Era of Neohumanism

Era of Neohumanism:

Towards a Cooperative Spiritual Society

By Dr. Sid Jordan

In this article we will examine the consilience of knowledge from many fields of human endeavor that attest to the fact we have crossed the threshold into a new era of cooperation. Secondly we will apply Shrii P. R. Sarkar’s Neohumanism as a hub for the synthesis of all the related sciences, humanities and social movements contributing to an Era of Neohumanism defined by global cooperation and shared universal values that support the wellbeing of all. Finally we will examine how Neohumanism transcends economic, religious and political dogma to further the expression of cooperation in an Era of Neohumaism that moves us towards a spiritually oriented society.

As a global society we stand at the threshold of a new era of cooperation made urgent by impending economic and environmental melt downs that leaves us no alternative but to find a common ground to survive and possibly thrive.

Rebirth of a Gift Economy

Charles Eisenstein (2011) reflects a similar sentiment in his recent book, Sacred Economics. “The present convergence of crises- in money, energy, education, health, water, soil, climate, politics, the environment, and more – is a birth crisis, expelling us from the old world into a new.”

Economic stability and justice go hand in hand as nations recognize that they must cooperate with one another to achieve monetary standards that have the capability to float the new and poorly regulated world economy. At the heart of the problem is what money has come to mean in the depersonalization and commodification of everything around us. Charles Eisenstein’s vision of a new economy suggests, “The next stage of human economy will parallel what we are beginning to understand about nature. It will call forth the gifts of each of us; it will emphasize cooperation over competition; it will encourage circulation over hoarding; and it will be cyclical, not linear.” He further points to a split between spirit and matter concerning economics, “On a deep level, money and consciousness are intertwined. Each is bound up in the other.” In other words his concept of sacred economy encourages an approach that leads us back to the spirit of the “gift economy” reminiscent of primal societies, which he contends is “latent within all of us”.

Global Response to Environmental Crisis

Paul Hawken (1993) in his book, The Ecology of Commerce states that due to social and biological forces business is on the verge of a radical transformation. He envisions a restorative economy that “unites ecology and commerce into one sustainable act of production and distribution that mimics and enhances natural processes… acknowledges that we are all here together, at once, at the service of and at the mercy of nature, each other and our daily acts.” He states, “the promise of business is to increase the general well-being of humankind through service, a creative invention and ethical philosophy.”

Hawken (2007) in his later book, Blessed Unrest, states that the environmental movement is the largest social movement in all of human history numbering nearly two million organizations that evolved independently working towards ecological sustainability and social justice – “an instinctive humanitarian movement from the bottom up… responding to massive ecological degradation and rapid climate change.” Hawken in attempting to identify sources of this organic movement eludes to what poet Gary Snyder calls “the great underground traced back to healers, priestesses, philosophers, monks, rabbis, poets, and artists who speak for the planet, for other species, for interdependence, a life that courses under through and around empires.”

These authors, artists and social scientists are serving as witnesses and movers and shakers to move us into a new era of cooperation with one another and nature. They are implying that there is something positive in our human nature that can tame the crises that confront us. Let us look at the neuroscience and social science evidence of the Better Angles of our Nature that promote cooperation in humans.


Biological and Psychosocial Evidence for Reciprocal Altruism

In spite of the high profile of global violence in the news media, Steven Pinker’s (2011) book, The Better Angles of Our Nature, presents evidence to support the thesis that mankind is increasingly becoming less violent (see Graph, The Waning of War).

Pinker’s story develops in this manner:

  • Ancient history: in-group violence prevalent towards out-group.
  • 1452 Gutenberg invented printing press.
  • Information and ideas spread in Europe and world.
  • Thomas Hobbes’ book The Leviathan; accept the rule of law
  • Civil regulation of Commerce
  • Increasing respect for “the interests and values of women”
  • Humanitarian Movement- respect for value of life
  • Rational approach to morality that supported general welfare
  • Improved human relations; large scale periods of peace post WWII
  • Discovery of self and self-actualization

Reciprocal Altruism

Robert Trivers developed a scientific approach to study “reciprocal altruism” using the Prisoner’s Dilemma that helps us see traits in animals and humans that support Pinkers thesis of a trend towards a less violent society. Trivers defines reciprocal altruism as requiring human instincts and emotions that include sympathy, socializing, deception and being deceived in our give and take interactions. The concept of reciprocal altruism has also incorporated the Dawkins’ concept of “selfish genes”. Selfish genes involved the “predisposition to reason mathematically, evolved as a mechanism of ever more devious cheating, and ever more penetrating detection of cheating in others.”

The Prisoner’s Dilemma game created by Robert Axelrod (1984) is played in humans with “no antecedent morality or ethic, only maximal gene replication that will determine the survivors and dominant interactional strategy in the population.” Thus it is first a biological concept secondarily influenced by psychological, social and moral factors.

