Jeremy Lent

Jeremy Lent (born in London in 1960), is an author and the founder of the non-profit Liology Institute, which is dedicated to a worldview that could enable humanity to thrive sustainably.

we need deep, structural changes to our current socioeconomic system. It is not enough to tinker with a few parts of the system, no matter how beneficial that tinkering might appear...
Our civilization, torn apart by gaping inequalities, is currently hell-bent on a course to disaster. Its suicidal addiction to economic growth paralyzes it from making the changes required to avert climate catastrophe, while it destroys life’s abundance on our beautiful but wounded Earth.
Even if the Democratic administration were resoundingly successful on all fronts, its initiatives would still be utterly insufficient to resolve the existential threat of climate breakdown and the devastation of our planet’s life-support systems. That’s because the multiple problems confronting us right now are symptoms of an even more profound problem: The underlying structure of a global economic and political system that is driving civilization toward a precipice...

QuotationsEdit

  • It (the “executive function” of the prefrontal cortex) mediates our ability to plan, conceptualise, symbolise, make rules, and impose meaning on things. It controls our physiological drives and turns our basic feelings into complex emotions. It enables us to be aware of ourselves and others as separate beings, and to turn the past and the future into one narrative.
 
1.Conspiracy to turn the world into a giant marketplace for the benefit of the wealthy elite... 2. Conspiracy by transnational corporations to turn billions of people into addicts... 3. Conspiracy to plunder the Global South for the benefit of the Global North... 4. Conspiracy to hide the effects of climate breakdown for corporate profit... 5. Conspiracy to grow the global economy indefinitely, while killing most of life on Earth and risking the collapse of civilization....
  • 1. Conspiracy to turn the world into a giant marketplace for the benefit of the wealthy elite...
    2. Conspiracy by transnational corporations to turn billions of people into addicts...
    3. Conspiracy to plunder the Global South for the benefit of the Global North...
    4. Conspiracy to hide the effects of climate breakdown for corporate profit...
    5. Conspiracy to grow the global economy indefinitely, while killing most of life on Earth and risking the collapse of civilization....'
  • So who, in this case, are the conspirators? If you’re living a normal life in an affluent country, you don’t need to look further than the mirror.... So, the next time someone tells you to “do your research” on their new conspiracy theory, please point them to the real conspiracies that are threatening life on this beautiful but troubled planet. The good news is that, since they’re real conspiracies, there is something we can do about them. We can vote in politicians that promise to peel back the neoliberal nightmare; advocate for curbs on predatory corporate activities; support the Global South in changing the terms of international trade; declare a Climate Emergency in our community to turn around carbon emissions; and become active in the movement to transform our global society to an Ecological Civilization—one that is based on life-affirming principles rather than accumulating wealth.


  • I would imagine that most contributors to this discussion agree, to some degree at least, with the principle that we need deep, structural changes to our current socioeconomic system. It is not enough to tinker with a few parts of the system, no matter how beneficial that tinkering might appear. Our civilization, torn apart by gaping inequalities, is currently hell-bent on a course to disaster. Its suicidal addiction to economic growth paralyzes it from making the changes required to avert climate catastrophe, while it destroys life’s abundance on our beautiful but wounded Earth.
  • We need to change the fundamentals of our society. We must move from a wealth-based civilization to one that is life-affirming—an ecological civilization. Without this Great Transition, we are leaving future generations to face the horrors of a collapsing civilization on a devastated planet. Can we transition rapidly enough? And can the transition occur without the old civilization collapsing catastrophically around us? Given this context, I have been surprised by how much the discussion of a universal basic income sounds like arguing how to stack the deck chairs on the Titanic... In my view, the fundamental issues need to be: Does UBI help with the process of transforming civilization from within?
 
