The Enlightenment principle that we can apply reason and sympathy to enhance human flourishing may seem obvious, trite, old-fashioned. But it is not. More than ever, the ideals of reason, science, humanism, and progress need a wholehearted defense. We take its gifts for granted: newborns who will live more than eight decades, markets overflowing with food, clean water that appears with a flick of a finger and waste that disappears with another, pills that erase a painful infection, sons who are not sent off to war, daughters who can walk the streets in safety, critics of the powerful who are not jailed or shot, the world’s knowledge and culture available in a shirt pocket. But these are human accomplishments, not cosmic birthrights. In the memories of many readers—and in the experience of those in less fortunate parts of the world—war, scarcity, disease, ignorance, and lethal menace are a natural part of existence. We know that countries can slide back into these primitive conditions, and so we ignore the achievements of the Enlightenment at our peril.
After years of heavy industrialization, China’s environmental challenges are nearing a tipping point.
Artificial intelligence has become a hot political and cultural topic.
Great discoveries take time to change the world. GPS, now pervasive in our satnavs, phones and smartwatches, took a century to reach today’s advanced stage.
In the 1985 Cold War satire, Dunn’s Conundrum, its author, Stan Lee, equates the nuclear arms race with a Native American ceremony known as ‘potlatch’.
It is a phrase that is much bandied about in media and by politicians but if you were to stop and ask a casual passer-by what is meant by “civil society” it is unlikely many people could give an in-depth answer.
Anecdotal evidence of urban sprawl, renewable energy uptake, deforestation and bleached corals are all over our newsfeeds and social-media channels. Yet to date, demonstrating the drivers and consequences of planetary change on a global and local level simultaneously has been difficult to do.
We live in a world of major geopolitical shifts and life-changing technological innovations. It’s fair to wonder, then, what our biggest hopes are for society in the coming decades.
What would happen if vaccine stocks disappeared overnight?
As a parent, I’d be terrified. As an expert, I’d be working overtime because the consequence would be millions of women, children and adults suffering needlessly from preventable diseases.
Not so long ago, the internet was hailed as the solution to humanity’s ills. It would shine a light on all corners of the globe, bringing new knowledge and exchange. But growing concerns about fake news, surveillance, cybercrime, social media addiction and monopolised power have tarnished that shine. Without ignoring the internet’s positive impact over the past few decades, these difficulties remind us that a technology-driven utopia – or technotopia – is a fiction. People and governance always shape the use and impact of a technology.
Jem Bendell, Founding Director, The Institute for Leadership and Sustainability