The game is a dilemma because each player, not knowing the other’s moves or the possible consequences, must make a bet with considerable cost if the bet is lost. The “prisoner” metaphor in the game was used because it was based on two imprisoned “bad guys” who were given choices to defect (rat on the other), admit guilt or be silent. If both cooperate by remaining silent they get brief jail time of one month; both defect and get three months; if one is silent while the other squeals, the silent one is assumed to be guilty and gets one year, while the confessor goes free.

If we look at one game of the Prisoner’s Dilemma we see that the pay-off is higher for defecting rather than cooperating. Logic says betray the other but they soon realize that the reward is lower than if they had cooperated and remained silent. The same results are there when a new character is added called ‘the banker” who referees and then pays off one or both of the two player in real money: both cooperate and are awarded $300; or, each fined $10 if they both play “defect”; if one cooperates (sucker) while the other defects (self-protects) then the sucker is fined $100 for gullibility and the defector earns $500 for self-protecting. No matter what the reward is, in the one-on-one game the defector wins more than a cooperator.

These individual games (played a few times) seem to support defecting and cheating as more rewarding in the short run. Axelrod, Trivers and others extended the number of games played (“iterated” play) in which many individuals interact constantly, giving variations in strategies and a more “real life” look to the game. The results gave way to a true reciprocal altruism in which repeated play results in lots of time and memory that produced strategies that resulted in minimum punishment and mutual benefits without excessive costs.

The “iterated play” of this game involving the dilemma to cheat or cooperate can be applied across our human moral landscape whether we are looking at the tit for tat sanctions threatened between Russia and Western nations in the Crimerian crisis or the digital era “games” of the Wikileaks and Snowden episodes. Perhaps all of these “games” point to a more transparent set of negotiations in which individual nations are exposed for defecting or cooperating. This transparency allows for the general public to witness and participate in activism from the bottom up in demanding a more rational and cooperative future among people of all nations.

Pinker concludes that “though conflict is a human universal, so are our efforts to reduce it….mutual selfishness is ruinous… the highest total payout is when all cooperate.” Pinker also takes the position that sustaining a less violent history sometimes relies on conscious intentional reasoning by the movers and shakers of the five vectors:

  • The Leviathan –Rule of Law to Diffuse Exploitation
  • Regulation of Commerce- Distribution of Wealth
  • Feminization -Respect for the Values and Interest of Women
  • Cosmopolitanism Inclusiveness and Diversity
  • Escalator of Reason- Rationality and Knowledge Applied to Human Affairs.

A New Science of Morality

Having examined some of the research evidence for our biological and psychosocial propensities for cooperation and peaceful relationships we now examine the pursuit by social scientists, evolutionists and neuroscientists to define a new Science of Morality. Evolutionist E. O. Wilson (Brockman 2013) suggested in 1975 that ethics would be taken out of the hands of philosophers and integrated into a new “synthesis” of evolutionary and biological thinking.

In a Science of Morality forum (Brockman 2013) John Haidt, social psychologist, suggested that we resort to collective moral decisions to correct the natural “confirmation bias” of individuals. Neuroscientist, Sam Harris cited the need for three morality projects:

  • Developing a non-judgmental understanding of what people do at a cultural, psychological and neurobiological level in creating a science of morality.
  • Understanding how the term morality “relates to human well-being altogether”
  • How to persuade all people to act in a more consensually agreed upon benevolent manner.

Harris states “we must begin with project number two- understanding right from wrong in universal terms…that the concept of well-being captures everything we care about in the moral sphere…there are a thousand different ways to tune the variables of selfishness versus altruism, to land us on a peak of the moral landscape.” In Harris’ (2010) systaltic Moral Landscape peaks represent the flourishing of well being and the valleys reflect the deepest depths of misery.

Era of Neohumanism

Who then will answer the call to refine the definition of a universal morality and persuade the masses to adopt this benevolent and universal morality? Sarkar’s Neohumanist philosophy and education along with his Progressive Utilization Theory offer a synthesis of spiritually based morality and a path towards social equality.

Neohumanism makes use of an ancient universal code of morality and ethics called Yama and Niyama that is dedicated to the welfare of all beings – animate and inanimate; achieving personal and social balance based on considerations of time, place and person beyond any dogma. Yama and Niyama represent a systaltic movement of morality that is the bedrock of spiritual progress.

At the center of Yama and Niyama is “Awakened Conscience” which answers the call for a discriminating intuition based on rationality, study, and spiritual mentality. This code of morality transcends emotionally based sentiments such as geo-sentiments, socio-sentiments and human sentiments; establishing devotional sentiment towards all animate and inanimate beings. Awakened Conscience is acquired through “study” which seeks consensus to overcome confirmation biases in arriving at choices that serve social equality and mutual altruism beyond tit for tat – a true coordinated cooperation.

