We Need a New Enlightenment

Somewhere down the line, we lost The Big Idea of the Enlightenment.

Prior to the Enlightenment, academe was all Christ and Aristotle. Christ was there to tell us how to live, Aristotle to tell us why Christ was right, and that was it.

That was fine at a time when the academicians were training for a life in the Church, but with an increasing intrusion into academe of those who did not see their destiny in religious cloisters, philosophers began to say ‘Hang on a bit. We’ve got a lot of hindsight here they never had. Can’t we do any better than that?’

This was the time when intellectuals stopped kneeling at the feet of giants and began to stand on their shoulders. They looked back on the seventeen centuries between themselves and Christ, the two millennia separating them from Aristotle, and saw that time had not stood still. Progress had been made in philosophy, in natural philosophy, in engineering, in agriculture and yes, in metaphysics and moral philosophy. Though kneeling at the feet of giants had proved safe — if we survived the previous century we were likely to survive the next by doing the same thing after all — innovation had come regardless. How much more may come if that were acknowledged and people began to formulate innovative thoughts not as happy accidents, but rather as a way of life?

It’s hard to imagine all these years on how innovative that was. Or then again, perhaps not. Recently, things seem to have slowed down on the innovation front. Academe seems to be increasingly a closed shop in which people prove themselves not through innovation, but by commentary upon their predecessors; where new thoughts need to be backed up with citations from reputable sources to demonstrate their validity; where merit is measured not by ideas never previously formulated, but by the quotation of those old and stale; where the intellectual is measured not by what he or she thinks, but by what he or she knows.

In discussing ideas for the Manifesto project I intend getting down to when time permits, hopefully before year’s end 2014, (money and time permitting), I found myself supporting both Karl Marx and Adam Smith; each of them in part, neither of them wholly. Writing this —

This is not the free-market economy that Smith envisaged. This is the free-market economy Marx envisaged.

Given that we followed the dictums of Smith in getting here, we think he would have approved of it. He would not.

Given that Marx knew this was going to happen, we think he must have had the answer to it. He did not.

We need to use Marx as the analyst for what went wrong with Smith, then use our own [expletive deleted, it was a contentious debate] heads, no one else’s, with 250 years’ more experience than one and 150 years’ more experience than the other, to work out how to get to what Smith envisaged in the first place through the legislation — even a constitution — he never believed would be necessary

– writing this, then, I found myself dismissed as a middle-of-the-road, all-things-to-all-people fence-sitter. I had to take Smith or Marx, alone, and each as an all-or-nothing package deal.

Now, acknowledge as I would the genius of both, eschew as I might any suggestion my own humble intellect is in any way reflective of theirs, I still can’t help feeling that I see the modern world a lot more clearly than either of those gentlemen. For that matter, so does the average ten-year-old. 150 and odd years beyond the one, 250 and odd years beyond the other, we are — after all — living here. That doesn’t mean we dismiss them altogether and start listening to ten-year-old children of course, but we have to approach Marx and Smith both with our eyes open to the present and the past that came after them.

In politics and economics in particular, but in other areas as well, I see questions going begging while people wave old tomes around instead of thinking for themselves a bit more.

We need a New Enlightenment.

8 thoughts on “We Need a New Enlightenment

  1. Dear Pete. You’ll get a new enlightenment. You see, all this madness happening in the World, that it is the old paradigms of control and power that is coming forward to fight for their lives. It may be disguised as other things, politics, economy, disputes, lack and so on. All this is at work in the mass consciousness and this again is triggering the extreme weather and other planetary events taking place. – The old can no longer work in the dark because the light is starting to shine upon it … It forces it out in the open, and here the light can deal with. The light that is “created” by the consciousness of people who have chosen the new enlightenment. People who feel like you.

    • I would love to think that is true, Erik, but sadly I think we are not the best species in the world when it comes to righteous behaviour, nor will we ever be. Power brings with it corruption as the need for ethical consideration for those who have power is undermined. I used to believe in our perfectibility, in the idea that as civilisation progresses we ourselves progress as a species, and perhaps that is true overall; but we see, all too clearly, that where once we were more barbaric as a whole, now technology has meant fewer instances of barbarity are each more devastating than ever before in human history. So it is that the most enlightened of nations may largely eschew barbaric acts rather than them being a commonplace, but when barbarity happens, the technology available in its being conducted amplifies that barbarity dramatically.

      Thus we have moved from ages in which few individuals gave little thought to the wellbeing of his or her neighbour and many were capable of small barbaric acts, to one in which most of us – I hope – have greater consideration, but barbaric acts, while less frequent, are individually more devastating. Indeed, perhaps it is the extremity of the threat that leads most of us to want to be more civilised given the devastation that may result.

      Insofar as the absence of enlightenment as described above plays into this, it is in the ability of power elites, through the media, to sell their own vested interests where the media is not controlled, or to manipulate governments through corrupt practices. I see this particularly in the USA – of course – where individual citizens arm themselves against their fellows, (with resultant carnage), by being sold the idea of the threat their neighbours present to them, (thereby, ironically, amplifying the threat given that what threat exists is given weaponry), and who were led to buy into a war whose very declaration was to lead to the direct profiteering by the very people who declared it.

      With power more equally distributed then, perhaps, we would see this decline but, for now, I guess that the malaise I described in the post is leading to its amplification as people become less able to think critically.

      • Yes Pete, we use different terminology but I think we view the World and it’s inhabitants from different angles.

        You talk about species, which to me is the physical beings, while I talk about consciousness (you might call it souls) that, for a breath moment, uses the physical vessel to manoeuvre, sense, interact, create and in any way experiences this world.

        1) All humans (incarnate souls) are influenced by the mass consciousness. 2) It takes only few awakened humans to influence the mass consciousness. 3) Rise in consciousness may happen in small steps but sometime it makes a leap, like it build up to be big burst and suddenly we have a new paradigm, a new enlightenment. Ta, ta!

        I can assure you, that there is a lot of building up “out there”. Ju-bee!

        • I wish I believed that. Greenland runs on the Nordic model, I guess. I think if the UK – or, if only, China – were to do the same, I could be optimistic too. Unfortunately I see China on the rise on the world stage with an ugly brand of ethics, and most of the nations of the west going down, ethically, to meet it half-way. The only hope I see is that so many of the powers-that-be right now are so ugly that the common people may rise up against it and say ‘Enough!’ The west and China both need a new 1960s, or their own Velvet Revolution.

          • The “Enough!” will come, and a soft (velvet) revolution by the young people in Iran (!) might catch many with surprise. Africa might turn out to be the new investment centre and many products may be labelled “Made in Africa / Fabrique en Afrique” even I know that there is a lot of investments in Africa done by Chinese.

            The more wealthy each Chinese will be the more weight there voice will have in China hence more influence. I do not like the word “power”.

          • I dislike the word ‘power’ as well, but sadly it appears to be a fact of life humanity is unlikely ever to shake off… or so I believe. I saw one guy, a good friend of mine who, for moral reasons, had refused an opportunity to get very rich, become increasingly powerful with a sizeable group of individuals in spite of himself. By the time he had finished, he was headlining on the national news for sexual impropriety and financial double-dealing.

            There are lots of countries could prove interesting from the soft revolution angle, and I wouldn’t rule out western nations being amongst them if people with political authority don’t wise up.

            Africa, sadly, was to be China’s showcase, the land they entered cooperatively rather than being exploitative, gaining through win-win in the wake of European and European-based abuses. Unfortunately, now they’re there, they’re proving themselves as likely to exploit as their predecessors.

          • I’ll reply short and only on the African part: The Africans ARE learning from their “visitors” and when the time come, they’ll slowly take over and use their new skills as well as (trying) not to fall into the same traps; but often we have to learn by our own mistakes and grow stronger through them. I see the same thing here in Greenland. Sadly here is so few people, 57,000 and few resources, so it’s hard for me to see the Greenlandic people succeed in being independence or even surviving as a culture in their own country.

          • I think Africa will rise, but perhaps only when it gets out from under not only the old hegemony, but also the new. It would be nice to think that could happen in a decade or two, but I fear it is a long way off as yet and the transition, as transitions tend to be, may prove to be both prolonged and bloody.

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