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In this rush to another Age of Enlightenment, we need to take the best from the past

Continued from The Times they are Changing.

Yes, we are on the verge of another era of Enlightenment.

From a world where we made enormous technological advances into one that will make the previous one seem dull. And we must fully understand what has occurred in the past and decide what to take into the future.

Moving from Enlightenment 1 to Enlightenment 2 with only a soft glow of understanding will take courage. Do we have it? In terms of change, the new Enlightenment of artificial intelligence will make the old seem placid by comparison.

“The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.”

Last week, in my piece, “The Times They are Changing” I focused on the changes society can expect in the future. My observations included those suggested in the recently released Generational Report. In this piece, I’m looking at those elements in our society today that I consider sacrosanct, and we should take with us into the new enlightenment.

In doing so, I make the point that we never fully understood the first Enlightenment: The Age of Reason. People of my generation have seen more change in the world than any other. Advances in medicine, technology, computing, building and different facets of our living seem incomprehensible sometimes.

But did we ever understand the difference between the purpose of life and its reason?

On the one hand, our intellectual understanding has presented us with technological change that is mind-blowing in its dimension. However, our capacity to understand ourselves and how we relate to another is still in its infancy. Neuroscience is still in its discovery stage and is just beginning to understand how our brains function.

What follows are my thoughts on those things that bind us together, that make us human and humane. No matter how much we technologically advance, we should always keep in touch with them.

1 If we were an enlightened society, we would love and respect our fellow humans with faithfulness and care.

2 We would do unto others what we expect them to do unto us. We would strive to do no harm to others and our world. We would love life, enjoy it, and marvel at its heritage.

3 We would compose independent opinions relevant to what we know and understand as the truth. We would not corrupt the facts as we know them.

4 We would not allow ourselves to be led blindly by others.

5 We would test our opinions constantly, checking our ideas against our facts, and be ready to discard even a cherished belief if it did not conform to them.

6 We would readily admit it when we are wrong, knowing that humility is the basis of intellectual advancement, and that truth enables human progress.

7 Our sex lives, whatever our inclinations, are nobody’s business but our own and should be practised that way. We should leave others to enjoy their sex lives in private, which is none of our business.

8 No one has an ownership of righteousness. We should seek not to judge but to understand. We would pursue dialogue ahead of confrontation.

9 Our mantra for the future should be internationalism before nationalism, acknowledging that the planet Earth does not have infinite resources and needs care and attention. If we are to survive on it, we would value the future on a timescale longer than our own.

10 The individual may have rights determined by the common good, but no man is an island and can only exist and have his or her ambitions fulfilled by a collective of like-minded people.

11 We would insist on equality of opportunity regardless of sex, race or age, conceding that knowledge gives understanding.

12 We would teach our children not what to think but how to. In addition, we would show them how to critically and rationally disagree with us. Above all, we would show them how to evaluate evidence to think critically, and we would show them we would never seek to indoctrinate them in any way.

13 In our schools, we would open our kids’ minds to a comprehension of ethics.

14 We would never shy away from decent, even irrational decent and always respect the right of others to disagree with us. Bad laws should be open to the harshest criticism.

15 We would never walk away from administering justice but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted.

16 Lastly, we would question everything. What we see, what we feel, what we hear, what we read and what we are told until we understand the truth of it because thoughtlessness is the residue of things not understood and can never be a replacement for fact.

If these things indeed are the embodiment of the first Enlightenment. How do we stack up? Some societies and individuals could lay claim to attaining a measure of it. For example, in some countries, gender equality is more readily accepted, and there have been educational advances. Overall, the reader would conclude that, in most instances, our Enlightenment has yet to progress much.

This is no more empathised than in our understanding of free speech.

Are we honestly enlightened if we think we must legislate an emotion people already have and use to express hatred?

There is something fundamentally and humanely wrong with the proposition. An intolerable indecency suggests that we have made no advancement in our discernment of free speech.

If free speech’s only purpose is to denigrate, insult and humiliate, then we need to reappraise its purpose. Some say it identifies those perpetrating wrongdoing, but if it creates more evil than good, it’s a strange freedom for a so-called enlightened society to bequeath its citizens.

My thought for the day

An enlightened society is one in which the suggestion that we need to legislate one’s right to hate another person should be considered intellectually barren.


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  1. Anthony Judge

    Given the disastrous nature of the times, and given my contrarian bias, I have had occasion to explore Enlightening Endarkenment, for which there are an unexpectred number of web resources offering insights on the challenge to the comprehension of any new Age of Englightenment ( What indeed is to be learned from the endarkenment we have experienced, and how important is it to the experience of the contrary?

