The age of a new enlightenment
Where are you going? Is the past an indication for the future?
Shared beliefs are needed to unify, to make it possible for us, advanced apes, to live, to cooperate in “unnatural” large groups, to create our competitive advantage. To achieve this, some developments were breakthrough-events: the discovery of abstract concepts probably some 30,000/40,000 years ago, later our “fiat” (commonly accepted) deities and more recently our “fiat” money. These catapulted us forward from a few million homo sapiens then to a few billion now, eliminating all other homo species on our way. Today we and the domesticated animals represent 1 billion tons of biomass; all wild animals of a similar size or larger together add up to 100 million tons. No thanks to our muscles nor our single brains, but because we are able to cooperate and fight together with hundreds or thousands or more, instead of doing it all alone or with just a few dozens. We can now talk about feelings, square roots or string theories, market fluctuations. Religion has become more than just respect for our surroundings, unknowns, spirits. Economy is more than just subsistence hunting and gathering.
Religion has evolved in a continuum from shamans as communicators with the spirits of all living or dead creatures, over beliefs in collections of human-like creatures beings in powerful parallel spiritual worlds, into creator and non-creator deities, more ethical focused movements and eventually in all controlling and exclusive religions. Religions as revealed through prophets or as discovered by wise men. Religions as a unique sphere of live dealing with the supernatural, answering the unanswerable questions. Religions as a comprehensive system covering every aspect of life.
Economy evolved from doing all by yourself into specializing and trading some surplus goods. From agriculture in little gardens with a pig and some chickens into the agriculture of never ending fields. Further specialization and worldwide trading in foods, raw materials, tools, luxury goods. An industrial revolution resulting in mega factories. Emptying the oceans on an industrial scale. Factory style henneries rearing 23 billion 6 to 7 week old chickens (opposed to a natural life of 6 to 7 years). From telling our children where and how to hunt and gather into the current virtual information outburst
These evolutions need the support of changing cultures, philosophies, beliefs. This did not always happen gradually. Sometimes paradigm shifts occurred. The Age of Enlightenment in the 17-hundreds was a good example. It prepared us for the modern world.
Is a new shift around the corner? And where will the Philippines be when it happens? Leading or lagging?
1. THE AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT OF THE 18TH CENTURY
1.1 Pre-history and Zeitgeist (spirit of the age) in the second half of the 18th century
Pre-thinkers: Aristotle, Plato, Ibn Rushd, Spinoza, Locke, Hobbes, Descartes . . . More printed books, more universities.
Religion: The Contra-Reformation in Catholic countries or Protestantism as justifying powers for the aristocracy and controlling every aspect of life for the common people.
Politics: Land, even countries as private property of kings and the aristocracy. God had created the aristocracy for that purpose, just as he had created slaves to do the hardest labor. But the save trade became so inhuman that it was questioned, and when you can question the Devine creation of slaves, you could also question the Devine creation of the aristocracy.
Science: Locke still equated natural law with the biblical revelation. Newton came with independent natural laws but he was still obsessed with alchemy. New discoveries, new sciences were hot, new mathematics, chemistry, geology, study of fossils, ethnology . . . The writing down of all this new knowledge in an Encyclopedia was a great success.
Old cultures were revisited, new cultures discovered, India, the East. Especially fascinating were the islands in the Pacific with distinct sexual mores. Ethical behavior seemed possible without a foundation in the Bible.
1.2 Central themes
Some of the thinkers: Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Hume, Kant, Jefferson, Franklin and d’Holbach (but his fame did not survive because of his atheist ideas).
Religion should deal with religion and not with science, politics, art or any other aspect of life. Compensation in afterlife as change for hardship in life is not fair.
Atheism; Deism; religion only dealing with the supernatural and not the secular.
A paradigm shift from the “divine right of kings” to “the consent of the governed”. Absolutism with a king has no justification. The nation is the people, not the personal property of a king.
Science will improve the world. Human behavior will be rational, explained.
