The Next Enlightenment?

In my more optimistic moments, I see possibilities for creating a New Enlightenment grounded in human dignity and the wonder of discovery. The bodies of knowledge and the basic tools are largely in place for this to occur.

But I also see the threat of a new Dark Age, grounded in a brutal concentration of wealth and power supported by an almost willful public ignorance, with terrorism being used as a tool to control and intimidate. Those forces are very much at play as well, and they appear to be winning the day all too often.

Let’s take a look at these competing visions of the future:

A NEW ENLIGHTENMENT

Dignitarian movement

The embrace of human dignity — building what physicist and former college president Robert Fuller has dubbed the dignitarian movement — can serve as a powerful framing mechanism for creating our society. This, in turn, can inform our decisions about how we treat one another, build our communities, and create economic and political systems and change.

Sustainability

The resources of our planet are not infinite, but all too often we in the “developing” world have conducted our lives as if this were so. Public policy, science, and personal choice combine to give us plenty of options to change our habits.

Neuroscience, quantum theory, and other brainy ideas

During the coming years, we’re going to be hearing a lot more about neuroscience — the science of the brain — fueling our understanding of its capacities and how to fix it when bad things happen. Tied to this will be our growing capacity to “read” the brain’s responses to the everyday events of our lives. Folks, this could be a fascinating ride.

Quantum theory — our understanding of the nature of matter — is the stuff of hard science and pop culture today. We will see a stronger bridging of these worlds, as represented in works such as Bruce Lipton’s The Biology of Belief (2005), which explores how the cells of our bodies are affected by our thoughts.

Holistic health

We are at a point where practices and policies relating to individual and public health can be informed by a remarkable mix of the best of conventional medicine and alternative & complementary medicine. This will require greater self-understanding about personal health and the ability to access both traditional and holistic health care assistance when necessary.

Faith, spirituality, and the “supernatural”

I’ve lumped in a lot of stuff under this one heading! But aren’t there common ties here that originate in a willingness — an openness — to accepting the existence of extraordinary powers and dimensions?

A NEW DARK AGE

Plutocracy

In the U.S. and around the world, powerful economic and political forces are creating a destructive concentration of wealth and resources in our society. We don’t even have to label it a conspiracy; the evidence is all around us once we start connecting the easily identifiable dots. They are creating a plutocracy — a society run by and for the very wealthy — and it threatens everyone who is not so materially fortunate.

My favorite analysis of this reality is Bertram Gross’s Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America (1982), a remarkably prescient book in which the author — a social scientist and veteran of two presidential administrations — warned about “a slow and powerful drift toward greater concentration of power and wealth in a repressive Big Business-Big Government partnership” (link to blog post here). Some 30 years later, we see that “drift” turning into a landslide right in front of us.

Ignorance

Unfortunately, the plutocrats are enormously skilled at manipulating public opinion and behavior, ranging from distracting us from what is meaningful and important, to persuading us to accumulate stuff and debt that add little to our lives but fatten their bank accounts, to engaging in outright lies about so many things that matter. All too often, we uncritically buy into these messages.

Terrorism

In too many parts of the world, terrorism has transformed everyday life. People live with these threats every day, ranging from the life-threatening reality of a suicide bomber, to the stressful hassles of going through airport security.

OUR CHOICES

The choices between a world of enlightenment or of ignorance could not be more stark. But I fear that we don’t have a lot of time to make up our minds on which ways to go.

-David Yamada

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