The New Enlightenment


In a primitive culture, cooperation and mutual support are naturally required for success in the close-knit group. This gives rise to the cohesion essential for survival. Then, as large, diverse, social structures developed in the world of civilisation and science, religion took up the imperative of maintaining guidelines of human action. Love thy neighbour as thyself. This is the principle of enlightened self-interest – doing well by doing good. But this was never entirely successful, and religion is now in decline. The moral guidelines have been largely abandoned, even by many who self-identify as religious.

Practical Morality

In the absence of religion, morality is simply a practical set of guidelines to further social cooperation. But with the atomisation of the culture in the Internet age, we are seeing the consequences of the increasing breakdown of this vital component of society. A great tide of egoism and separatism is flooding our societies. This is not just of concern to us as moral citizens. As we are just beginning to fully realise, this is a potentially devastating loss for humanity as a whole. As environmental advocate Gus Speth famously said:

I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that. (2013)

But now we do.

Evolution

It has become clear we cannot coerce enlightened self interest. Caring about others cannot be instilled by decree. As Alexander King points out:

All religions have, in their purest aspirations, attempted to induce such a change, with very little success. (2006, 22)

But as he states, for us to survive we must somehow engineer an evolution beyond the standard egoism that motivates every individual. The selfishness, greed and apathy that Speth decries are egoism in action. This is exactly what it looks like in practice. It is rampant, and the result is the destruction of our ecosphere. As John Holdren, scientific adviser to President Obama, reports on climate change:

The current situation of the world … is that we are in a car with bad brakes driving toward the edge of a cliff in the fog … prudence requires that we try to stop the car. (Friedman, 2008, 160)

And it is the crazy level of egoism of those in power that has been keeping the foot on the gas.

The new worldview produces just the cultural transformation we so desperately need. This demonstrates that egoism is disastrous for the individual because karma is a real phenomenon in the personal world. The major change is that this is no longer just an issue of belief, hope and faith, but of hard logical science.

In this case it becomes clear what most of us have been doing wrong, and how to do it right. Positive expectation is everything, but ‘right action’ is absolutely essential. The ‘Noble Eightfold Path‘ of Buddhism is the instruction manual for exactly this kind of world. This is how to live long and prosper in a personal world, and hereafter. Enlightened self-interest is the only sanity. It seems the great religions were always on the right track here.

Survival

Our modern civilisation has drifted a long way from the ideals of enlightened self-interest. Ecological breakdown is just one of a number of potential Amageddons that are man made. Collectively, the human culture is exhibiting the hallmark symptom of severe clinical depression – contemplating suicide.

As Speth concludes, the scientists don’t know how to solve the problem, egoism out of control. But all we have to do is acknowledge the new worldview because this changes the conceptual basis on which we run our lives. In each personal world, the only sane and sensible approach to life is taking the other people in the world into account, at least in principle.

To take on the personal world as reality is to wake up to a new age of enlightenment. In the modern world egoism is has come to be seen by many as not only natural but good. But in the personal world it becomes clear that egoism is always ultimately disastrous for the person. When we understand the nature of the personal world, we very much want to operate karma in our favour. So we would all want to be ‘spiritual’, altruistic because we would see clearly that this is what makes luck run our way.

As King states, the wisdom we desperately require can only come through inner transformation. He goes on to describe a possible avenue of approach

… we should strive, through deliberate efforts of inner development and new insights into consciousness and the working of the mind, to cultivate an enlightened communal sense. (2006, 22)

The communal instinct is what gave our human race the unique level of coordination to develop civilisation, and the power to take over the planet. Just such an extraordinary inner development is the direct result of the new worldview. The type of communal sense fundamental to life in small isolated societies follows naturally once the immediacy of the connection between self and world is understood, and the full impact of karma is recognised. If we can accept the new worldview implied by our best science, we can regenerate this power, and our human race will have a very much better chance of surviving the challenges of this century. If we can take this on there is a good chance our fractured and atomised societies will heal, hopefully swiftly. And the various man-made Armageddons heaving into view will get less and less likely rather than more and more.

With this in place nothing is impossible. All kinds of new opportunities become real, possibilities currently unimaginable. This is the ideal society of order and inner peace endlessly imagined, a fabulous, mythical, supposedly lost age. But the culture of enlightened self-interest is a perfectly feasible future. It is a natural consequence of understanding who we really are and how reality actually works.

But we are going to find it hard to change the course of history in time. We are going to need a broad and radical shift if we are to snatch salvation from the jaws of the ongoing societal and ecological breakdown that threatens our prosperity and even our survival. A further extraordinary revelation from the new physics provides the incentive and the inspiration for just such a transformation.

As described in Quantum Karma, the new physics leads to the discovery we are effectively immortal. And it is here that karma really bites. This leads to the reinstatement of a deep morality. But there is no dogma here. Right living is self-defined and self-imposed. It is these profound implications that give the new worldview the radical power to change and heal our fragmented culture. The basis of this revitalised human world is a new understanding of ourselves, as described in The New Culture.