is it all things which contain falsehoods? “…I was thinking of reading some Arthur Conan Doyle, just now, but hey, did you guys hear? Sherlock Holmes never existed! It’s all a bunch of untruths, and suddenly not fascinating to me in the slightest!”

    Of course I’m having a bit of fun here, but you can see what I’m driving at, yes? One headlight’s out, and I can barely see through this pea soup fog, but I assure you the pedal is to the metal and Miss Daisy wisely chose to take refuge under an overpass about three miles back. You’ll know me by the sound of a horn stuck on and the twin smells of rubber seared and turnpikes humbled, twisted into in an olfactory double-helix: the nucleic acrid which is itself the very building block of all things badass. Awww, yeaah.

  • JDC

    CEP3: Is “bigger cookie” your principal example of the inherent sinfulness and evil that is Human Nature?

  • Doc

    Just for clarity’s sake, JDC, would you agree that the ethical ramifications of abortion should be a short conversation? It is a grave evil which, by definition, consists of the violent ending of an innocent life.

  • CEP3

    JDC,

    I think the point that many here are making is that it’s MR. RIFKIN’S THEORY that is guilty of being reductionist. According to him, the intricacies of human interaction throughout time are, somehow, all explained by the lighting up of some monkey neurons. Further, that phenomenon is not just something to notice and find interesting. It’s the foundation for an call to “re-think the institutions of human society”!

    You wrote “You’re primarily looking at this from the most primitive of perspectives, i.e. that which constitutes our animal consciousness.”

    I’M not doing that. The whole point is that RIFKIN is doing that. It’s exactly what his theory does.

    I didn’t introduce Maslow’s hierarchy, change terminology a couple times and act as if that proved the evolution of consciousness – the video did.

    As to consciousness over time – I can barely figure out the complexities of my wife’s thinking when she is sitting write beside me. How is it that Mr. Rifkin knows what Macaque monkeys are thinking when their neurons light up? How does he know WHY babies cry in response to other babies? Isn’t it possible that they’re just trying to sleep and the noise is unpleasant?

    And what of this passage from you:

    “The hunter-gatherer never sat around wondering when we’d have hoverboards and heads-up displays built into our sunglasses. Indeed, his conception of the future extended roughly to “survive long enough to see the tribe grow.” Even the agrarian serf had no idea that the world could be more than it was, but the concept of future-cognizance was already a bit more nuanced”

    How can you claim to know what hunter-gathers and agrarian serfs did, or did not think, about? Granted, they probably didn’t think about hoverboards and other specific and intentionally anachronistic examples – but how do you know their conception of the future, or their ideas for what the world could be? And why didn’t you address the striking commonality of thought we share with those WHO DID record their thoughts so long ago?

    It seems that you’re basically saying, that because they hadn’t yet thought of irrigation, they were also limited in the range of human consciousness and feeling. Wat is the evidence for that?

    Chesterton again. This time from ‘The Everlasting Man’ where he discusses the mind of pre-historic man, and what we may or may not know about it:

    ” In a strictly scientific sense, we simply know nothing whatever about how it grew, or what it is. There may be a broken trail of stones and bones faintly suggesting the development of the human body. There is nothing even faintly suggesting such a development of the human mind.”

    As to your question, “Is ‘bigger cookie’ your principal example of the inherent sinfulness and evil that is Human Nature?”

    No, it’s just one example of the many things a small child might value more than the happiness of another.

    I love children, mine especially, but I have never been able to understand how anyone who ever knew an actual child could still be lured by the philosophy that we are born “good” and only later made selfish by society. Children are, without instruction to the contrary, DEEPLY selfish. Their wants and needs are always paramount to them. That’s why parents and teachers have to say things to them like, “Remember to share.”, and “Don’t take that from Tommy.” and “Let go of your sister’s hair!”. There are a million examples of untaught selfishness, “original sin”, if you will.

    Coveting their neighbor’s “bigger cookie” is just one.

  • JDC

    CEP3: Again, I must insist that you’re mistaken on where you are drawing your lines vis-a-vis hard-wiring and soft-wiring. The point of the mirror neurons was to prove a point about hard-wiring, which is to say “hey, we do have a natural, INSTINCTUAL inclination towards empathy.” That is, it’s not a learned behavior, but something built right into the microprocessor. Everything which follows discussing society falls within a different realm entirely. If it helps, think of the different epochs he drew from a hat as different cultures. That’s literally all soft-wiring is; the structural capacity for nuanced reason instilled by enculturation.

    One must remember: the history of the individual is necessarily the history of the socialized individual. A human who goes without enculturation – i.e. any one of the infamous “feral humans” that have cropped up from time to time – is a very different creature than that which we have deemed Man, capable of being judged on an individual basis against any other.

    Thus, when you say “[a]ccording to him, the intricacies of human interaction throughout time are, somehow, all explained by the lighting up of some monkey neurons,” you’re missing a key point: he is not saying that it is responsible for the entirety of human interaction, but rather saying that the perception of human nature, long believed to be rooted in the base means of survival – id-centric, as it were – is actually quite a bit more complicated and, indeed, positive, than it is often credited.

    Survival stresses have long pitted people against one another, and this was seen as a simple and singular “human nature.” Now, we’re seeing that there’s quite a bit more to it than that. Prior to the industrial revolution, Hobbes’ remark on the life of man being “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” still held. Since then, however, we’ve broken the barrier needed to create the first mass affluent societies in the world’s history. As technology improves, as humanity’s productive capacity evolves, empathic drives will have ever less direct competition from survival instincts. Without that competition, empathy will win out, and historically speaking, we are at the best vantage point to re-evaluate our social structures in light of this. Further, as he noted, the old identity markers need not disappear, but simply become tempered with the understanding that we are all bound together by something at once simpler and grander than any artificial division (e.g. “nation-states”).

    By the way, everything that has been noted about the Christian ideal holding much the same view regarding the transcendence of empathy is correct. I get the sense that people here feel the need to reaffirm this in light of perceiving some kind of implicit denial, but I didn’t get that from the video at all.

    Anyway, while I cannot say with certainty what the exact thoughts of our ancient predecessors were regarding the future, the idea that future-perception changed over time is no new concept. You ask for evidence that “because they hadn’t yet thought of irrigation, they were also limited in the range of human consciousness and feeling,” but I find the request misleading because a) similarities of emotion are outside of the point and b) consciousness has changed, but I suspect that you and I are using the word differently. I am not saying anything like “a capacity for reason had not been developed” or “they could reason, but certain logical structures were elusive” or even “they saw everything as though shot through a yellow filter” or what-have-you. I’m saying that the manner in which the world was interpreted and understood was vastly different. The very understanding of knowledge was different. Language was different – a key point, as many linguists and cognitive scientists argue that the formation of language is inherently tied to the development of reason. Again, think of these as cultural differences if you must, but either way they constitute differences in our consciousness.

    I too am a fan of Chesterton, but I will admit to not having read TEM. Does he expand further upon that quote? Because to be honest I find it a little opaque. Is he saying that humanity’s intelligence has no precedent in biological history, or is he arguing that one cannot trace a clear path of mental development from the very first (anatomically modern) humans to the present day? Because I can get on board with the first idea, but the second is demonstrably false.

    Finally, I agree that children are deeply selfish. They are also in the midst of some of the most significant transitions that the human brain goes through. At birth, a baby is a purely kairotic being; its only timekeeping is that of its immediate bodily needs. Its conception of anything outside of itself is virtually nonexistent, save for the amorphous shapes and shadows which satisfy the aforementioned needs. You yourself have acknowledged this. However, if this is the brain on which humanity is to be judged, then there is simply no accounting for how we even survived this long, let alone created a thriving civilization. No, the mental capacities that generate the potential for civilization develop years later, and the transition from a chaotic ball of survival urges into a socialized being is often choppy because the shift is not instantaneous. Recount for a moment the ways you might have put your own parents through hell at some point. You’re probably sighing and saying something like “what was I thinking? I was such a brat. Glad I worked out, at least, but still, damn.” The two states are incommensurable. If we could go back and apply more mature reasoning to our tiny, five-year-old actions, I’m sure many of us would. However, the fact is that enculturation happens over time, while the brain is putting its central connections together to develop the most basic aspects of how it will interpret the world (i.e. soft-wiring).

