Has the modern era brought us to a new Axial Age? Some say so, but what does it mean? The German-Swiss psychiatrist and philosopher Karl Jaspers coined the term ‘Axial Age’ in 1949 when he noted that during the period between 800-200 BC there was a shift in how humanity viewed itself. A turn as if on an axis—a change in consciousness that allowed civilization to develop. Prior to the shift, tribalism was the dominant form of social organization. The general characteristics were: small populations closely related, closed to outer influences, lacking individualized thinking, total submission to the group (ultra-conformity), with non-members of the tribe usually seen as ‘enemy’.
During the first Axial Age there was a revolution in human thought. Independently in most clusters of humanity (China, India, Persia, Judaea, Greece and Rome) there was a change in consciousness that produced great advances in intellectual, philosophical and religious thinking. Great men arose to define a ‘way of life’ (Confucius and La-Tzu, Gautama Buddha, Zoroaster, Moses and the Prophets, Socrates and Plato). In each cluster there was some version of The Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others what you would have them do unto you’. Humanity had moved from the isolation of tribalism to recognizing the necessity of cooperation for mutual benefit. It was a huge leap, laying the groundwork for civilization to emerge.
How is this relevant to today? The modern era has brought tremendous technological change. From 1900 to 2018 we’ve leapt from horse and buggy transportation to rockets to the moon and back; in communications, then the telephone was new and cumbersome and today we carry it around in our pocket not only for conversations but also to navigate highways and instantly obtain limitless information . . . it isn’t the same world! In the early 1900s we were just awakening to the terrifying destructive power we held, erupting in a World War with heretofore-unimagined armament—which escalated to nuclear arsenals capable of destroying all life on planet earth.
This new world requires a shift or change in how we see the world; another revolution in human thought is needed. War has been the way to settle disputes since man first walked the earth. It is no longer a viable option—viable means: capable of working successfully. There is no ‘success’ with nuclear weapons. Until we ventured into outer space and looked back on this tiny planet in the vast universe, we still believed (although science told us otherwise) we lived in a limitless static world where earth was the center of it all with sun and moon and stars revolving around us, as God sat on a cloud watching our every move.
That isn’t the reality. We are a dynamic evolving interacting singular unit, dependent upon each other for survival. Early in the Bible (Deut. 30:19) God says: “I have set before you life and death . . . choose life.” God left it up to us. Whether or not you believe in the Bible or God, that clearly is a statement to us today.
The choosing of death is to continue to war, enlarge the nuclear arsenal, and deny reality. The way to ‘choose life‘ is to embrace our interconnectedness, change our consciousness to find the way for humanity to work together in peace and build the world. . . thus bringing on a second Axial Age.
I once again quote Teilhard de Chardin:
“The Age of Nations is past,
The task before us now, if we would not perish
Is to build the earth”