A true UBI would transform the relationship between labor and capital and weaken the power of the wealthy elite to control the population.
  • A full-fledged UBI — one that unconditionally provides every person with enough income to meet their basic needs—would fundamentally alter the paradigm of capitalism that has locked workers into the dominant system ever since its inception. Capitalism has endured by commoditizing people’s lives, forcing them to sell the bulk of their available time and energy, or else face destitution and starvation. A true UBI would transform the relationship between labor and capital and weaken the power of the wealthy elite to control the population.
  • This is the fundamental idea underlying an ecological civilization: using nature’s own design principles to reimagine the basis of our civilization... Changing our civilization’s operating system to one that naturally leads to life-affirming policies and practices rather than rampant extraction and devastation. An ecological civilization is both a new and ancient idea. While the notion of structuring human society on an ecological basis might seem radical, Indigenous peoples around the world have organized themselves from time immemorial on life-affirming principles.
  • Every year that we head closer to catastrophe—as greater climate-related disasters rear up, as the outrages of racial and economic injustice become even more egregious, and as life for most people becomes increasingly intolerable—the old narrative loses its hold on the collective consciousness. Waves of young people are looking for a new worldview—one that makes sense of the current unraveling, one that offers them a future they can believe in. It’s a bold idea to transform the very basis of our civilization to one that’s life-affirming. But when the alternative is unthinkable, a vision of a flourishing future shines a light of hope that can become a self-fulfilling reality. Dare to imagine it. Dare to make it possible by the actions you take, both individually and collectively—and it might just happen sooner than you expect.
  • Changing our civilization’s operating system to one that naturally leads to life-affirming policies and practices rather than rampant extraction and devastation. An ecological civilization is both a new and ancient idea. While the notion of structuring human society on an ecological basis might seem radical, Indigenous peoples around the world have organized themselves from time immemorial on life-affirming principles.
  • Every year that we head closer to catastrophe—as greater climate-related disasters rear up, as the outrages of racial and economic injustice become even more egregious, and as life for most people becomes increasingly intolerable—the old narrative loses its hold on the collective consciousness. Waves of young people are looking for a new worldview—one that makes sense of the current unraveling, one that offers them a future they can believe in. It’s a bold idea to transform the very basis of our civilization to one that’s life-affirming. But when the alternative is unthinkable, a vision of a flourishing future shines a light of hope that can become a self-fulfilling reality. Dare to imagine it. Dare to make it possible by the actions you take, both individually and collectively—and it might just happen sooner than you expect.


  • There's an unforgettable moment in the movie "Wall Street" when financier Gordon Gekko tells the shareholders of Teldar Paper why his buyout proposal, incorporating massive layoffs, is not only profitable, but morally legitimate. With his slicked-back hair and custom-tailored suit, he struts to the front of the hall and proclaims that there is a "new law of evolution in corporate America." It's a simple law, he explains:
    The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed — for lack of a better word — is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.
    Greed, Gekko is declaring, is the basis of evolution and all that's arisen from it — including human supremacy. Gekko's speech was unleashed on moviegoers in 1987 as the world was reeling from an early encounter with the excesses arising from global financial deregulation. His signature claim — "Greed is good!" — has since become the stuff of legend, strikingly capturing the ethos of unrestrained, free market capitalism that has come to dominate mainstream thinking.
 
With his slicked-back hair and custom-tailored suit, he struts to the front of the hall and proclaims that there is a "new law of evolution in corporate America." It's a simple law, he explains:
The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed — for lack of a better word — is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.
  • The mainstream metaphors used to describe the evolution of life do a great disservice to its awesome majesty, while influencing us to think about our own lives, our planet, and our society in harmful and destructive ways. Metaphors are more than just techniques to communicate ideas — they form foundational structures of thought in the human brain that we unconsciously use to construct our worldview and shape our value system. Metaphors matter.
    The most pervasive mistaken metaphor of life in common currency is that it's merely a very complicated machine. This goes back to the seventeenth century philosophical musings of Descartes and Hobbes, but it has fused with the bedrock of modern thought ever since Crick and Watson defined the gene in terms of coded information. At this stage, it's difficult to read any popular discourse about life without being bombarded by this misconception.


