Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself - Tolstoy
Right now, as you read this, depression is the single greatest burden on health worldwide. Suicide kills more people than war and natural catastrophes put together. Anxiety is the fastest-growing illness in teens and loneliness is becoming an epidemic. In the last forty years, 1/3 of arable land on Earth has become infertile. Deaths attributed to pollution are triple those from AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. Above all, wage stagnation has meant that, for the first time in human history, most children will not out-earn their parents.
Something is clearly wrong at the heart of our modern world, even though we have gained so much from modernity. After decades of politicians and business leaders failing to solve our problems with redistributions and trickle-downs, nationalisations and privatisations, welfare and work, it’s no wonder that people are scared and angry: avoiding life with addictions; voting in populists; reverting to religious fanaticism; escaping into ‘well being'; or becoming radicalised as racist supremacists or justice warriors.
To cut to the chase, the core of our troubles is this: we have been disconnected from the natural world as well as our true nature within.
From depression to homelessness, from Alt-Right to Alt-Left demagoguery, I see symptoms of a profound material and conscious alienation. We are locked into producing and consuming more and more material gadgets even as our industrial-age models devastate the environment. We are under constant pressure to work longer and harder, yet still can’t afford decent homes and healthcare.
We are striving for productivity with brains that evolved for a slower life: hunting and gathering followed by nourishing periods of presence with our loved ones and the earth itself. We are trying to solve Anthropocene issues with Neolithic neurons and wondering why we are so stressed and overwhelmed.
More worryingly, we have developed religious and scientific narratives that anchor the alienation in place with a common assumption: separation (whether from God on high or from the objects we study under the microscope). Existing narratives are failing to provide us with a life philosophy to thrive in this rapidly changing world, whether pre-modern religious eschatology (it’s all happening as part of God’s plan); modern scientific atheism (it’s an evolutionary struggle for survival in a meaningless universe); or postmodern deconstruction (it’s about dismantling power hierarchies, ironically). All are limited... and so limiting.
In the vacuum of meaning generated by modernity, we urgently need a new cultural narrative to help us engage with the ‘triple threat' of existential risks like climate change; exponential technologies like AI; and disrupted societies experiencing the breakdown of the social contract of (il)liberal democracy.
Spiritual atheism is underpinned by the majesty of modern science without limiting our wisdom to what can be proven by studying matter alone.
In my book Spiritual Atheism: A Quest To Unite Science and Wisdom Into A Radical New Life Philosophy To Thrive In the Digital Age
, I have set out the philosophical foundations for a new cultural narrative. In the book, I set out a rigorous ‘
dual-aspect' metaphysics that sees the scientific and wisdom traditions as two different, yet complementary, ways of knowing one ‘
non-dual' reality. Science is the most rigorous way we have found to give us reliable and replicable data about what works to change the material world of atoms, neurons, and financial systems. Contemplation, whether through burning ecstasy or quiescent meditation, is the most rigorous way we have found of building up a rigorous knowledge-base of our consciousness so that we can reliably change our biologies to experience compassion, creativity, and collaboration.
For a spiritual atheist, neither consciousness nor matter is more important or more ‘
true'. Mastery of both is vital if we want to transform ourselves so we can step up as the transformational leaders
we need to be to solve the species-threatening problems we now face.
Spiritual atheism is underpinned by the majesty of modern science without limiting our wisdom to what can be proven by studying matter alone. By recognising the refined wisdom that emerges after years of ‘
inner work' as equally valid to scientific knowledge we do not fall back into superstition, we do not cede control to a priestly tribe, text, or temple, nor do we fall into the trap of much ‘
New Age' spirituality: remaining an aesthetic choice—tattoos and yoga pants—rather than a profound political one.
We recognise that ‘
the system' is unjust and we seek to change it through activism and innovation. But we also realise that changes in external circumstances are not sustainable until we transform the shared beliefs and habits in consciousness that crystallise ‘
the system' in the first place. At the moment, the materialist mindset we are in is is too busy using powerful innovation tools, private capital, tax dollars, and political power to solve the symptoms of our problems and not their root causes. This is why we have generated so few genuinely disruptive social innovations (see my papers on the subject here
Instead, we’ve witnesses centuries of conflict about who owns what, while those in power ignore the importance of mastering the joys and sorrows of consciousness.
We can't solve our 21st Century problems in matter without first solving our millennia-old problems in consciousness.
A revolution is not going to work. We need nothing less than a complete paradigm-shift in how we see and measure value within human relations: a renaissance of what it means to be human. We can still use money as a useful measure of the material whilst rebalancing our worldview with the immaterial gift of presence: loving, caring, healing, learning, teaching.
We can't solve our 21st Century problems in matter without first solving our millennia-old problems in consciousness: simply put, hurt people will hurt people into they heal and become whole. This can't happen without the life-changing experience of mystical enlightenment—an abiding sense that we are safe, connected, and loved—whether we call this sense of oneness ‘spiritual’ or not.
Those who are yearning for a truly better world must turn the triple threat into an opportunity to prevent capitalism from eating itself by ensuring it transforms itself through an evolution in consciousness. We cannot go back to a mythic past of ‘
greatness' and there is no value in an escape (fantasy). Instead, our Switch On Way
methodology, centred on the The Transformation Curve, teaches us that we must go “through, up and out” to make genuine progress. We must double-down on our culture, not fight it.
Those of us who are sufficiently awake must dedicate our lives to ushering in this 2nd Renaissance that brings about a life-affirming system driven by a collective upgrade in consciousness. We urgently need to land systemic innovations that harness exponential technologies like blockchain, the Decentralised Web and Decentralised Autonomous Organizations (DAO) to deliver purpose—increased human thriving and decreased human suffering—on an unprecedented scale. This must include: scalable co-living models, empathic economic exchanges, human-scale connective platforms, exponential transformation technologies, and educational curricula that teach wisdom as much as knowledge, leadership as much as management.
We will only transform our failing system when we co-create solutions to our shared problems from a genuinely evolved stage of consciousness: from an embodied sense that ‘palintonically
' balances profit with purpose, productivity with presence, and creativity with compassion. We will not innovate what is needed when we are stuck in protective patterns of me! mine! or more! We need well-resourced and trusted spaces that consistently bring us into Create & Connect Mode as opposed to Control & Protect Mode. Then we can listen to what is seeking to emerge from each group without distortions from protective patterns that promote Me over We.
Many of us are needed for this rebirth: modern-day Medicis as much as digital age Da Vincis. The resources are there to begin the Transformation Curve for the 2nd Renaissance but they are not yet gathered in rooted places and cultivating space. Would-be innovators are stuck in wage slavery. Investors are stuck in ROI slavery. Only when we marshal our financial, social, and spiritual capital will we be able to reform material capitalism into Connected Capitalism: a system that prioritises love within; intimacy with each other; and harmony with the earth we require to survive and thrive.
Held safely within well-funded ‘
think-and-do' tanks, purpose-driven incubators, and transnational conventions of ambitious institutions, we can consciously co-create disruptive social innovations and purpose-driven enterprises that work at scale.
We must ground our masculine minds in feminine forms, always balancing relentless and rapid Research and Development (R&D) with crucial rejuvenation and reflection. Then, and only then, will everything that our hearts yearn for be possible.Listen to a conversation with Nick Jankel about the relationship between spiritual practice and social change, how to 'hack' identity politics, the responsibility of ‘integralists’ to intervene in cultural flashpoints, and the need for post-tribal tribes to create collaborative fellowship on the Emerge: Making Sense of What's Next podcast.