  2. Jonathan

    Following on from Anthony unfortunately the possibility of a new endarkenment is very much on the cards if the psychotic loons promoting this project get the chance to implement it.

  3. Phil Pryor

    I retain my outlines of philosophy from student days, including Mentor paperbacks, the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th century editions being named the ages of Reason, Enlightenment, Ideology, Analysis. A new age of some enlightenment would be desirable. Human inner workings of the good old soul, mind, heart and conscience were opened up by such as Freud, Adler, Jung and many other followers and disciples. Philosophy outlines abound, with Russell, Durant and Hamlyn still useful. Let us be unreasonably optimistic…But, world politics hints at lines of office grabbing and media maggoting, a new dark ages threat, viz. USA , etc. and, a Boris, Scott the Snott or a Donald is vomitous and anti-civilised.

  4. Steve Davis

    John Lord, good article. It takes courage to bare your soul to the public gaze.

    The issue of freedom of speech that you ended with is an interesting one. A huge topic. A commentator elsewhere, looking at freedom of expression in general, has made the point that our freedom of speech or the curtailment of that freedom is not determined by content but by impact. In other words, by how many are listening and how they are reacting.

    I can recall Reagan boasting to Gorbachev of the superior freedom in the US to that in the USSR. He said that in the US you could sit in front of the White House with a banner saying “The President is a bum” and not get arrested. Might have been true, I don’t know, but one thing is certain. If the next day there was twenty people there with similar banners, and the following day two hundred, their right to freedom of expression would have been quickly extinguished.

    Our freedom of expression is never, will never, be established by legislation — it’s established by how far our cultural managers permit us to go.

  5. Clakka

    Jung, after his flight (of temporary death during /after surgery) mused that the only thing his mind produced was an image of humanity’s obsession with pigeonholing.

    As the night-time pyre burned at the funeral of Osho (Bagwan Shree Rajneesh) a gathering of some 3,000 bods, broke out in a song named ‘This’. It went for 10 minutes or so … the only words; This … Ah this … This … Ah this … Ah this … Ah this … this … It was kinda profound and transformative.

    In Robert Heinlein’s The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, the hero and his rescuer escape to a ‘planet’ to be healed. On that planet, there are only 2 rules; one must have good manners, and there is no ownership. Transgressors will be killed (by the state).

    It’s kinda weird that allegedly for the good, we developed formal states by which to identify, and along with elected representatives, to do our collective bidding. Yet as individuals with freedom to come and go and speak our minds, there is perennial argument and dissatisfaction … the representatives must be idiots after all. The USA, for example, instituted a Bill of Rights which would appear to have been used to make the enforcement of law, and the reasoning of cause and effect, second-fiddle. Oh for truth …. no wonder it’s going crazy. Don’t want to stay with it, nor to go, or be at the whim of representatives.

    It would appear to be no small irony that in the personal computer (incl. smart-phones) we have an apparent peak technology, availing us to seemingly endless calculus and access to science and history, yet there is an increasing predominance of use for access to commerce, entertainment and social media.

    So much for fashioning our existence, and for perfection absolutely. As for enlightenment, some say that from a black hole we have come and via a black hole we shall go. Maybe.

  6. Canguro

    Brave essay John, and congrats on your optimistic outlook; better the glass half full than the one half empty as a platform position per one’s relationship to the challenges of existence in human form, one might argue.

    Nonetheless, along with the five other commentators who’ve posted above, I see little or no evidence advancing the argument for a new Age of Enlightenment. To the contrary, in fact. Humanity in crisis is not a profitable foundation for enlightened beings; the stressors associated with current existential realities tend to dominate personal consciousness and there seems little to suggest that this predicament will improve any time soon, and such are the consequences that the detachment and exquisitely honed degree of inner attention necessary to achieve this rarified state of enlightenment are all but impossible for all but the 0.0001% of the herd. Hence my scepticism that your optimistic essay is anything but that, and bound to founder against the grubby shores of present-day mundane realities.

    If one casts one’s eye back into previous times and ponders on previous civilizations, one example, to make a point, being Myanmar, where that country’s landscape is literally dotted with stupas and temples in respect and reference to the Buddha, along with similar cultural artefacts in other Asian countries; China, Korea, Japan… one sees immediately and implicitly the degree of penetration of the Buddha’s teaching & impact in those cultures and how he was revered for the depth and fineness of his insights. Compare and contrast that with the cultural landscapes of today and what do we find: degradation, venality, coarseness, cruelty, ignorance, sleep. As said at the outset, nice effort, but unfortunately it doesn’t correspond with the state of how things actually are.

