The Empathic Civilization : a Modern Myth?

Jeremy Rifkin’s hypothesizes that mirror neurons “softwire” human brains to empathize with situations we observe, and that this softwiring predisposes us to love, friendship and sociability rather than to separatism, fighting and hatred. He believes that mirror neurons will evolve so that people will eventually progress into an all-encompassing empathic society, including people of all races, religions and nations, as well as to animals and the entire biosphere in which we live.

He develops the theory by crediting mirror neurons with creating the empathic relationships that cause people of one religion to identify with each other and exclude other religions from the empathic group. He credits mirror neurons with influencing the way people identify with members of the same nations, or of the same race, and then use those groupings as means of creating exclusionary and inclusionary groups. He identifies social media as the mechanism for the expansion of empathic groups from exclusionary to inclusionary, but this theory is fundamentally flawed.

People don’t use artificial groupings such as religion, race or nationality as a way of creating inclusionary feelings, but rather for exclusionary purposes. People generally believe that the artificially created groups they belong to are superior in some way to other groups. People talk about being a member of the “One true Religion” or the “Chosen People,” not about how the basic tenets of all these religions direct people to love and respect all people. “My country” will not lead automatically to “my biosphere” where all people and living things respect and empathize with one another. Social media is another way of forming groups used to create status for members and to exclude outsiders.

Consider as an example the abundance of hate that permeates so many social media sites. Step outside the accepted opinions of a group and the group will frequently inundate you with responses offering nothing but ridicule, vitriol and hatred, even over trivial matters such as the brand of electronics you prefer or your taste in music. If even opinions on pop star’s hair can generate outpourings of exclusionary emotion, what chance do social media exchanges have to create an entire empathic civilization?

The only possible way to change civilization through social media is by sharing ideas and knowledge. Thoughtful and reasoned discussion about ideas leads to new knowledge and new ideas while simultaneously building respect for the people sharing their knowledge and creating those ideas. Because blood creates such strong emotional ties, people will continue to feel exclusionary pride in many of their existing empathy groups. However, as they exchange knowledge and ideas with people outside their groups, they will develop more empathy and respect for other individuals and groups.

Knowledge exchange is the power that will allow people to rise out of their comfort zones and begin to embrace a wider swath of humanity. Social media must move away from its current position as a platform for petty tyrants looking to mold civilization in their own image to become a platform for the free and open exchange of knowledge and the rational discussion of ideas.

About Jeremy Rifkin's Empathic Civilisation

Read also:
- The Emphatic Civilization on Amazon
- Mirror Neurons: The Most Hyped Concept in Neuroscience? by Christian Jarrett
- Do Mirror Neurons Give Us Empathy? by Jason Marsh
- Dr. Dan Siegel - Explains Mirror Neurons in Depth (on Youtube)
- Social Media Marketers’ Best Kept Secret: Mirror Neurons by Derek Halpern


Opened by Antoine Fournier, Head of ECM, Input and Output management, Zurich Insurance
Mar 1, 2013.

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Syras Mar 1, 2013

recommanded this answer

Just like abundance of hate, abundance of love is also spreading in social media. Those who take part is negative criticism in social media do not have idea how to express their feelings or simply not aware of the wider picture of the society.
I disagree that mirror neurons are influencing the way people identify with members of the same nations. Who controls the mirror neurons? You? Who controls you? Your thought process?
Your thought process is what you need to control. Anyway, I love the idea of mirror neurons and I guess it has the potential to look at our social behavior from a different perspective. You can read about my thoughts "you are not you"
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Bertrand Leblanc-Barbedienne Fondateur et gérant, Sémantique sarl
Mar 4, 2013

recommanded this answer

The thesis seems simplistic (somehow dangerous too) and based on an a priori of the author, who obviously forgot to open up to a sincere spiritual explanation of the world.

What is the place of love if only neurons govern our empathy ? How sad if you only are marchines. Exchange of ideas, openness and faith are highly compatible. As a Catholic, I like to recall the etymology of the word : universal. The term "apostolic" commits me not to convince, but to share with everyone. In real life and on social networks...too !
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Antoine Fournier 67 Antoine Fournier Head of ECM, Input and Output management, Zurich Insurance

Mar 4, 2013
Correct. I fully agree on your remark and I believe Jeremy's thesis is coming from a pure materialistic view of the world.
Anyway, I beleive also that what we call "soul" is the last part of human being that was not described by science ... yet. As it is deeply linked to the body, there should be some materilization of feelings somewhere. I do not believe that God would have created an "uncomplete" creature, but a perfect one, holding a perfect mariage between body and soul. I also do not believe that localizing Love in neurons would REDUCE what it is (where else can it be?). This is common debate (since 2000 years) between materialism and spiritualism that is held only because we do not know how works what we know exists. Religion always tried to explain with magic, by fear of loosing people.

Sure, those who are looking for the "how" do not consider the "why" has any sense, while this is the only question that really makes sense.

"[...] For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made [...]" - Paul's Letter to the Romans 1-20. (the first chapter of the 6th christian text).