Jeremy Rifkin

In the IPS discussions on integral capitalism Rifkin came up as an alternative integral postmetaphysical approach to economics and spirituality and consequently a new thread was started on him. A link was provided to his last book, The Empathic Civilization, as well as to an article and a video about the book. I replied:

Thanks for these links. I’ve heard of Rifkin but have yet to read him. I agree with most of what he’s saying but he is stretching the definition of the term capitalism beyond its intended meaning. Recall its meaning from the beginning of the thread. Private ownership of the means of production with profit flowing to the top is antithetical to shared, open and distributed ownership of resources and information and P2P relationships, much like selfish concern and cosmocentric morality are so in a moral hierarchy. Rifkin is right to make the connection between the worldview and economic-communication systems, and that the internet correlates with an empathatic, biospheric view necessary for such shared resources and environmental consciousness. But again, capitalism was all about the exploitation of natural resources as if they were infinite with little to no regard for the environmental consequences. Rifkin laments this destruction and rightly analyzes the consciousness and systems that created it, capitalism, yet by keeping that name in his new view of P2P distribution is a functional misfit.

One can also view him speak on his new book at YouTube. Just watching the first couple minutes it seems to be the same info in the text linked above.

I understand hybrid systems during transition phases. For example we have hybrid gas-electric cars which are better than just gas-driven. But we know that it is a transition to a full electric car when we develop the technology and infrastructure to make it feasible. That is, we know we must completely leave behind using a limited resource like petrol for a more sustainable energy source. So with economic systems. There are hybrids of capitalism with open source and of course it is a step in the right direction. But like with petrol we know that at some point we will leave capitalism behind in a more equitable, humane and environmental consciousness with correlative political economy.

So for me it says something about our consciousness to which economic system we attach. Given the I-I agenda of a kinder, gentler capitalism it appears to be on the transition of rational-pluralistic and it calls that integral. Hence you get no language or values about open source, distributed networks or P2P. Whereas I think what Rifkin is describing, that ecologic empathy that is growing out of the informational-pluralistic into the internet P2P network, is what we might call integral. And it is open source, not private property. But again, it is currently a hybrid in transition but we know where it is going and what must be left behind.*

*As to worldview and moral level replacement, see the previous thread on ladder-climber-view. Like I said, I don’t think it’s a strict or clean dividing line between one level and the next, with transitions containing mixes and hybrids. But we see the trajectory of where it’s going and what it will eventually leave behind.

You can find Rifkin’s website here. Following is an excerpt from the synopsis on his lecture “The age of access”:

“The new information and telecommunications technologies, e-commerce and globalization are making possible a new economic era as different from market capitalism as the latter is dissimilar from mercantilism. In the new century, markets are slowly giving way to network ways of conducting business, with far-reaching implications for the future of society….The notion of exchanging and holding on to fixed property becomes an anachronism in a society where everything is continually evolving.”

This synopsis on Rifkin’s lecture on the hydrogen economy is revolutionary and brilliant. He wants to apply existing internet and global communications tech to

“reconfigure the world’s power grids so that people can produce renewable energy and share it peer-to-peer, just like they now produce and share information, creating a new, decentralized form of energy use. We need to envision a future in which millions of individual players can collect, produce and store locally generated renewable energy in their homes, offices, factories, and vehicles, and share their power generation with each other across a Europe-wide intelligent intergrid. (Hydrogen is a universal storage medium for intermittent renewable energies; just as digital is a universal storage mechanism for text, audio, video, data and other forms of media).”

This is contra the entire thrust of capitalism. And it’s using computer tech and smart grids, all of which isn’t all that far off from the computer communism of the latest Zeitgeist movie. You don’t hear anything remotely like this from kennilinguists. Also note though that he’s developing this with the EU, again well ahead of the curve.

“The coming together of distributed communication technologies and distributed renewable energies via an open access, intelligent power grid, represents “power to the people”. For a younger generation that’s growing up in a less hierarchical and more networked world, the ability to produce and share their own energy, like they produce and share their own information, in an open access intergrid, will seem both natural and commonplace.”

Regarding Rifkin’s empathic consciousness based on research on mirror neurons, recall L&J’s section in the last chapter of PF on spirituality where they highlight this research. Granted L&J don’t develop this idea very far but it is the same as Rifkin’s ideas about it and a valid basis for a postmetaphysical spirituality.


