Video Reflections 1: 21st Century Enlightenment

This post marks the beginning of a series of post that I’m trying out: Video Reflections. One out of two posts (at least for the time being) will be a short post on my relatively immediate personal reflections on a short video that encourages us to think. I highly encourage you to share your thoughts on the video through a comment. This will allow me to post more regularly as these posts require less time to write than my regular posts, and I simply thought that it was a fun idea that would change the pace of my blog. The idea germinated in my head when I started watching the RSAnimate videos on YouTube. They are basically a series of video on short 10 minutes presentation on a topic inciting reflections on what the RSA has called the 21st century enlightenment. My series of posts will thus start with the RSAnimate videos. The first video selected is a video introducing the concept on 21st century enlightenment:

At first, I found the concept of 21st Century Enlightenment appealing. It of course makes reference to the 17/18th Century movement which people tend to view as positive. I liked the idea because I do believe it’s time to drastically revaluate the Western World’s values, behaviour, relations with others and normative system. On that point, I believe it’s a commendable goal and some of the RSAnimate videos do achieve it very well. From the point of view of the environmentalist that I am, I certainly cannot disagree that the individualist, self-centric and anthropocentric views entrenched in modern Western Societies need to be changed. There is something I find inherently wrong about what the video identifies as the lack of compassion for social and environmental problems (which I think is probably even greater than what the video lets us believe) and our allegedly capitalist market economic systems. I also agree that measuring happiness with progress is just plain wrong; but sadly it’s a widespread belief, especially in right wing and economist-progressist/economic-development circles (and sometimes even in more progressive/social circles). Having studied law quite a bit now, it is also hard to disagree that most people’s idea of justice are not aligned at all with what the so called justice system provides. Reality is often much more complex.

Nevertheless, I have some issues about the analysis in this video. While the points the author is trying to make are valid, I find its deeply western-centric perspective troubling. If we are to redefine what values are and bring a practical point of views to them – or bring them closer to reality – should we not take into consideration the rest of the world, especially since the concepts seems to be geared towards global change and redefining (or defining) universalism? If we are to build a more self-aware and socially embedded model of autonomy, should we not make the social-awareness global and thus take into considerations other values, other cultures and other points of views? Imperialism/colonialism as we understand it today developed at the same time as the enlightenment. This point alone can alienate a part of the global population to the idea of 21st century enlightenment. To truly, in my view, divert from our current (western) world view and engage into a constructive debate over social reconstruction, I believe we must engage into our own personal “enlightenment” process of shifting our picture of society as being global and not simply occidental. It is as crucial as shifting from an anthropocentric point of view to an ecocentric one. We do not hold the truth and I think the failure of our way of life – both in the West with the recent economic crisis and the ongoing ecological crisis, and in the rest of the world through colonization and through the imposition of our way of life and our economic (often neoliberal) system on the developing world – demonstrates that we are unable to tell anyone what to do and that we should be more open to other system of values. As the video said, we should not treat the familiar as right and the unfamiliar as wrong.

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