David Korten’s Vision of a “Second Enlightenment”

David Korten, as we have seen, is proposing a new economic system.  Part of his vision is recognizing how the “Enlightenment” unleashed extraordinary advances in technology and governance that roughly doubled the global human lifespan, unleashed an explosion in human numbers and aggregate consumption, and connected us into a seamless global economic and communications web.

The first Enlightenment: “Louis XIV Visiting the Royal Academy of Sciences.” Etching by Sébastien Leclerc, 1671. Metropolitan Museum of Art, online database: entry 386304. On Wikimedia Commons.

The consequences now play out in extravagant material abundance for the few, material deprivation for the many, and an accelerating depletion of Earth’s capacity to support life. Caught up in the thrall of a partial, dated, and often demonstrably false narrative, we support a global economic system that drives growing environmental and social imbalances to ever more intolerable extremes.

Korten recognizes a new or “Second Enlightenment” emerging in which humans recognize themselves as living beings born of and nurtured by a sacred living Earth, itself born of and nurtured by a sacred living universe evolving toward ever treater complexity, beauty, awareness, and possibility. We now face a defining choice: prosper in the pursuit of life and its possibilities, or perish in the pursuit of money and its illusions.

Grandmother Agnes Baker Pilgrim from the Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers teaches how to live in love for the Earth Mother and all beings. Uploaded to YouTube by S. Barrett.

He believes the insights of this narrative draw from indigenous wisdom, the teachings of mystics and religious prophets, the findings of science, the lessons of history, and the insights of daily experience.

The first Enlightenment, says Korten,

stripped our lives of meaning and purpose—and of responsibility to and for Earth and our fellow humans. It subordinated the teachings of religion to the teachings of science—thus undermining the credibility of science in the eyes of those who see the beauty, wonder, possibility, and meaning in life that science denies.

Rabbit Cosmetic Animal Research Experimentation: the Draize test in which shampoos are dripped into the eyes of rabbits imprisoned in stocks. No pain relief is given. Photo © Brian Gunn for the International Association Against Painful Experiments on Animals

The resulting tension plays into the hands of climate deniers and political demagogues ready to exploit it for their own ends.

There is urgent need for the second Enlightenment now emerging where living organisms and communities of living organisms organize to create and maintain the conditions essential to their own existence. 

The human microbiome: microorganisms that live in and on us and contribute to human health and disease. Image by Darryl Leja, National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). On Flickr.

Clues for our survival lie in the human body itself since each human body is composed of more than 30 trillion individual living cells engaged in a constant exchange of energy, water, nutrients, and information under ever changing conditions.

Each cell and microorganism is an individual, self-directing living being joined together in a self-organizing, continuously self-renewing alliance that functions as a single being.  In the human body, approximately three billion cells die each minute—each reliably replaced by a living cell of like kind. This is no machine.

            The well-being of the whole, without which the single individual cannot exist, must always be primary.

Arctic boreal ecosystem in the second season of the planned 10-year, NASA-led Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE), monitoring such changing ecosystems in Alaska and northwest Canada. Image credit: NASA/Kate Ramsayer of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

Just as quantum science points to a reality that matter is defined by relationships rather than particles, the life sciences suggest that life also is defined by relationships and exists only in communities of organisms that self-organize in response to the needs and abilities of both individual and community. Within this paradigm, competition is a subtext of a larger meta-narrative of symbiosis that defies purely mechanistic explanation.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Skylar Wilson, Jennifer Listug, Order of the Sacred Earth: An Intergenerational Vision for Love and Action, pp. 124-128.

Banner Image: One of the gardens of Findhorn Ecovillage, Forres, Scotland: “a tangible demonstration of the links between the spiritual, social, ecological and economic aspects of life and…a synthesis of some of the very best of current thinking on human habitats.” Photo by Phila Hoopes

Queries for Contemplation

Do you feel and recognize this movement from a “first enlightenment” to a “second” one that sets humanity in a larger context?  What follows from that movement for you personally and for our species as a whole and for Earth itself?

Recommended Reading

Order of the Sacred Earth: An Intergenerational Vision of Love and Action
By Matthew Fox, Skylar Wilson, and Jen Listug

In the midst of global fire, earthquake and flood – as species are going extinct every day and national and global economies totter – the planet doesn’t need another church or religion. What it needs is a new Order, grounded in the Wisdom traditions of both East and West, including science and indigenous. An Order of the Sacred Earth united in one sacred vow: “I promise to be the best lover and defender of the Earth that I can be.”
Co-authored by Matthew Fox, Skylar Wilson, and Jennifer Berit Listug, with a forward by David Korten, this collection of essays by 21 spiritual visionaries including Brian Swimme, Mirabai Starr, Theodore Richards, and Kristal Parks marks the founding of the diverse and inclusive Order of the Sacred Earth, a community now evolving around the world.
“The Order of the Sacred Earth not only calls us home to our true nature as Earth, but also offers us invaluable guidance and company on the way.”  ~~ Joanna Macy, environmental activist and author of Active Hope.

Registration is open until July 15! Sign up today and view Lessons One and Two in recording. Put your faith into action, joining spiritual seekers throughout history who’ve followed Aquinas’ trailblazing wisdom — and cultivate compassion, courage, and resilience to meet life’s greatest challenges. Seven-week live video training started Thursday, July 2.
Responses are welcomed. To add your comment, please click HERE or scroll to the bottom of the page.

Share this meditation


Daily Meditations with Matthew Fox is made possible through the generosity of donors. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation

Search Meditations





Receive our daily meditations

Leave a Comment

To help moderate the volume of responses, the Comment field is limited to 1500 characters (roughly 300 words), with one comment per person per day.

Please keep your comments focused on the topic of the day's Meditation.

As always, we look forward to your comments!!
The Daily Meditation Team

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join us in meditation that supports your compassionate action

Receive Matthew Fox's Daily Meditation by subscribing below: