A New Foundation for Civilization: Starting with Humanism

I’ve spent most of my life working to understand how best to live in a way that would improve the lives of every person. I’m convinced I’ve been able to find the essence of that truth, and I believe that what I have found may be of some value to others. That’s why I published my 2011 book, How to Live the Good Life: A User’s Guide for Modern Humans, as an attempt to lay it all out. Some of you may have obtained and sampled it, but this exploration is a new approach to communicate what I’ve learned.

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From my perspective, all societies up to this point have failed to provide their citizens with what I call a sustainable feeling of wellbeing—a condition that exists when a person has a system of beliefs that are congruent with reality, or are able to move in that direction with education. (I imagine certain contemporary Scandinavian societies may beg to differ.) Aside from small tribal groups, societies have provided their citizens with, at most, a tenuous feeling of wellbeing. Part of the reason is because of the tendency for groups to regard all other groups as outsiders—even the enemy. Today this problem is displayed in conflicts from the schoolyard to the world stage on a regular basis, with the potential of wiping out our very species. I take this condition to exist because all societies now rest, and have always rested, on deficient foundations. A new foundation for civilization based on a different model is required. Humanism gives us the tools to build a better model because humanism takes the wellbeing of the individual as primary. It is science-based, and science is open-ended and self-correcting. And humanism, when properly understood, takes the maintenance of humanity as an ethical species to be a core value. The path I think needs to be followed to reach the model I propose is a process analogous to “moving toward the light at the end of the tunnel.” Our story really began when the human subspecies, Homo sapiens sapiens (from which modern human genetic ancestry derives) emerged some 195,000 years ago. It was at some point between that time and a more recent one some 50,000 years ago that a behavioral breakthrough was recognized, where our ancestors diverged from all other species on our planet. This happened when our ancestors first used abstract thinking, symbolism, and symbolic language, thus allowing an individual to be steered by memes (concepts, ideas) rather than raw genetic instinct. Practically, this meant our behavior and thinking could change and progress dramatically as we learned and passed on that education. Now, previously unimaginable transformations could take place in a relative instant rather than over millennia. Since acquiring symbolic language, humanity has pursued a path leading from almost total ignorance toward a position from which we can understand where we’ve come from and where we need to go. Every situation that interferes with any individual achieving a sustainable feeling of wellbeing (what is essentially the meaning of life) represents a problem needing to be solved in order for all to move toward the light of reason and happiness. Look for part two of “A New Foundation for Civilization” later this week. Tags: