Humanity on a Tightrope: Thoughts on Empathy, Family, and Big Changes for a Viable Future

Humanity on a Tightrope: Thoughts on Empathy, Family, and Big Changes for a Viable Future

by Paul R. Ehrlich, Robert Ornstein
     
 

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When we think of family, we most often think of our sisters and brothers, our cousins and grandparents, rather than our world family or even our community connections. We still identify with our differences more than our similarities, unless it's convenient to do otherwise. Here, two seasoned authors tackle the question of family and what it means to us now and how it…  See more details below

Overview

When we think of family, we most often think of our sisters and brothers, our cousins and grandparents, rather than our world family or even our community connections. We still identify with our differences more than our similarities, unless it's convenient to do otherwise. Here, two seasoned authors tackle the question of family and what it means to us now and how it might change to help us address the problems that affect us all. Using specific examples throughout the work, they present a unique approach to what it means to belong to one human family. Beginning with a consideration of how the family unit has begun to be defined by allegiances, by common ties and empathy, the authors then discuss the evolution of the family unit and how the "us" vs. "them" mentality gave way to a way of life that separated peoples rather than brought them together. They consider family values, how they arose, developed, were perverted or perfected to suit the family unit's needs, and the confusion that followed. Humanity on a Tightrope focuses on what families and family values are, and how they often create an "us versus them" mentality that is at the root of many of today's most crucial problems from terrorism, racism, and war to the failure of humanity to come to grips with potentially lethal global environmental problems. The book underlines a basic element for solving the human predicament — quickly spreading the domain of empathy. It takes a close look at how we can do that, building on the findings of both social and natural science and using tools ranging from brain imaging to the internet. It explains how civilization is unlikely to persist unless many more people learn to put themselves in the shoes of others to keep society balancing on the tightrope to sustainability - a tightrope suspended over the collapse of civilization.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The authors' hearts are in the right place with this earnest plea to all mankind to develop empathy and embrace the interdependency that connects us all. Ehrlich (The Population Bomb) and Ornstein (The Healing Brain) argue that human behavior is the biggest threat to our collective future and strongly suggest we create less "us" vs. "them" binaries. From environmental conservation to ending consumerism to the pervasive ignorance that feeds xenophobia, they approach their focus through the lenses of anthropology, neuropsychology, and history. The message is repetitive and, while the book promises to offer practical ideas, it often instead provides obvious claims: "There are a lot of big changes needed..." As with all ideas for peace and justice that rightfully stem from understanding that human beings want to be happy, the real challenges come after the preaching to the choir is done. Most readers will already agree with the authors' thesis, and it's hard to imagine that those who might benefit most from what the authors have to say-corporate America, NeoCons, the Taliban, for starters-will listen.
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The Stanford Daily
A rich book that delves into the root of the world’s most pressing problems: the lack of empathy in mankind. The whole book revolves around this central idea of how we human beings as a whole global family should develop more empathy toward each other to ensure a sustainable future....Ehrlich and Ornstein expose readers to some mind-blowing aspects of cultures in the hidden corners of the world....With a smart pun of humanity teetering on the tightrope just as the tightrope performer, Ehrlich and Ornstein showcase their beliefs in the super-power of empathy – that it can save humanity and save the world we live in.
Booklist
Ehrlich, the author of numerous influential environmental books, and award-winning psychologist Ornstein address the need for empathy to maintain the health of civilization. While drawing on a long line of psychological experiments to show the inherent development of family ties and persistent 'us vs. them' mentality in human society, the authors also examine the development of the perfect Leave It To Beaver family stereotype and its enduring impact that has extended far beyond pop culture. A focus on family values that never actually existed, this has created a myth that justifies the concept of a different 'them' that thwarts attempts at transcending differences. With stark examples such as Rwanda to serve as warnings, Ehrlich and Ornstein segue into chapters on 'building the global family.' While political watchers may find it impossible to believe we could ever see beyond the smallest of differences, the authors remain hopeful and offer plenty of evidence that change will come, simply because the twenty-first century requires it. Thoughtful and sincere, this is a solid evidentiary presentation of an all-too-often emotional topic.
Journal Gazette
Humanity on a Tightrope reads like an engaging after-dinner conversation between two old friends. Ehrlich tackles global issues with the ease and sometimes bluster of someone who has been on a soapbox for more than four decades. Ornstein brings insights from psychology.
Examiner
What the book offers is an "adult conversation" about sustainability….Humanity on a Tightrope leaves no stone unturned, touching on religion, politics, wealth imbalance and the class-driven status quo.
CHOICE
Humanity is balancing on a tightrope, according to Stanford biologist Ehrlich and psychologist Ornstein, because of environmental deterioration, overpopulation, poverty and pandemics, and the threat of nuclear war. The barrier to remedies for these complex problems is our lack of empathy and inability to see "other" people as "us," part of the same human family. These problems could be dealt with by changes in human behavior and by adopting policies that take us toward a sustainable and equitable society. The authors argue that we should expand our consciousness to be more inclusive not only of the rest of humanity's needs and plights, but also of those of our grandchildren and beyond. Ehrlich and Ornstein present a wealth of evidence from biology, brain science, anthropology, and psychology, and advocate the necessity of building an empathetic, sustainable, and fair world. Further, they emphasize the need to educate people about the essential similarity of all people through reorganization of school and university courses, and by revitalizing mass media and religion to enhance human empathy and create a real global family. This stimulating book should be required reading at all levels. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries.
Bill McKibben
These guys, not for the first time, have cut to the heart of the problem we face. And do not for a moment think it can't be done. Last year at 350.org we organized 5,200 simultaneous rallies in 181 countries to demand scientific action on climate change-we can work globally, but we've got to think through precisely the problems outlined here.
Robert B. Cialdini
The weighty question of whether a truly unified human family is possible deserves an equally weighty analysis. Thank goodness, then, for this profoundly important book.
Robert Maurice Sapolsky
How do we know who is a relative? If you're a rat, it's easy-there's instinctual recognition by smell. But it's hard for humans, because amid us figuring it out rationally, a sludge of emotions helps determine who feels like an Us and who like a Them. In this superb book, Ehrlich and Ornstein explore the evolutionary biology, brain science, anthropology and psychology of how a Them can become an Us, how we can expand our sense of empathy, family and relatedness. But the book is more than merely a masterful and readable review of the subject. It is also a clarion call about what will happen if we don't get better at turning Them's into Us's. This is a deeply important book.
Jared Diamond
In this compact, thought-provoking book, well-known authors Paul Ehrlich and Robert Ornstein have collaborated to lay out a blueprint for our survival in this globalized world. We got away with attitudes of 'us vs. them' in the past; we can no longer get away with those attitudes today.
Bookpleasures.com
With their intriguing analogy of the tightrope walker, authors Ehrlich and Ornstein draw readers into their compelling argument for redefining our notions of family and community. That walker, the authors say, is the human race, the rope the many global crises confronting us, and that perilous journey our own progress towards an uncertain future. And what the world sorely needs to navigate that perilous rope is empathy, specifically that of its more privileged nations.
International Journal of Environmental Studies
[I]t is the Appendix, Notes and Selected Bibliography which may prolong the thought and then sharpen it for wider, individual effort. This is the evident purpose of the authors. . . .Any such attempt is valuable.
Choice
Humanity is balancing on a tightrope, according to Stanford biologist Ehrlich and psychologist Ornstein, because of environmental deterioration, overpopulation, poverty and pandemics, and the threat of nuclear war. The barrier to remedies for these complex problems is our lack of empathy and inability to see "other" people as "us," part of the same human family. These problems could be dealt with by changes in human behavior and by adopting policies that take us toward a sustainable and equitable society. The authors argue that we should expand our consciousness to be more inclusive not only of the rest of humanity's needs and plights, but also of those of our grandchildren and beyond. Ehrlich and Ornstein present a wealth of evidence from biology, brain science, anthropology, and psychology, and advocate the necessity of building an empathetic, sustainable, and fair world. Further, they emphasize the need to educate people about the essential similarity of all people through reorganization of school and university courses, and by revitalizing mass media and religion to enhance human empathy and create a real global family. This stimulating book should be required reading at all levels. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781442206489
Publisher:
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date:
10/16/2010
Pages:
210
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

