The New Enlightenment


The half a century of the dark ages came to an end with an extraordinary leap in human consciousness. Since then, religion has gradually been losing its grip on the hearts and minds of humans. But we have become increasingly soulless as concern and care for others withers. Egoism is not only seen as natural but even lauded as an ideal. And, as is becoming increasingly evident, our planet Earth is not going to be able to sustain eight billion egoists, let alone more.

Now another momentous change is dawning. As described in The Personal World, the relative world in which one lives is determinate, real, only where one has observed it. And thus one is deeply connected with this world. As described in The New Empowerment, it means that confirmation bias alters what becomes real in the personal world. The utterly unexpected implication is that ‘karma’ is a real phenomenon. And this means that the new age now unfolding has the potential to reinstate the morality of ‘enlightened self-interest’, without the dogma of religion. This in turn leads toward intelligent cooperation as the universal ideal, rather than the competition and greed that are currently characterised as success in much of our modern cultures.

Practical Morality

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.

In the absence of religion, morality is simply a practical set of guidelines to further social cooperation. 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 enacted. A great tide of egoism and separatism is flooding our cultures. This is not just of concern to us as citizens. As we are just beginning to fully realise, this is a catastrophic loss. 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)

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 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.

Evolution

What can be done? As stated by Alexander King, quoted on the home page, what is required is “… evolution beyond the egoism that motivates every individual.” This is what we somehow need to engineer. The selfishness, greed and apathy that Speth decries are egoism in action. This is exactly what it looks like in practice. But as King also points out:

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

In other words, caring about others cannot be instilled by decree. Good people have been trying to move the human world in this direction for a long time. But the new worldview produces just the cultural transformation we so desperately need. The major change is that it makes the whole issue one of science rather than belief, hope and faith. And the science shows us that karma is a real phenomenon in the personal world.

Karma is a principle of cause and effect in spiritual traditions. As you sow in life, so you reap. The things you do to others in some way ‘happen back to you’, seemingly out of the blue. Of course, if we have any scientific understanding of reality in the current worldview, this is utterly ludicrous. But in the personal world this is exactly what happens. The strange attractors generated by your unconscious expectations explain why this would indeed be the case. As you go through life, you are constantly observing the kinds of actions you perform, and thus the kinds of events you yourself are bringing about. These things become unconscious expectations. This leads to confirmation bias, and thus strange attractors are generated. As a result the unconscious expectations are increasingly fulfilled in reality. And thus karma operates.

The overall tendencies are what constitute the karma, beneficial or otherwise. Good deeds improve the quality of the personal world. It becomes more ‘like that’ all over because observations of this kind are more likely. The opposite is equally the case. So this means that enlightened self-interest is a fundamental requirement for skilful, intelligent life and true success.

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 Buddhist Eightfold Path is the instruction manual for exactly this kind of world. This is how to live long and prosper in a personal world. Enlightened self-interest is the only sanity. It seems the great religions have been on the right track here.

Survival

Our modern civilisation has drifted a long way from the ideals of enlightened self-interest. And as we are beginning to realise this is a catastrophic loss. As Speth concludes, the scientists don’t know how to solve this problem. But in the light of the concepts presented here the way forward is clear. Karma is a real phenomenon, and in this case the moral imperative of the great religions is restored. Without the dogma. All we have to do is wake up to the new age of enlightenment we have discovered, but not recognised. 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.

In the modern world egoism is even considered by many to be not only natural but good. But in the personal world it becomes clear that egoism is always ultimately disastrous for the person. So we would all want to be ‘spiritual’, altruistic because we very much want to operate enlightened self-interest. We would see clearly that this is what makes good the tendencies, the karma. 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. If we can accept the new worldview implied by our best science we can regenerate this power, and our human race might actually live long and prosper.

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. The deeper implications that give the new worldview the radical power to change and heal our fragmented culture are described in The New Culture.