    I will never make the claim that children are born as little angels, because I understand that the mind needs time to grow and gradually grasp the scope of things beyond itself. When the argument is put forth that society bears much responsibility for bringing out the worst in people, rest assured that ‘people’ refers to individuals with fully-developed cognitive faculties.

  • CEP3

    JDC,

    You begin,

    “Again, I must insist that you’re mistaken on where you are drawing your lines vis-a-vis hard-wiring and soft-wiring. The point of the mirror neurons was to prove a point about hard-wiring,”

    The problem is that at 1:47 in the video, Mr. Rifkin explicitly states, “…All humans are SOFT-WIRED with mirror neutrons.”

    I was only using the terminology he employed.

    As to your notion that “As technology improves, as humanity’s productive capacity evolves, empathic drives will have ever less direct competition from survival instincts. Without that competition, empathy will win out,”

    It sounds like that means the more stuff we have, the more secure our survival will be. The more secure our survival – the more empathetic we will become. Where in the world is the evidence for that prediction?

    I mean, it’s a nice thought but, aside from the fact that it completely contradicts Rifkin (who says that shared suffering and vulnerability make us empathetic – not shared success), is it really your experience that people who have a lot of success, and are miles from subsistence, are less competitive and more empathetic?

    Regarding this section from you:
    “By the way, everything that has been noted about the Christian ideal holding much the same view regarding the transcendence of empathy is correct. I get the sense that people here feel the need to reaffirm this in light of perceiving some kind of implicit denial, but I didn’t get that from the video at all.”

    I appreciate the point of agreement. As to the implicit denial of Christianity that you didn’t perceive, I’ll point to a few places where, for me, that denial shines through.

    We’ve already dealt with his proclamation that , “There is no empathy in heaven” (4:40), but it bears repeating. If this isn’t a denial of basic Christianity, what is?

    At 6:48, after speaking of tribal empathy he says empathy was then extended to “a new fiction.” He’s referring to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I understand he is using the word to indicate “false divisions” as he does later for nation-states. Still, you can perhaps see where a believer might protest.

    At 9:30, referring to our original two male and female ancestors he offers, “The Bible got this one right.” Obviously, as opposed to all the stuff that it got wrong, in his point of view. It takes a lot of arrogance or ignorance (or both) to condescend to the Bible.

    Ultimately, he comes to the conclusion that he never really had to work to reach, for it is clear he held it long before he ever heard of the monkey’s MRI: “We have to rethink the institutions of society and prepare the groundwork for an empathic civilization.” (10:30)

    Does he exempt the Church from that rethinking. Does he acknowledge, at all, what you have acknowledged – that global empathy has been preached there for centuries? Of course not. Because he doesn’t believe it. He believes that Christianity, like nation-states and tribes, is a divider that needs to be outgrown.

    He believes in a long, slow evolution of human empathy. I, and many others, believe in a sudden and miraculous REVOLUTION in human empathy. It began 2,000 years ago and spread to the entire globe – just as it was meant to. The Christian influence remains and has far more to do with the help that went to Haiti than Twitter and technology ever could.

    Finally, I do highly recommend Chesterton’s “The Everlasting Man”. It does expand much further on that quote in a manner far more clear and entertaining than I could ever hope to imitate. Enjoy the real thing!

    [FYI - I don't know why, but comments in this thread keep ending up in the spam filter. If you do not see your comment appear immediately, please don't resend it. There were four of these, so now my spam filter thinks YOU are spam. Have faith! I will always find your stuff if it's not appearing immediately! -admin]

  • CEP3

    Sorry about that!

    And thank you for your wonderful website!

  • JDC

    CEP3:

    “It sounds like that means the more stuff we have, the more secure our survival will be. The more secure our survival – the more empathetic we will become. Where in the world is the evidence for that prediction?”