A companion theory to Neohumanism is Prout, a socio-economic approach to insuring social equality and justice. A central tenant of Prout (Sarkar 1996) is “One must not forget that collective welfare lies in individuals and individual welfare lies in collectivity.” As seen in Eisenstein’s principles for a gift economy, Sarkar supports the development of a local economy of cooperatives and a distribution of wealth that guarantees everyone the minimum necessities of food, clothing, housing, medicine and education. As Eisenstein supported a cyclical economy, Sarkar’s Prout is based on a theory of the Social Cycle that predicts the rise and fall of workers, warriors, entrepreneurs and intellectuals.

Refining Pinker’s notion for the need for “movers and shakers” who reduce violence and exploitation, Sarkar introduces the concept of Sadvipras who possess positive qualities of all these actors in the social cycle. As Pinker suggested that “movers and shakers” would operate on the five vectors of

  • diffusing exploitation,
  • equitable distribution of wealth,
  • gender equality,
  • societal unity and
  • rationality that serves the common good, Sadvipras stand at the center of the social cycle to prevent exploitation by any group of other groups in the social cycle.

Neohumanist Education: Liberation of the Intellect

Neohumanist Educators, Proutists and many like-minded moralists have created an expansion of consciousness towards a more cooperative and spiritual society. In order to create the further expansion of consciousness and to take the challenge of Sam Harris’ third project of “moral persuasion” we have to extend a Neohumanist Education (NHE) to all sectors of the society. NHE incorporates a flexible blending of Eastern subjective philosophy and Western objective science making it adaptable to different cultures of the world. NHE furthers the development of the Era of Neohumanism by liberating the intellect.

Sarkar (1959) states, “The spirit of morality will have to be instilled in human beings from the moment that they first start to learn the lessons of interaction. By interaction I mean social interaction. Viewed from this perspective, the mind of a child is the best receptacle for morality. But who will impart moral training or education?… Increasing the number of teachers in educational institutions may partially solve the problem of moral education, but the key to the solution lies with the parents themselves. In cases where the parents are unfit to shoulder this responsibility, the teachers and well-wishers of society will have to come forward and demonstrate their greater sense of responsibility.”

Established in over eighty countries Neohumanist Education is fulfilling this need for an all round education that includes universal moral and spiritual principles and practices in approximately one thousand pre-k through high schools and four colleges. Thus the Era of Neohumanism would have as it main task to educate and inspire all people to recognize the benefits of contemplative practices and serving others to insure the welfare of all.

Humanity at the Threshold of a New Era

Sarkar (1984) trumpets, “Humanity is now at the threshold of a new era. We do not want any dogma. The age of dogma is gone. What we want is an idea based on Neohumanism. We are for the entire created world; and not only for human beings or living beings, but for the entire animate and inanimate universe.”

In announcing this new era Shrii P.R. Sarkar reviews the phases of human evolution from one million years ago forward to eras when humans developed increased intellect, social and cultural life. He states that when intellect began to prevail many dogmas were created. In this new era dogmas are being replaced by rationality and reason that serves the entire humanity rather than “a particular tribe or a particular clan or a particular nationality.”

Sarkar (1984) concludes, “So ours is the age of Neohumanism – humanism supplying elixir to all, one and all. We are for all, and with everything existent we are to build up a new society, a Neohumanistic society.”

To build this Neohumanist society each of us will have to begin with taking one step at a time towards benevolent actions and cooperation with others near and far. Moralists of the World Unite!!


Bibliography in the order presented in article

Charles Eisenstein (2011) “Sacred Economics: Money, Gift & Society In The Age of Transition”
Paul Hawken (1993) “The Ecology of Commerce”.
Paul Hawken (2007) “Blessed Unrest”
Steven Pinker (2011) “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined”
Robert Axelrod (1984) “The Evolution of Cooperation”
Louis Cozolino (2008) “The Healthy Aging Brain: Sustaining Attachment, Attaining Wisdom”
John Brockman (2013) “Thinking: The New Science of Decision-Making, Problem-Solving, and Prediction”
Sam Harris (2010) “The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values”
Shrii Shrii Anadamurti (Shrii P.R. Sarkar) (1996) “Ananda Sutram”, 2nd Edition
Shrii P. R. Sarkar (1959) Moralism, “Human Society Part 1”
Shrii P. R. Sarkar (1984) “Humanity Is at the Threshold of a New Era”, Neohumanism in a Nutshell Part 1
Shrii P. R. Sarkar (1982) “Liberation of Intellect: Neohumanism”
Shrii P. R. Sarkar, “Prout Economics”

“Sá vidyá yá vimuktaye - Education is that which liberates”