  7. Steve Davis

    Canguro, in referring to the impact of spiritual values on other cultures said “Compare and contrast that with the cultural landscapes of today and what do we find: degradation, venality, coarseness, cruelty, ignorance, sleep.” I agree.

    The progress brought about by the Enlightenment has been greatly over-stated. It is true that the emphasis on Reason broke the shackles of medieval superstition, but that was replaced by a new superstition. Instead of the mysterious workings of a supernatural Creator, we’ve been lumped with the “invisible hand” of the market. You can see where I’m heading. Yes, the greatest impact of the Enlightenment has been the ascent of Liberalism — a movement so blind and arrogant that it has us hurtling towards destruction.

    I have nothing but admiration for John Lord with his listing of desired steps on the pathway to a more humane future, but these are not, as John suggests, possible features of the Enlightenment that got lost along the way. They are features that to a certain extent already existed, but were crushed by the ultra-materialism of a movement that declared the death of God, that put humans at the pinnacle of creation, and that gave rise to the narcissism of the cult of individualism that dominates today.

    And what is the result of the ultra-materialism that the enlightenment gave us? Is it noble and uplifting, or as Canguro suggests — degrading, venal, coarse, cruel and ignorant? Samuel P Huntington summed it up nicely in The Clash of Civilisations — “The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion, but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.”

    Defenders of Enlightenment values are right to emphasise the value of Reason; of people thinking for themselves, but this needs to be done with great care, after study, research, after considering all possibilities. John Locke’s Essay On Human Understanding has been regarded by many as the catalyst for the Enlightenment, but it’s actually a case in point of the dangers that can lie in reasoning without care. Check out the wikipedia entry on Locke’s Essay. He comes across as a blind man stumbling around trying to get a picture of the world and making the wrong conclusions. His widely accepted belief that humans are born without innate ideas and that knowledge is instead determined only by experience derived from sense perception, is wrong.

    Enlightenment figures were on the right track in breaking the power of organised religion to dominate society, (their success was limited) but we’ve been saddled instead with the power of organised narcissism and selfishness.

  8. Clakka

    And whilst we deconstruct, and exercise our freedom to wait or rush in, we elect our Gods, seek to modify their acuity, and construct a pass by which to escape to our a designer-paradise.

    I dream therefore I am. As for nightmares, like wild horses, they gallop off and away to take care of themselves.

    Or not.

  9. wam

    A great warming giggle today, lord. It re-inforces thatcher’s opinion of society.
    Steve is right that white progress has been bought by violence, corruption and political intrference by big business and their eager to follow politicians.
    That takes care of about a billion people,lord, any idea about the other 7 billion? WTF does enlightenment mean to them?
    Have a look at your list and see how they could become equal to whomever the people your ‘we’ are?

  10. Terence Mills

    Marise Payne is retiring from the senate and our quaint constitutional arrangements mean that the replacement senator will not be decided by the people of NSW. The guernsey will probably go to someone the people don’t want or have already rejected : the NSW Liberal Party will decide, don’t you worry about that !

    The two front runners for pre-selection are both men, Andrew Constance a former Liberal minister in the NSW state parliament and Warren Mundine : both of these men have tried to get elected to federal parliament before by standing for the Liberals in the federal NSW seat of Gilmore [Mundine in 2019 and Constance in 2022] – both were rejected by the very astute electors of Gilmore.

    So, the people don’t want either of these guys but the Liberal Party wants one of them, not because he will demonstrate particular talents that could benefit the good folk of NSW and the effective operation of our federal senate. No, what they would achieve should they fill the senate vacancy is that they could be relied on to block Labor legislation and generally frustrate the operations of our senate.

    Incidentally, Dave Sharma who was rejected by the electors of Wentworth at the last election is also throwing his hat in the ring : so you have three blokes who have been rejected by the electorate who want to get into parliament through the back door – how democratic is that ?

    While we are talking about referenda and changes to our Constitution why not a provision that will require any senate vacancy to be decided by the people – that would be radical wouldn’t it ? Don’t hold your breath.

  11. Phil Pryor

    The exit of decaying offal is always appreciated, a relief to the nostrils of decency, but, a replacement is to be found and old cadaverous duds, deviates, dickheads, drongos and dribblers will be offered, no election required. Shit to sugar, how lovely…

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