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  • www.theRSA.org

  • Matthew Taylor

  • The RSA has a new strapline

  • and that strapline is 21st Century Enlightenment.

  • The original Enlightenment in the 18th century

  • was not, of course, a single cohesive movement.

  • It didn't have a simple start and finish.

  • So when we think about the core ideals of the Enlightenment

  • it is not simply a kind of historical process.

  • It's in a way when we think about how those ideals

  • shaped modern values, norms and lifestyles.

  • It is a kind of process of cultural psychotherapy.

  • We are delving into what has shaped

  • the collective consciousness of modern people.

  • And that enables us to explore critically whether those values

  • and what they have come to mean to us, still work for us

  • and whether they meet the challenges that we now face.

  • So, whereas I don't underestimate

  • the ability of human beings to invent and to adapt

  • in the end, on balance, I do favor the view

  • that we do need to live differently in the 21st Century.

  • And as the architects of the Enlightenment understood

  • to live differently involves thinking differently,

  • involves seeing the world and ourselves from a new perspective.

  • In critically examining

  • what Enlightenment values have come to mean to us

  • what we can now bring to bear is

  • powerful new insights into human nature

  • insights that have emerged from a variety of scientific disciplines

  • social sciences over the last 20 or 30 years.

  • Copernicus, Galileo and Newton

  • helped to lay the ground for the Enlightenment

  • by revealing that the laws of nature

  • not only failed to conform to religious doctrine,

  • but also they failed to conform to intuition.

  • So, the Pope might have said the sun went round the earth.

  • It might have felt like the sun went round the earth,

  • but science showed otherwise.

  • And I think that insights into human nature have a similar double impact,

  • also unsettling our intuitive sense of ourselves in the world.

  • Most of our behavior, including social interaction

  • is the result of us responding automatically to the world around us

  • rather than the outcome of conscious decision-making

  • and in this sense, it's more realistic to see ourselves

  • as integrally connected to the social and natural world

  • rather than as a separate, wholly autonomous entity.

  • The research is clear, if you want to be a happier person

  • don't read a self-help book. Just have happier friends.

  • And, there are other lessons that we can learn

  • from the more subtle and holistic model of human nature now emerging.

  • You know, we're not very good at making long-term decisions.

  • We're much better at understanding relative than absolute values

  • and as we found out in the credit crunch

  • we are enthralled to what Keynes called "animal spirits".

  • Perhaps even more startlingly

  • we are very, very bad at predicting what's going to make us happy

  • and we're even bad at describing what made us happy in the past.

  • So, I would argue that the moral and political critique of individualism

  • now has an evidence base

  • and it's with this in mind that I argue

  • the 21st Century Enlightenment should champion

  • a more self-aware, socially-embedded model of autonomy

  • that recognises our frailties and limitations.

  • Now this does not mean repudiating the rights of the individual

  • and nor does it underestimate our unique ability

  • to shape our own destinies.

  • Indeed, it's actually by understanding that conscious thought

  • is only a part of what drives our behaviour

  • that we become better able to exercise self-control.

  • All of this can enable us to distinguish our needs from our appetites

  • and our amazing human potential from the hubris of individualism.

  • It's the basis for self-aware autonomy.

  • The developmental psychologist Robert Kegan argues

  • that successfully functioning in a society

  • with diverse values, traditions and lifestyles

  • requires us, in his words, to have a relationship to our own reactions

  • rather than be captive of them.

  • I quote "To resist our tendencies to make right or true

  • that which is nearly familiar

  • and wrong or false, that which is only strange."

  • Now, the good news, and it is really good news, is that there is

  • every reason to believe that we can expand empathy's reach.

  • Despite major departures from the trend, most terribly in the 20th Century

  • the history of the human race

  • has been one of diminishing person-to-person violence.

  • Since the advent of modern civil rights

  • we've seen a revolution in social attitudes based on race, gender, sexuality.

  • Furthermore, real-time global media

  • brought the suffering of distant people into our living rooms

  • and immigration, emigration and foreign travel

  • all provide us with opportunities to put ourselves in other people's shoes.

  • There are reasons to ask whether the process of widening human empathy

  • has stalled, and at just the time when we need it to accelerate.

  • After 4 decades of post-war progress

  • levels of inequality have risen in the rich world.

  • Tensions between different ethnic groups persist

  • and have taken on new dimensions. Anti-immigrant sentiment has grown

  • arguably reflecting a failure by policy makers

  • to balance the imparities of globalisation and the idea of universalism

  • with the empathic capacity of the communities most affected by change.

  • From gangs to the impact of violent video games

  • there are worries about young people.

