According to this fine, beautiful animated video:
things we have discovered in evolutionary biology, neuro-cognitive science and child development research demand that we alter our understandings of human nature and the human journey. I would love to know what they are. Jeremy Rifkin doesn’t say. It is curious how scienticians who want to tell us that our origins define our purpose never seem to have any actual science to back their views up. You should watch the video. It really is lovely. But on Facebook I bullishly called it out as a piece of crap and the poor unfortunate youth worker in Dublin wanted to know why I was so dismissive of the video he had shared. Here goes.
Allegedly, monkeys in Parma led to the allegedly startling discovery that chimp brains evolved along a similar path to human brains. I think we could have put a safe bet on this before Darwin even published Origin of the Species, but it turns out that “mirror neurons” mean we have to reconsider the assumptions of our society’s institutions. What these mirror neurons (which are just normal neurons by the way) do is that when I see someone do something, the mirror neurons “light up as if I am having that experience myself”. Or in other words, the experience of empathy has a cognitive element.
This is not groundbreaking news.
It is also not news that proves or disproves the fact that we are or are “wired” for “sociability, attachment, affection, companionship” or not “wired” for “aggression, violence, self-interest, utilitarianism”. The implications that may lay behind the fact that “mature empathy” is defined as beginning at the point where we recognise our own reflection in the mirror are not considered. Why would they be? They would serve no purpose in the biological determinist web that Rifkin is intent on spinning.
I suppose the collapse of Parma’s multinational Parmalat corporation is down to the fact that they let the monkeys run it and in an exercise of empathy did what all captains of industry do and raped the corporation for all they could get.
The underlying problem with this guff is the conceit that you can track biologically how consciousness changes through history. No, wait; it’s the idea that empathy is rooted to mortality. No, actually, the problem is the “new fiction” reading of the three religions that must be the only ones that exist (since Buddhism and Hinduism and their reincarnative order would put pays to the definition of empathy around mortality). Actually, the problem is that the vision of empathic civilisation is much more a new fiction than say, France, which has actually persisted in some form or another since Charlemagne.
Wait! I have it, the real problem with this guff is that it is predicated on the idea that now, at last, after the “hydraulic agricultural civilisations” and the invention of script and the last episode of Lost, now! we can somehow unlock empathy in a way that others couldn’t. Once pointed out, surely you’ll agree it is fallacious to think that we can be more empathic simply because we think we know more about empathy. Pardon me for slipping into pietistic preacher mode but the paradigm of “knowing all there is to know about God not being the same as actually knowing God” holds true for every other human experience. The absence of new technologies is not the reason we can’t love each other. Twitter won’t save your soul, nor your life. The largest per capita donor after the devastating Haiti earthquake was not a Twittering nation but Ghana.
Rifkin claims that if we don’t overhaul our government and business and educational and familial structures, “secondary drives come, the narcissism, the materialism, the violence and the aggression”. New technology allegedly enables the empathic civilisation. But certain drives are secondary even though they pre-exist their very causes: government, education and business. This is technically speaking, nonsense.
Sure, Rifkin’s ideas are nice and lovely and beautifully depicted but that doesn’t mean they have any relevance for reality. Empathy or the perhaps now outmoded tolerance are insufficient categories to achieve the very goals that Rifkin aims at. I have rarely encountered a two-timing man who didn’t have empathy for the woman he has hurt. Sacrifice costs a whole lot more. And its the only way you can make friends out of enemies. If we need to overhaul the family and the legislature and the market and the academy and still you won’t call your proposal utopic, then I call bullshit on you. And it isn’t YouTube or Twitter that leaves us in a changed world. The technology that actually brought about the change of the world was a barbarous torture device. The world changed thanks to the cross, not social networking platforms.
Your Correspondent, Confuses “empathises” with “masturbates”.