My sense of empathy is most intensely stimulated in regards to those I am intimate with. I identify with my lover, then close friends and family, then an idealized community of peers, and then an even larger idealized community of collaborators for the future, my vulnerable affinities decreasing as the relationships moves further from my central vantage point. I understand curating as so many attempts to draw ideas from the further reaches, nearer. And then to situate those ideas in a context that encourages a similar resonating effect in the audience.
Jeremy Rifkin has recently proposed an economic model of increasing the scope of empathy, something he sees in historical precedence and anticipates continuing. He holds that the mechanism that allows “empathic sensitivity to mature” is a complex factor of “when new energy regimes converge with new communications revolutions, creating new economic eras. The new communications revolutions become the command and control mechanisms for structuring, organizing and managing more complex civilizations that the new energy regimes make possible.”
Rifkin points to electronic communications as the present-day extension of the individual to like-minded others that lay beyond family ties, beyond religious affiliation, beyond national borders, and, Rifkin hopes, maybe even an amplification of empathy to the biosphere itself. Necessary changes in our relationship to energy (moving from a carbon-based reliance to renewable sources) means that this newest communication revolution will enable a “sustainable, post-carbon economy that is both globally connected and locally managed.”
Rifkin’s larger proposal of intercontinental smart power grids that will redistribute energy is hard to imagine because it involves changing the world. But. Undoubtedly the world is changing (climate change is real, yo), and so Rifkin’s idea might just be the paradigm we need to imagine different ways of being here.
Rifkin suggests that this global consciousness, spurred by an impending energy revolution, will encourage us to extend empathy from humans to the environment. Perhaps our work as curators can provide a compelling reason why this connection is desirable and useful in the first place. Or, as Rifkin puts it: “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?”
Thanks to Amy Lynn for directing my attention.