  • Globalisation and public deficits

  • may mean that future generations in the West

  • face tougher challenges than their parents.

  • So the stalk of global empathy upon which democratic leaders can draw

  • has to grow, if we are to reach agreements

  • which put the long-term needs of the whole planet

  • and all its people ahead of short term national concerns.

  • But the chain linking inter-personal, communal

  • and global scale empathy is complex.

  • Intellectuals, politicians and interest groups and think tanks

  • spend an enormous amount of time

  • debating what should be the content of universalism.

  • Which rights? Which entitlements? Which capabilities?

  • But shouldn't we perhaps just spend a little more time

  • exploring the foundation of universalist sentiment?

  • What is it that enhances, and what is it that diminishes

  • our empathic capacity?

  • Policy implications range from a

  • continued emphasis on the earliest child-rearing

  • to developing schools as intelligent communities

  • to exploring the way popular culture inclines us to think of other people.

  • For example, a culture which prized empathy

  • would be one which distinguished the healthy activity

  • of public disagreement from the unhealthy habit of public disparagement.

  • It's become a cliche that education

  • is the most valuable resource in a global knowledge economy.

  • I would argue that fostering empathic capacity is just as important

  • to achieving a world of citizens at peace with each other

  • and with themselves. But

  • even were we to have more self-aware and more empathic citizens

  • they would still face dilemmas and differences of opinion.

  • I want to encourage us to recognise that the question

  • "What is progress?" raises substantive and ethical questions

  • which we should be more willing to acknowledge

  • to honour and to debate how are we to make those decisions.

  • Of course, the utilitarian answer lies in maximizing human happiness

  • and if the progress is measured in those terms

  • we have done well since the Enlightenment. There is little doubt.

  • The poorest citizens of the developed world now have better health

  • longer life spans and many more resources and opportunities

  • than those who would have been considered well-off a century ago.

  • But sometimes

  • sometimes it feels as though the idea that

  • progress should be designed to increase happiness

  • has turned into the assumption that pursuing progress

  • is the same as improving human welfare.

  • The success of the Western post-Enlightenment project

  • has resulted in a society like ours being dominated by 3 logics:

  • The logic of science and technological progress

  • the logic of markets and the logic of bureaucracy

  • And the limits of the logic of science and of markets

  • lie in their indifference to a substantive concern for the general good.

  • If something can be discovered and developed, it should be discovered and developed.

  • If something can be solved, then it should be solved.

  • And the problem for bureaucracy is the tendency

  • to put the rationality of rules above the rationality of ends.

  • And so, it is in this context

  • that the 21st century Enlightenment project demands a re-assertion

  • of the fundamentally ethical dimension of humanism.

  • How can we make it easier to ask "Is this right?"

  • Is it to be a world where so many of us feel that the shape of our lives

  • is dictated not by the idea of a life fully lived

  • but by social convention and economic circumstances?

  • Why should we cram education into the first quarter of our lives

  • desperately balance work and caring in the 2nd and 3rd quarter

  • and then feel that we're going to suffer second class status

  • and the fear of neglect in the final quarter?

  • You see, rationality can tell us how best to get from A to Z

  • but without ethical reasoning, we cannot discuss where Z should be?

  • So what we aim for

  • can be as important to our well-being

  • as what we achieve.

  • As Michel Foucault says of Kant's own description of the Enlightenment

  • "It has to be conceived as an attitude, an ethos

  • a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are

  • is at one and the same time the historical analysis

  • of the limits that are imposed on us

  • and an experiment of the possibility of going beyond them.

  • To be responsible, to create a big society, to live sustainably

  • this not simply a matter of will.

  • The 21st Century Enlightenment calls for us to see past

  • simplistic and inadequate ideas of freedom, of justice, and of progress.

  • Perhaps it's time to stop chasing those myths

  • to stop being transfixed by abstractions

  • and instead to reconnect a concrete understanding

  • of who we are as human beings

  • to political debates about who we need to be

  • and philosophical and even spiritual exploration of

  • whom we might aspire to be.

  • Creative people who want to make a difference

  • have a million and one opportunities and distractions.

  • To engage them means an ethic which is intolerant to negativity

  • rigid thinking and self-promotion

  • and instead keeps people constantly in touch

  • with the words of the anthropologist Margaret Mead

  • true to the spirit which created the Enlightenment

  • true to the spirit which moved the founders of the RSA, 256 years ago.

  • Margaret Mead said simply this:

  • "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens

  • can change the world.

  • Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

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RSA Animate:馬修-泰勒-21世紀啟蒙 (RSA Animate: Matthew Taylor - 21st Century Enlightenment)

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