Many different ethical systems are possible; books over the Bounty in Tahiti and about India make man dream.
Hedonism here and now against the heaven later; Epicurus rediscovered, “The pursuit of happiness”.
Utilitarianism, who benefits, who gets hurt by your actions, how to compare, what is proportional.
1.3 Breeding places and Dissemination mechanism
- Salons and Masonic lodges
- Letters and Books
- Encyclopedias, natural history and science as sources for alternative answers
- The rise of the “public sphere”, egalitarian, discussing the “common concern”, with argumentations founded on reason.
- American declaration of independence, universal individual rights, hedonistic pursuit of happiness.
- French revolution with Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité as the foundation of all political actions.
- Modernity. Science as the source of progress.
- Individualism. Me and only me, not my clan, not my guild, not my church, not my school . . .
1.5 First Enlightenment in the Philippines
King Charles III in Spain encouraged scientific and empirical thought in an effort to debunk myths and superstitions. He even expelled the Jesuit Order from Spain completely in 1767. It was short lived. By the 1770s the conservatives had launched a counterattack and used censorship and the still existing Inquisition to suppress Enlightenment ideas. The Philippines was far away. The “wars” of influence between Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, Benedictines, Jesuits, Regular priests were more important than philosophical discussions.
The Philippines had to wait a century for the Illustrados, Rizal, the Free Masons and also they were short lived. The church kept its power, the American enlightenment had evolved in crude capitalism, the anti-colonialists had their first colony.
2. THE NEW AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT TODAY, OR THE “ENLIGHTENMENT REVISITED”
Today our belief in the primacy of the invisible hand and in the almighty monetary systems is omnipresent. But the askew income distribution, climate change, globalization . . . all make some people think that this primacy is unjustified. We might need a new approach, just as in the past when overreaching religious beliefs controlled everything in society and in individual life, ignoring the overwhelming new circumstances.
2.1 History and current Zeitgeist (spirit of the age)
Pre-thinkers: Club of Rome; May ‘68 in Paris, Berkley, Berlin and many other countries; the greens; hippies.
Religion: Extremism on the rise again, my (interpretation of) religion as the only reference for the whole world. The world is shrinking; we get more confronted with far away, “exotic” religions.
Politics: America as a single military and economic superpower gets China on its heels. Government intervention in many areas (economy, culture, sports, labor relations, social insurance . . .) reduced/ended with the fall of the iron curtain. Populism, unease with the existing systems, on the rise.
Science: Moore’s law still holding, Silicon Valley’s new world, artificial intelligence . . .; unlimited interconnections between scientists, fast and almost free A/B testing (comparing the results of two alternatives such as one website and the same website modified, then deciding for the better alternative); Wikipedia, data mining . . .; biological advances as DNA printers, brain research, bionics . . . ; miniaturization down to a molecular scale.
From mono-cultural city dwellers to mega city diversities: Explosion of sub-cultures in urban areas, artistic, music styles, philosophical, political, religious . . . Cultures by age more than anything else, teenagers, adolescence, young adults, mature adults, 3th age, 4th age . . . Different ethical behavior defined in each sub-culture, all living in parallel.
2.2 Some central themes
A few new thinkers (a very partial and personal list) : Philipp Blom, Yuval Noah Harari, Peter Singer, Daniel Kahneman, Joseph Stiglitz, Katrine Marçal.
- Economy, at the demand side:
How much is enough? Basic, marginal or ballast? To have or to be? Equality and diversity?
Commercialization of all spheres of life: The economy engulfs all, leisure, sport(ing), education, daily conversations via Facebook, care for the elderly . . .
Ponzi schemes in the real economy: Bubbles with profit for the highest layers, when it collapses losses for the bottom ones.
Eroded government influence: multinationals and international organizations gaining power and thus executive and legislative pillars and citizen organizations losing power. Disproportionate power of lobbyists. Decreasing respect for officials.
