Humankind has allowed itself to be ‘progressed’ into a cul de sac of inhumanity and enslavement. Collectively, we have acquired lots of material stuff and knowledge, but little personal wisdom, empowerment, and contentment.
This path was laid out for us long ago in the Middle East by our very first rich and powerful elites. That is, the kings who took power beginning when Humankind transitioned from nomadic hunting and gathering and pastoralism, to settled agriculture and urban living.
Very soon humans had wealth (food) surpluses for the first time. That contributed to a perceived need to take strong control of such wealth, and the land and people that produced it, through laws, money, and corporeal and supernatural enforcement.
This was quickly followed by the tactical and strategic use of power against neighboring lands and peoples. And this, in turn, lead to an unquenchable desire among the new ruling elites for ever more wealth, land and power. This was the beginning of actual and threatened inter-state warfare and exploitation, methods elites have relied on above all other options up to the present.
It also marked the beginning of the decline of personal freedom, equality and brother/sisterhood. The early autocratic state collectives, and their often self-proclaimed divine elites, were given our allegiance; a shifting of our focus, our primal personal bonds, away from each other.
Thus began a tilting of the natural human balance between individualism and collectivism toward various forms of ever-stronger and irreversible state-centered collectivism. We had embarked on the road to what we would later call ‘modernity.’ Learn more about the evolution of individualism, collectivism and modernity here and here.
The European Renaissance and its successor the Enlightenment offered a lifeline to recover our surrendered humanity; that is, a vision of a sustainable balance between individualism and collectivism.
We grasped it but lost our grip because the powerful current of industrial and state-controlled living that soon followed was too strong, and later the tempting comforts of consumerism were beyond our ability to resist. For more on this see my essay “Enlightenment Lost.”
The corral, the trap, where the flickering embers of our humanity, our forsaken good balance between individual freedom and collective direction, would eventually go to die was built by the controlling industrial-political elite, and stocked with the enticing addictive bait of consumer goods that flowed from the Industrial Revolution.
These early 20th Century manufactured goods were redefined, through the gushing, language-massaging mass media, from desirables for those who could afford them to necessities for the masses who would be allowed to buy them on credit. The Age of Consumerism was born.
Man, were we living then! We individuals were really something special! Thus advised Edward Bernays and the multimedia mass advertising industry he started. Why, it was only right to excel, we were told. In fact, it was ‘natural,’ to shoulder above, out-compete, outshine our fellows in terms of possessions and appearances. Darwin himself said so, we thought.
During the rest of the 20th Century the gate to that human corral was locked and the manacles of law and social expectation applied to our bodies and minds by the wealthy and powerful controllers of the military-industrial complex. We came to tolerate our neighbors but sought meaning and purpose for our daily living mostly through the elite-controlled media, consumer goods, and the elite’s myths of progress, exceptionalism and eternal life.
So here we are now, entrapped in the kraal of our corporate masters and their political cronies. Enslaved by comfortable but, for most of us, unbreakable chains – sated, filled with myths of racial-tribal supremacy, hope and prosperity, inspired by patriotism, and praying for Heavens to come; yet, when we think honestly about it, truly powerless and sadly longing for deep personal meaning, purpose and contentment in our lives, but finding little.
Our neighbors are still there. But, most often, we don’t look to them for meaning and purpose. We’ve forgotten how to find personal meaning and purpose in the lives of neighbors and our local communities. Most of us only seriously engage others through institutions and the media. It’s the only way we know, the way we’ve been taught. But it’s not working for us, personally. The promise of modern goods, institutions and the media have failed us. We don’t know what else to do. We don’t trust the basic humanity of our neighbors enough to meaningful engage them because many of them have been led to worldviews and habits we don’t share and fear. And they don’t trust us.
Meanwhile, a climate emergency and economic fragility threaten. Yet the band plays on featuring the elite’s and now the mass’s favorite tune, We Can Work It Out (Through Science, Technology And Politics As Usual).
Humans are occasionally ‘unleashed’ in their corral but only for the purpose of making more knowledge, consumer goods, and evermore powerful tools and weapons; and to serve as cannon fodder in never ending wars. Or we slip the leash when we can, and rebel and run off by ourselves on a long solitary walk in nature to think, to listen. And we do that alone, not with a neighbor.
English MD, neurologist, and philosopher Raymond Tallis, someone whose books I’ve learned much from and referred to often on my blog, Being Human, has a fairly new book with some insights and suggestions that may be useful for our current personal and global predicament.
Here are two excerpts from a good review of Tallis’s latest book Logos: The Mystery of How We Make Sense of the World (2018):
“We are sometimes slow to recognize any downside to our modern age’s mad enthusiasm for scientific achievement, technological advancement, globalization, bureaucratic rationalization and the proliferation of information. But philosophers have highlighted the paradox of the proportional diminishment of the human: knowledge is increased, but the genuinely human recedes. Measurement replaces mere human judgment. General theories are established by the elimination of the particular, the exceptional. Globalization eliminates key markers of individual identity: ethnicity, nationality, locality. Government institutions render communal action redundant. Technological innovation replaces the body. We are more powerful, but less personal. The paradox is that for knowledge to count as knowledge at all, it must be processed in an individual consciousness. From the one who makes the discovery to the community of persons who recognize and implement it, to the person ultimately receiving the knowledge, the entire process is shot through with the participation of particular human beings. Therefore, any reduction of the role of people in the production and circulation of knowledge is not a step in the direction of wisdom: rather, it is evidence of a kind of amnesia about what we’re doing. If today we fail to marvel at the world, this is only a signal of how far our loss of self-awareness has progressed.”
“For Tallis, the key is that knowledge is a relational property. There is both a real reality ‘out there’ and a genuine knower ‘in here’. Eliminate one, and you’ve stultified human knowledge. Knowledge is not the one-sided material disposition of the human cranium, nor is it a mere figment of the imagination of a ghost inside a phantom machine. Rather, it is a kind of dance, a production of the constant dynamic of human consciousness moving between the internal world of experience and the real, resistant, physical world. The imperfections and challenges of this process, far from being signals of failure or any reason to abandon hope, are actually the indispensable preconditions of human knowledge. Moreover, there’s a community of knowers ‘out there’ too; and we cannot reckon without them: individually, we will only ever know partly, imperfectly, incompletely, no matter how full the stock of human knowledge grows. Essentially, then, Tallis calls for an end to the unfruitful antagonism perceived to exist between the human dimension of knowledge and the hard facts of objective reality. It is only by accepting the reality of both, and by paying more attention to the dynamic interplay between them, that we are able to make sense of things.”
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This review may sound unorthodox and obscure but I am going to read the book anyway because conventional mainstream thinking isn’t offering me much hope for a survivable, sustainable way forward for Humankind.
Maybe a little unorthodox philosophy will offer some hope and insight that current politics and economics, least of all the theories and methods of political ‘science’ and economic ‘science,’ are not.
Maybe we’ll one day return to valuing that very personal “inner world of experience,” that appreciation for individual agency and dignity, Tallis writes about.
The Colonies, The Handmaid’s Tale, Hulu TV
Hopefully it will not become necessary to look for it while staggering among the smoldering rubble of what’s left of the environment, and the remains of our halls of power, banks, and factories. Or in the toxic, militia-patrolled ‘wild’ areas between gated, armed and bunkered communities.
Answers: Extinction Rebellion. Green New Deal. Democratic Socialism. Education.
Review of Tallis’s book: