The Revolution Issue

21st Century Enlightenment

The rebirth of the political left will depend on how well we can incorporate this big idea.
Photos by Roderik Henderson - Island: A Bare Skeleton of Being

Photos by Roderik Henderson - Island: A Bare Skeleton of Being

Audio version read by George Atherton

The 18th-century enlightenment concept of the individual self is running out of steam and a new paradigm of human nature is emerging. Our sense of being separate, autonomous beings each with our own distinct, self-authored identity is melting away. That we should strive to become islands of free-floating individuals, each absolutely responsible for our own destiny and journey through life, now seems impossible and even undesirable: We understand that we are the products of both nature and nurture. The enlightenment idea of a world of self-interested individuals, impermeable to hands and ideas that would nurture us seems dystopian now.

Freedom – the grand unifying cause of our modern democratic societies – has not been realized by having an ever-expanding array of personal lifestyle and product choices. And progress is not advanced by the constant expansion of those choices. As we witness the destruction leveled against people and nature in the name of personal gain, our lives lived within our current consumer capitalist paradigm feel increasingly hollow. We see more mental health problems and suicides than ever before. And the Earth bears horrible wounds of our egocentric greed.

Community – not more individual freedom – is what we now crave. And what is emerging from this craving is a convincing new account of what it means to be human and live a good life: a new paradigm of human nature that reconnects us to each other and the natural world.

We are standing on the verge of a 21st-century enlightenment.

The rebirth of the political left will depend on how well we can incorporate the new, 21st-century enlightenment paradigm of human nature into our narratives, agendas and visions of the future.

Kalle Lasn, inspired by Madeleine Bunting

64 comments on the article “21st Century Enlightenment”

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Dylan

I think you need some kinda critical mass that involves, politics, culture and economics being pushed in this direction. It about people forming networks across borders, boundaries and groups and pushing these ideas. We need leaders and inspiration too.

Dylan

I think you need some kinda critical mass that involves, politics, culture and economics being pushed in this direction. It about people forming networks across borders, boundaries and groups and pushing these ideas. We need leaders and inspiration too.

Greg R.

I think people want to form a community but they do not have the means to do so. It seems like most people are squeezed financially with mortgage payments, insurance payments, and ever increasing inflation. These people were living off an easy credit stream that has shriveled up. I'm not sure if most of these people really own their own homes or the clothes on their back if it was bought through credit. I think monetary reform would be necessary for real change.

Greg R.

I think people want to form a community but they do not have the means to do so. It seems like most people are squeezed financially with mortgage payments, insurance payments, and ever increasing inflation. These people were living off an easy credit stream that has shriveled up. I'm not sure if most of these people really own their own homes or the clothes on their back if it was bought through credit. I think monetary reform would be necessary for real change.

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