- Economy, at the supply side:
The Blue Marble has limited resources. Climate change.
De-humanization: Financial markets with split second reactions by computers. Internet customizing advertisements. Even computers that cheat, e.g. Volkswagen diesel emissions (still programmed but with computer-initiated cheating around the corner.)
Global competition and leveling towards the least common degree, e.g., legislation for wages, protection of the weak, product safety . . .
Monetary markets reign supreme. Casino capitalism.
Imbalances: Happiness has two faces, the pleasure we experience and the musing about the good life we had. Experiments show the second as more important; today’s emphasis is on the first.
Imbalances: Beauty, too, has more faces: beauty as the enjoyment of experiencing nice music, literature, person, painting . . . the beauty as in acquiring an insight, the beauty of peace/nirvana. Again, today’s emphasis is on the first.
Gamification: the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts (Rules, Goals, Rewards, Structure . . .)
Need for women in charge: Female strengths are needed in our new society. Women just as decoration is too expensive. Unequal pay is unfair.
See also Edgar Lores’ article “Are Filipinos a Siphonophore” and the evolution to more complex organisms.
2.3 Breeding places and Dissemination mechanism
- Mainly blogs and blog sites
2.4 Potential elements of a new philosophy
- Organize activities and society around our hunter-gatherer instincts.
- “Slow cooking” away from hyper-, away from pre-cooked. The power of whispering.
- Create the circumstances that are so all important in determining one’s happiness, rather than “delivering” elements of happiness itself.
- Direct peer to peer business.
- Back to “commons” or or assets without specific ownership, such as the “shared information property” in Wikipedia, Bitcoins or local currencies. (Basic elements in happiness are sharing and trust. The correct management of commons is enforcing these two feelings.)
- Give more of nature to the next generation than you received from the previous one.
- Tao and Tao Te Ching. Not only the goal, the destination, but more important is the way to get there.
- Ubuntu, a Bantu word and Mandela’s philosophy, meaning:
- Be united
- “Humanitarian behavior towards others”
- “I am because we are”
- Become human through others
- Communautarisme, address a person as part of the whole; opposite to atomizing people into their specific needs.
2.5 The new Enlightenment in the Philippines
Most of the original Enlightenment philosophers had mixed backgrounds, catholic/protestant, rural/city, German/French . . . Experiencing differences leads to asking questions. A Filipino has many layers in his own heart, a deep Asian core, a Spanish heart, Chinese traits by proximity and all with an American coating. Different islands, different languages. A substantial number of OFW’s and emigrants assimilating many different lifestyles.
The Philippines has many implicit answers to many of the above questions. They know how to make society happier, more sober, more in sync with nature. If we just could combine the Filipino smile with American assertiveness and Chinese foresight . . .
What does really matter in life? What are the common denominators? What is ballast? What do we want for our children? Who will translate our implicit answers into explicit ones? How to influence policy makers? How to sell our findings to the world?
Not all fight for daily survival; some must have energy left to ask basic questions. How to organize them, pool them to reach a critical mass?
A Caliphate? A religious leader also making the law, implementing and judging? A religious leader deciding what to produce, what to consume? A religious leader deciding about your daily schedules, how to relax and about what you can do in the bedroom? If not, what should be outside the religious domain? The first wave of enlightenment came up with decent answers.
All-powerful boardrooms? Boardrooms paying lobbyist to make and implement the laws, paying the best lawyers. Boardrooms deciding what to produce, what to consume? Boardrooms deciding about your daily schedule, how to relax and about what is fun in the bedroom? If not, what should be outside the economic domain? Up to us to come up with answers.
Utopia (Thomas More 1515) . . . It is allowed to dream? Utopia, not as the ideal world we need to build but as a strong tool to specify direction. Will capitalism, the almighty financial institutions, the myth of the free market be able to realize our Utopia? Or do we have to dream of better systems?
Can our mindset move from TINA to TAPAS? From there is no alternative to there are plenty alternative solutions.