The 21st Century will be spiritual or won’t be

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I remember that quote from the French novelist Andre Malraux who said that: “the 21st century will be religious or won’t be”. I think that, instead of being a “religious” century as Malraux said, the 21st century will be a spiritual century.

Over the past 70 years or so, we have been living in what has been defined as a ‘post-modern world’, in which all the traditional cultural and moral standards have been progressively swept away. I still remember my philosophy teacher at university explaining us how mankind had consecutively ‘killed’ its absolute faith in God (philosophically speaking, with the 15th century Renaissance humanists and the 18th century Lumière philosophers putting an end to religious obscurantism) and in human progress (WWII and the Shoah horrors proved us that salvation would not only come from scientific and technological progress).

So now, can men live by themselves, in the emptiness of their existence, without any form of spirituality? The answer is simply no. And I firmly believe that we are about to experience a ‘new Renaissance’ in the sense that we will rediscover ancient concepts of philosophy or spirituality, like the Renaissance humanists did 6 centuries ago with Ancient Greek philosophy.

But, to the difference of the humanists, this ‘rediscovery’ won’t be caused by the fall of an Empire (in that case the Byzantine Empire). The emergence of intelligent technology (i.e. artificial intelligence combined with robotics) will challenge human intelligence and naturally push us to redefine what makes us human by opposition to machines. At this point we will rely on spirituality to help us tackle those fundamental subjects that make us different from animals or non-living things like: emotions, consciousness and, most of all, our quest for happiness.

We already notice today that this spiritual dimension is increasingly powerful in our societies and seems to be the common factor in the emergence of new social, economic and business models. That paradigm shift has been observed over the past years:

  • In the public sphere: we see the emergence of alternative economic models, challenging our existing financial capitalism model. Models such as the collaborative economy or functional economy, in which people enjoy a service without having to own an asset. These models seriously challenge materialism and emphasize collaboration and mutual help. There is a plethora of examples, like: Uber, AirBnB, Spotify, bike or car sharing services, etc. These companies are in the ‘avant-garde‘ of new economic models.
  • In the private sphere: we can testify to the increasing interest of people for meditation, as an example, or other sources of spirituality (e.g. yoga, Buddhist philosophy, etc.). Sociologists have also detected a significant trend in people’s needs and life aspirations, with individuals less and less interested in money or success and more in meaningful life experiences. They call them the ‘Free Lifers’ (Rene Duringer’s article on ‘Free Lifers’, December 2010, Observatoire des Tendances).

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