  • The Speech... “Let’s face it...it’s a dog-eat-dog world... Every man for himself. For all your ideas about making the world a better place, when it comes down to it, everyone’s just interested in their own skin. It’s a rat race. That’s the way all of nature works... The survival of the fittest... People like you want to change the world. But when you’ve had the experience I’ve had, you’ll know better. Our society is structured this way simply because that’s what works best... This type of conversation...channels the themes we hear every day from those in a position of authority — from talking heads on TV, from successful businesspeople, from teachers, from school textbooks... its ideas seep into our daily thoughts... They infuse much of what is accepted as indisputably true in most conversations that take place about world affairs. They are so pervasive that most of us never question them...
    In fact, every one of those building blocks is flawed. ...This worldview has accomplished a lot. It wrested intellectual control from the hidebound superstitions of traditional Christian theology, and laid the foundation for modern science — one of humanity’s greatest achievements. But it has also been an underlying cause of the horrendous devastation suffered by non-European peoples and cultures, and boundless destruction of the natural world. And the fundamental flaws in its construction have now become so gaping that they threaten the very survival of our civilization—and much of the living Earth... Many people across the globe are realizing that there is something terribly wrong with the direction our world is headed.
  • Like fish that don’t realize they’re swimming in water because it’s all they know, we tend to assume that our worldview simply describes the world the way it is—rather than recognizing it’s a constructed lens that shapes our thoughts and ideas into certain preconditioned patterns...
    The reason a worldview is so important is that it imbues virtually every aspect of the way people think, what they value, and how they act—without them even realizing it. Worldviews lead different cultures to respond to their reality in fundamentally different ways. If you believe that all living beings are family, you will treat them in a different way than if you think the natural world is a resource to be exploited.
  • If you believe that all living beings are family, you will treat them in a different way than if you think the natural world is a resource to be exploited. If you think other humans are inherently cooperative, you’ll approach a person differently than if you think that, ultimately, everyone is selfish and competitive. If you presume that [Corporations and] technology can fix our biggest problems, you won’t feel the need to consider the underlying systems that caused those problems to arise in the first place.


Quotes aboutEdit

  • As the daily turbulence of politics, economics, environmental change and religion rages around us, there is an understandable marketplace for books that look at the bigger picture. Jeremy Lent’s The Patterning Instinct does just that, joining the dots between points in history and culture, identifying echoes and consiliences across the natural and social sciences. The cover of Lent’s intellectual epic shows a line drawing of networks, the dots ostentatiously joined. No doubt this expresses the author’s fundamentalism, derived from his scientific and religious readings, about the power of connectedness. But on the way to a somewhat familiar end point, Lent provides a useful and massively referenced road map of the most enduring structures of meaning in human history. Humanity’s first world-encompassing idea, says Lent, was the hunter-gatherer belief that “everything is connected”. There followed an agricultural era during which humanity lived under the “hierarchy of the gods”. He then charts what he calls “the divergence”.
  • Lent uses what he calls “cognitive history” and “archaeology of the mind” to show how such massive shifts in underlying world view can happen, and they involve an evolutionary account of the brain... Lent dates the advent of our capacity for advanced cognition to a point about 70,000 years ago, when our prefrontal cortex began to expand. Lent describes the “executive function” of the prefrontal cortex well. “It mediates our ability to plan, conceptualise, symbolise, make rules, and impose meaning on things. It controls our physiological drives and turns our basic feelings into complex emotions. It enables us to be aware of ourselves and others as separate beings, and to turn the past and the future into one narrative.” This is the locus of the “patterning instinct”.... Lent... is unsparing in his descriptions of the cruelty and brutality meted out by righteous monotheists and dualists, their meaning-patterns justifying colonialism and empire.
  • There is indeed much to celebrate and enjoy in The Patterning Instinct. Lent is clearly a person who cares passionately about the human species as a whole and about the natural environment in which we have evolved over the last million years. He is driven by a deep concern that we are about to cause irreparable damage to our surroundings, our habitat and therefore ourselves. He has gone to extraordinary lengths to discover why this is the case, and has generously shared his findings... I also agree with him that the work of George Lakoff, the American cognitive linguist and phil­osopher who argues that our lives are shaped by the metaphors we use to explain life’s phenomena, is important to political science. This was also for me the first attempt at a unified field theory of history that I have read, and it takes in an extraordinary amount of research and knowledge from a wide number of academic sources. The grand narrative had been cast aside by postmodernism, alongside the claims that we had in fact reached “the end of history” – but clearly it is now back in fashion... The Patterning Instinct is a wonderfully readable and energetic romp through the history of ideas. In particular, I think the summary of systems theory that comes in the later chapters is very accessible and robust. All of this makes the book a good read.
  • Jeremy Lent, described by Guardian journalist George Monbiot as “one of the greatest thinkers of our age,” is an author and speaker whose work investigates the underlying causes of our civilization’s existential crisis, and explores pathways toward a life-affirming future. Born in London, England, Lent received a BA in English Literature from Cambridge University, an MBA from the University of Chicago, and was a former internet company CEO. His award-winning book, The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity's Search for Meaning, explores the way humans have made meaning from the cosmos from hunter-gatherer times to the present day. He is founder of the nonprofit Liology Institute, dedicated to fostering an integrated worldview that could enable humanity to thrive sustainably on the Earth, and he writes topical articles exploring the deeper patterns of political and cultural developments at Patterns of Meaning. He lives with his partner in Berkeley, California.

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