What a wonderful year it has been so far in terms of human freedom—the Middle East is alive with the dream of liberty.
Human history for me is the story of the evolution of consciousness. This story has been told in a number of books, including Ken Wilber's Up From Eden. For example, Wilber asserts that a major advance in human consciousness happened beginning around 500 B.C.E. (lasting for some centuries). This was a time of momentous change: the enlightened saints Buddha and Jesus mark the shift of consciousness, which to the masses of humanity brought a new concept of the individual, among many other changes. But Wilber's book doesn't bring the story up to modern times.
I think what’s happening in the Middle East is a continuation of another advance in consciousness, the beginning of which could perhaps be dated to the Renaissance. This shift in awareness brought about a new concept of freedom of thought, and brought democracy to the United States and revolution to France in 1789. We think of that as so long ago, but in the sweep of history it is just yesterday.
Perhaps that first wave of freedom in the 18th century was small and only washed over a few countries, but it slowly gathered force and size—it widened in this country to embrace people of all color and women by the middle of the 20th century, then it widened beyond the U.S. and Europe in the second half as countries around the world threw off colonial governments, and by the end of the century peoples in the Soviet empire and blacks in South Africa peacefully transitioned to more democratic governments.
Now the people of the Arab Middle East, that part of the world that seemed destined to stay feudal forever, ruled by sheiks and kings and petty tyrants, are engaging in mostly peaceful revolutions. The wave of consciousness is really strong now; its force has grown so that it seems unstoppable. Even in Libya, where Gaddafi seems to think he can still hold on, it has been amazing to see how many high level officials have resigned quickly.
Of course the wave still has a long way to go before we live in a world in which the people truly have power over their destiny. Looking at my country I am disheartened by the extent to which it is a plutocracy, but the wave can only be slowed. It can't be stopped.