Paul Ehrlich is Bing Professor of Population Studies and President of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University. He is the author of The Population Bomb, one of the first books to bring environmental science to the general public. He has given thousands of public lectures in the past 40 years. Ehrlich is author and coauthor of over 1000 scientific papers, books, and articles in the popular press covering a range of topics from the effects of crowding on people and how consumption destroys our life-support systems to the origins of religion and the ethics of the environments. Of his some 40 books, Human Natures and The Dominant Animal have brought home the seriousness of the mismatch between human behavior and the chances of a global collapse of civilization. He has given thousands of public lectures and appearances on the electronic media. Robert Evan Ornstein is a psychologist, writer, former professor at Stanford University, and chairman of the Institute for the Study of Human Knowledge (ISHK). He is the author of The Healing Brain, New World New Mind, and The Psychology of Consciousness. He has written or co-written more than twenty-five other books on the nature of the human mind and brain and their relationship to thought, health and individual and social consciousness, which have sold over ten million copies and been translated into 23 languages. Dr. Ornstein has taught at the University of California Medical Center and Stanford University, and he has lectured at more than 200 colleges and universities in the U.S. and overseas. He is the president and founder of the Institute for the Study of Human Knowledge (ISHK), an educational nonprofit dedicated to bringing important discoveries concerning human nature to the general public. Among his many honors and awards is the UNESCO award for Best Contribution to Psychology and the American Psychological Foundation Media Award "for increasing the public understanding of psychology."

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