Superpower of compassion

Keynote on India, on the windmills of Samsø, on the new lamp the Little Sun, on restaurant noma and the global food revolution – but most of all about the coming era of compassion and the superpower to come: India.

India is to become the superpower of compassion in the future. That was the forecast I gave in a keynote speech at a conference on  India and its future,  “Sustainability and Peace – Dialogue between Cultures”  held at Arken Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen, on September 13th 2012. The conference is part of a massive cultural exchange project, “India Today – Copenhagen Tomorrow“.

The forecast  takes a little explanation.

India is on the rise as an economy. In a few decades India expects to be the dominant economy on the planet, bigger than China, Indonesia, Brazil, Russia and the old ones, US and the EU. regardless of whether India will become nr. 1, 2 or 7 of he economies, the country has a particular cultural strength in its rich history. Therefore it is likely that India could well become another kind of superpower than the superpowers of the mechanical age or the nuclear age. India has the potential to become the superpower in the coming age of compassion.

Cooperation, compassion, empathy and caring for other human beings and the environment are on their way to the top of the agenda for science and for  general society. It is in this context that India has the opportunity to play an outstanding role. But, of course, only if the Indian economy does not try to copy the mindless and soulless tradition from the west.

The point is further explored in this interview, conducted by the Danish Cultural Institute and published at Cocreate Now with a little clip from the actual keynote included :

The keynote talk dealt with much more than  India. It is about cooperation, compassion, the Danish island of Samsø, the Danish technology called Little Sun, the Danish restaurant noma and the food revolution it started and the importance of communities in building the future. It was a response to a beautiful keynote lecture on India’s present situation and future by Aromar Revi, director of the Indian Institute of Human Settlements.

 Aromar Revi

Revi’s theme was how India could tunnel through to the 21st century using decentralised technology, avoiding the mistakes of the 20st centurt centralized technology that we have been using in the West.


• The keynote as audio and slides, if you like 

The full length of my response was this 16 minute long keynote that can be heard here:

The slides can be found here: India Conference Keynote Slides 130912 .


The video in written words, if you like

The interview shown in the video above has been transcribed by the Institute:

Compassion is the key to the future

 Compassion is the new frontier of science, in the sense that scientists try to understand why it is that we care for each other, why we want to co-operate with each other, and why we have empathy for each other.

Neuroscientists are studying this phenomenon, because it is a real biological phenomenon in us: That we want to have compassion for each other. We also want to have compassion for the environment we live in, the ecology, the world around us, the eco-systems.

And the funny thing is that science, civilization and culture has been very much about the opposite direction, going in the other way, saying that “the world is a desert” – that every human being should be on its own. That has been what we have learned from economy, from ecology, and all those sciences. And now we are discovering the fact that – no! – we care about each other! We care about the planet!

And this is also the key to how we can run our society, our production, our consumption, in a way that is agreeable to the planet: That we are much more oriented towards liking what we do, liking each other, co-operating, building communities, using the old knowledge that normal people have about how the world functions, rather than thinking that we can run everything from a desk in a headquarter.

So there is a big revolution coming now – in food, in energy production, in how to manage societies, how to manage the commons, the shared resources. And this revolution is going away from the headquarters, from the desks, from the central offices, and putting much more emphasis on the peer-to-peer relations between everyday people, and the civil society, the way that people can self-organise themselves.

This is a big revolution happening, and the Internet is the first great technological example. But there will come [new areas] now: with food, energy and many other things. We will see this compassion for each other. Compassion for the world around us is the key to the future.”

Excerpt of conference presentation

“To like each other, and to want to share, and to want to co-operate with other people – it is not the invention of Western culture. You find it in monkeys. It is there, and we just need to liberate the willingness to co-operate and to have compassion for others in the human being. This is the new frontier of science, and just like older frontiers of science created the superpowers of the mechanical age, of the electrical age, of the atomic age, and so on, this frontier of science – the frontier of compassion – will also produce a new superpower.

And this is wonderful, because the superpowers of compassion will not be countries like Denmark – it will be countries with a bright and glorious future, because they have an old tradition and an old culture of cultivating compassion and knowing how to live a good life.

It means that India will have a bright and glorious future as the Superpower of Compassion. It will take a few decades before you are there, I am sure – and I think you will repeat many of the mistakes we made in our part of the world, with the middle class becoming arrogant and idiotic when they become a little rich, but I am sure that you can overcome this, and become the Superpower of Compassion for the future – and I am sure that Mahatma Gandhi’s old reply to a question from a journalist will then be seen as even more prophetic than it is today.

He was asked, “Mr. Gandhi, what do you think about Western civilization?”, and he answered, “Oh, that would be a very nice idea.” This will be the answer to give in the future.”

The Indian superpower (back to interview)

“India is a country with a long and beautiful cultural tradition, and long spiritual and human… In terms of values, a richness and a kind of  maturity that we don’t really have in the West. I think India has an enormous amounts of offerings for the rest of the world when compassion becomes more essential, and I think in a way India will become the ‘Superpower of Compassion’.

Just like in Europe or USA, you had the superpowers connected to earlier leaps in scientific, technological development, like the mechanical over the electrical over the atomic age.

Now we are entering the age of co-operation and compassion, and I hope that India will become a superpower, and I hope also that part of the reason that India will become a superpower is that they will learn from smaller countries like Denmark that do have a tradition for that a highly educated and democratically engaged population can be a driver of good energy systems like windmills, good hospital systems, good educational systems. That much of which made Denmark rich was, in fact, that we had a population that was so highly skilled and educated that it demanded a good life. And that created around it an industry for serving the hospital, an industry for serving education, and windmills, and all that – which made us rich. So the Danes became rich, in a sense, because we wanted a good life. And that lesson I hope the Danes can bring to others part of the world.”

Trancript by Inanna Riccardi


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