Toward a more conscious society
The expression ‘more conscious society’ reflects an understanding that consciousness is an emergent bio-psycho-social phenomenon and evolving process of which we are all part. Such consciousness is experienced as the locus of subjectivity, identity and awareness, all of which change in discernible ways over time.
The growth of consciousness is about our capacity to dissembed our perceptual and conceptual apparatus from their formative influences and contexts, and thereby relate to them more fully and effectively. We can learn to see and hear and think and feel that which we previously saw and heard and thought and felt through. This process of growth depends upon the quality of relationships, institutional support and existential challenge that human organisms experience alone and together.
For an individual to become ‘more conscious’ is a story of personal growth, in which the scope for meaning and purpose in life is enriched and expanded and our capacity to effect felicitous change is enhanced. We cease to be merely shaped by the signs, symbols and stories around us and start to assume authorship of such influences, and latterly develop a deeper reflexive awareness of that process of authoring.
When we start to commit to such processes together we can speak of a more conscious society – a collective effort to see our challenges in their fullness, and thereby live larger and less deluded lives. When a critical mass of people ‘grow’ in consciousness in this way we can speak of a collective awakening, and - a tangible source of hope- this process could be self-reinforcing over time.
Such awakening is not merely of intrinsic value in itself, it is also the cultural emphasis we need to address the defining ecological, social, economic and political challenges of our time. It takes significant levels of discernment and analysis to develop the case, but many of our most ‘wicked’ problems may stem from forms of delusion and displacement grounded in the systematic exploitation of human automaticity and suggestibility – a structural neglect of the dynamism of human consciousness.
However, we need not merely to describe a more conscious society but to create it, because we are the authors and the actors that need to change. The Gandhian injunction to ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ therefore takes on a whole new meaning. The commitment to waking up, to becoming more conscious, is not prior to changing the world in particular ways, but arises through and alongside it. The little known Germanic notion of Bildung captures this sentiment well.
A deeper grasp of consciousness shows us that becoming ‘a more conscious society’ means deepening our commitment to how we relate to each other and to the world that shapes us. We need to experience how and why the world needs our ethical commitment and - this the neglected key - our epistemic nous.
This vision may sound complex, but isn’t that exactly how it should be? The simplicity we long for is available to us, but only on the other side of complexity. And there is no way round but through. This, we believe, is the liberation story of our time.