Here are a few of his comments on spirituality (and reason):

“Empathy represents the deepest expression of awe, and understandably is regarded as the most spiritual of human qualities. But empathy also requires trust – the willingness to surrender ourselves to the mystery of existence at both the cosmic level and at the level of everyday life with our fellow beings. Trust becomes indispensable to allowing empathy to grow, and empathy, in turn, allows us to plumb the divine presence that exists in all things. Empathy becomes the window to the divine. It is by empathic extension that we transcend ourselves and begin connecting with the mystery of existence. The deeper, more universalizing our empathic experience, the closer we come to experiencing the totality of being – that is, we become more all-participating, all-knowing, and all-belonging.

“If one looks closely at the world’s institutional religions, it is possible to find snippets of this embodied approach to searching out the divine along the margins of the main texts. Theologians call this panentheism…

“Yet the central narratives of the world’s great religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism – remain, for the most part, disembodied and extraworldly, cutting off empathic extension and the search for connectivity and God’s immanence.

“In the Age of Empathy, spirituality invariably replaces religiosity. Spirituality is a deeply personal journey of discovery in which embodied experience – as a general rule – becomes the guide to making new connections, and empathy becomes the means to foster transcendence. The World Values Society and countless other polls show a generational shift toward the divine, with the younger generation in the industrialized nations increasingly turning away from institutionalized religiosity and toward personal spiritual quests that are embodied in nature and empathic in expression.

“Reason too can be salvaged from its disembodied Enlightenment roots and be recast within an embodied empathic frame. While reason is most often thought of in terms of rationalization, that is, abstracting and classifying phenomena, usually with the help of quantifiable tools of measurement, it is more than that. Reason includes mindfulness, reflection, introspection, contemplation, musing, and pondering, as well as rhetorical and literary ways of thinking. Reason is all of this and more. When we think of reason, we generally think of stepping back from the immediacy of experience and probing our memories to see if there might be an analogous experience that could help us make the appropriate judgment or decisions about how best to respond.

“The critical question is where does reason come from? The Cartesian and Kantian idea that reason exists independently of experience as an a priori phenomenon to be accessed does not conform to the way we reason in the real world. Reason is a way of organizing experiences and relies on many mental tools. The point, however, is that reason is never disembodied from experience, but rather a means of understanding and managing it.

“Experience, as we learned earlier, begins with sensations and feelings that flow from engagement with others and quickly becomes bundled into emotions with the help of reason and then is transformed into purposeful behavioral responses, again with the aid of reason. Needless to say, experience is not always so neatly executed. One’s feelings can remain raw and unformed. It is possible to not even know why one feels a certain way. Similarly, our emotions can run away with us, inflicting harm on ourselves and others.

“Empathy brings together sensations, feelings, emotions, and reason in a structural way toward the goal of communion with the vast others that stretch beyond our physicality. If empathy did not exist, we could not understand why we feel the way we do, or conceptualized something called an emotion or think rationally. Many scholars have mistakenly associated empathy with just feelings and emotions. If that were all it was, empathic consciousness would be an impossibility.

“We are beginning to learn that an empathic moment requires both intimate engagement and a measure of detachment. If our feelings completely spill over into another’s feelings or their feelings overwhelm our psyche, we lose a sense of self and the ability to imagine the other as if they were us. Empathy is a delicate balancing act. One has to be open to experiencing another’s plight as if it were one’s own but not to be engulfed by it, at the expense of drowning out the self’s ability to be a unique and separate being. Empathy requires a porous boundary between I and thou that allows the identity of two beings to mingle in a shared mental space…

“By reimagining faith and reason as intimate aspects of empathic consciousness, we create a new historical synthesis that incorporates many of the most powerful and compelling features of the Age of Faith and the Age of Reason, while leaving behind the disembodied story lines that shake the celebration out of life” (Rifkin, The Empathic Civilization)


Again, very impressive. Has he too been reading my posts? Or discussing this with L&J? The same ideas about real and false reason and its embodied basis, the same panentheisim grounded in empathy. The same postmetaphysical emphasis on a transcendent yet eminently immanent mystery or awe. And most importantly, how this manifests in economic systems that facilitate it, and even might be prerequisite before most of us can get to that type of consciousness.

Here’s a review of the book by Bruce Gibb from an SDi perspective in the June 2010 issue of Integral Leadership Review. An excerpt:

“One might conclude that Rifkin’s COG is at green because the values he espouses and the demons he denounces are typically those of a person at green. At the same time, however, since his articulation of these values are in the service of global turquoise, one could argue that his COG is at the turquoise level. I conclude the latter….

“His enumeration of the life conditions that support turquoise empathetic emergence will be a challenge to those who only think of turquoise mainly in terms of spiritual consciousness.”


About theurj

Also known as theurj. I've contributed some essays to Integral World and co-founded Open Integral blog, now defunct. I continue to participate in Integral Postmetaphysical Spirituality forum.
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