27 May 2010

The Empathic Civilization

Jeremy Rifkin writes:
The Empathic Civilization is emerging. A younger generation is fast extending its empathic embrace beyond religious affiliations and national identification to include the whole of humanity and the vast project of life that envelops the Earth. But our rush to universal empathic connectivity is running up against a rapidly accelerating entropic juggernaut in the form of climate change. Can we reach biosphere consciousness and global empathy in time to avert planetary collapse? 'The Empathic Civilization': Rethinking Human Nature in the Biosphere Era, Jeremy Rifkin, 11 January
There's much to agree with here. But there is a fraction, however small, of the human population that does not, and might never be able to, feel empathy. The mayhem that even a few such people can cause when they go against the hopes and instincts of the rest of humanity is well known and well documented, in for instance, the history of the 20th century and the lives of Stalin, Hitler and Mao. We can hope that our 'empathic connectivity' can prevail against this fraction of humanity and against climate change (and other challenges). But we can also assist the process: by providing monetary incentives to encourage human survival and well-being.

Social Policy Bonds could do this. It might go against notions of fairness or justice, for instance, but paying influential psychopaths to take indefinite golfing holidays on the atoll of their choice would be a bargain for the rest of humanity. That's one example of a way in which Social Policy Bonds rewarding the avoidance of catastrophe could operate. Another would be to look at the relationship between empathy and welfare: I suspect empathy comes into play only when our basic survival needs have been met and secured. Satisfying those needs for all humanity could be a most effective way of removing threats to the empathic civilization. The point is that incentives of the sort that Social Policy Bonds would supply, which do not prejudge how to achieve a specified goal, can encourage the exploration of a wide array of approaches to bring about empathy and to ensure our survival and prosperity.

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