    I will cop to having been a bit imprecise. It’s not so much the “stuff” that does the trick; it’s the possible support structures, upon which I’ll expand in a short while. Further, this is well-taken: “is it really your experience that people who have a lot of success, and are miles from subsistence, are less competitive and more empathetic?”

    So, allow me to be more clear: when I was positing that the mitigation of survival stresses will result in less direct interference with empathic drives, the statement was made in relation to instinctive behaviors, with an attitude of ceteris paribus applied to reasoning and enculturation. However, leaving this implied was a mistake on my part, as there is no basis for “neutrality” within that particular paradigm, and any assumptions to that end really do require explication.

    That said (from which you can probably already see where I’m going with this), while I agree that a higher degree of affluence does not trend towards a particularly ‘holy’ lifestyle, I would attribute this to the way our society is structured. I won’t use this as an opportunity to launch into a screed against modern, globalized financial capitalism, but I will say that there are many, many factors at play that ultimately alienate us from one another, causing people to see one another not as human beings, but as figures on an earnings report, or as mere tools (and thus, simply the means to an end). The gentleman behind the counter at Starbucks is not Tom, but Barista n, a coffee dispenser that responds to verbal commands. You, the customer, stand at point A, sans coffee, and wish to proceed to point B, avec coffee, and God help anything (not excepting a human who sacrificed his agency and took on the mantle of a coffee dispenser) that causes the journey take even an instant longer than intended.

    This is, of course, one of the myriad points at which people could benefit from Chesterton’s remark about an inconvenience simply being an adventure considered wrongly. But I digress.

    It doesn’t help matters that subculture tends to stratify society. Living in an Orange County gated community and surrounding yourself with the sorts of people who spend $40,000 on an impulse-buy bracelet could very well make it harder to keep in perspective, say, the plight of the single parent working two jobs to keep food on the table. This is not just true of social class; virtually every identity marker around which people congregate can have the effect of turning everyone outside of said circle into an Other, in one respect or another. This is one of the points of the video, actually.

    But anyway, in a society where the means of survival, the means of wealth and comfort, the means of social prestige are one in the same (i.e. the dollar), it’s hard to find a point at which someone might say “alright, this is the point at which I have accumulated enough and can stop” without the external influence of a personal philosophy. Greed has been framed as an intrinsically good thing by thinkers such as Ayn Rand and Thomas Friedman (both in what would seem to be a gross misreading of Adam Smith), but its encouragement carries with it a danger – namely, that if nothing stands higher than this view of rational self-interest, it becomes as unto a cultish sort of worship in and of itself. Thus, “The Almighty Dollar.” (I am perhaps also considering the scene from Carpenter’s They Live where Roddy puts on the glasses and dollar bills become slips of paper bearing the phrase “This Is Your God.”)

    Ultimately, when I talk about how affluence could enable empathy, I am not talking about the sort of vulgar wealth that dominates discussions about conspicuous consumption, but rather aggregate productive capacity in its raw form – perhaps what might be deemed the potential therefor. This is society’s greatest tool, its greatest support structure. By way of example, at this point in time, humanity literally possesses the productive capacity to feed, clothe, and shelter the entire world. “You can’t build a peaceful world on empty stomachs and human misery”; “necessitous men are not free men”; etc. Thus, when I speak of affluence, I speak of the capacity to endow every human being with a basis for life which, as Monsignor William J. Linder might say, “reflect[s] individual God-given dignity.”

    As for the remarks about Rifkin’s secular perspective, I certainly do see where you’re coming from, now. It hadn’t tripped as many alarms for me because my own perspective, I suppose, also tends towards the secular. In that respect, there are a number of points (largely philosophical) on which I will happily agree to disagree. Still, though, one of these days I will definitely get around to adding more Chesterton to my reading list (which grown somewhat ponderous in the last year or two).

    Anyway, I get the sense that our palaver is starting to wind down a bit. Whether or not I am correct, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for an engaging and thoughtful discussion!


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