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21st century enlightenment - a new plan


  • Social brain

I had some stunning comments on my last post on 21st century enlightenment (thank you!). A number of people suggested I needed to set out the structure of the argument (and why I am making it) more fully. I have done this below: 

1. 21CE is the new mission for the RSA. Explain what I mean by this. Show this a powerful way of understanding the progressive challenge. Define the broad terrain for our work and the challenge for the Society as an institution

2. Original enlightenment was a shift in ways of thinking about who we are and the world in which we live. Describe key elements of this with particular reference to ways of thinking

3. Why might we now need a similar shift in consciousness now? Four reasons ?: a)  Climate change, finite natural resources, protecting the environment. b) Global interdependence. c) Lack of well-being, fulfilment and social inclusion in rich world esp UK. d) Pace of complexity and change    

4. Another way of thinking about this is the great transition between the world human beings lived in throughout their evolution and the accelerating change that has transformed the developed world since the enlightenment.

• From small, homogeneous closed communities to mass, open diverse communities

• (In the rich world) from scarcity and subsistence to plenty

• From deferential, slowly changing, bounded-information cultures to reflexive, always changing, information-overloaded cultures

5. In each transition we can see the signs of dislocation but also imagine a new

way of thinking

• From conflict about nationalism, religion and identity to the emergence of a global civil society

• From individualism, consumerism and inequality to a focus on well-being and the good society

• From trying to make the world fit the ‘traditional’ world view relied on by most people to enabling the majority to reach what Robert Kegan calls a ‘modern’ world view.

6. Are there already concrete signs of the emergence of new ways of thinking, fragments of a 21st century enlightenment?

• Just as new technology was crucial to the first enlightenment – especially the mass production of books (ref Benedict Anderson) so the internet is vital to this. It is crucial to get behind the hype and try to understand the real and possible impact of the internet of the way we think and live (ref Morozov)

• Growing debate about redefining progress (ref Sarkozy Commission)

• Public awareness of science of brains and human behaviour leading to new models of human functioning (esp social brain)

• Focus in many countries on the importance of the early years in fostering capacity for ‘self authorship’ and empathy

• Work of inter-faith groups in acknowledging the importance of the sacred and the ‘golden rule’ at the heart of all religious belief (ref Armstrong)

• The growth of downsizing and social enterprise as people seek to bring their work and life into alignment with their values

• Growing interest in ethics as the essential core of organisational mission (why it is more effective than regulation)

• Focus on capabilities approach to education and social rights

7. Finally, crucial to the enlightenment was the emergence of new institutions (as it was to the American ‘gilded age – ref Putnam). The RSA was one of those institutions now it needs to be a 21st CE institution. Explain what this means for how we work.

Twitter logoSuggested hashtag for Twitter users: #21CE

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