Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Explorations: Essays on the Final Objective
These essays are intended to appeal to the explorer in you, or stir it up in case you are in danger of losing your sense of adventure because you have been told you are too young, too old, too stupid, too disadvantaged, too undereducated to be the explorer you really are. Or worse, because you have been deluded to believe that you have already achieved your final objective and don’t need to explore any more.
Past explorers have named the objective of their quests many things: Happiness, Holy Grail, Golden Fleece, Unified Field Theory, Transcendentals (Good, Truth, Beauty, One), Just City, Great Society, Paradise Lost, God, Meaning, Fountain of Life, Infinity, Billboard at the End of the Universe, or simply, in the words of the greatest of ancient explorers, Odysseus, home.
My personal explorations have been in the name “ethics” for the “good life.” Many years ago I was in a doctoral program in social ethics, course work finished with dissertation proposal and data in hand, when I was seduced into social activism, i.e. community organizing and development. (As a student once said to me: “you talk a good line, Mr. Smith. Do you ever do anything about it?”) But even during a life of social action under both public and private auspices, I kept up my reading and thinking in the field of ethics. And now, hardly rich, but retired from income cares (thanks Social Security, 401K, and pensions!), I want to put my thought and action together.
The reason I want to appeal to your inner explorer is because I need to keep prodding mine. Life is an exploration. Stop exploring, with all the new learning that implies, and you stop living. And, because I am under sentence of death, life is all the more precious to me right now. A good friend of mine has just been told that malignant tumors have entered most of the glands and organs of her body; she will die in four months. She reminds me of my less precise but still present diagnosis evident in my aging body.
So I better get going so I can find the objective of my quest soon. But of course you already know the ending of my exploration and the upshot of all my meditations: the objective we are searching for under any name is in the exploration itself. So there you have it. End of story. Stop reading if you want right here. But never stop exploring.
For those of you who want to keep exploring with me, however—and I thank you profusely for this—here is what I intend.
Classically the question is: what is the “good life?” How do we do good and avoid evil? Where do we find the meaning of our existence? When are we happy?
But, as valid as this question still is, we no longer live in classical times. Nor even are we anymore in modern, i.e. enlightenment, times. We have entered what many have called a postmodern world of relativity without absolutes where humans have passed from being playthings of the gods and even cogs in a machine fashioned by a Deity to being evolving bits of information in an emerging holographic universe.
In such a universe, now being discovered by science, and entering into the thought patterns of culture, can we explore the ethical question that still keeps raising itself? Is there any objective basis on which to plant an answer? Are there any moorings in this sea of turbulent winds?
One answer is to simply avoid sailing. Don’t accept the world as it is. Refuse science and avoid its findings and technologies. That’s what they are doing who deny evolution, climate change, and neuroscience and fight its technologies. Keep that old time religion which was good enough for mother, good enough for father, and good enough for me.
Another answer is to follow the winds, let them take us where they will. Put aside the ethical question as non-relevant. Go along with where scientific and technological progress is leading us. Have the experts show the way. Let liberal secularization be our new religion and our transcendence to a new humanity.
Yet I, like you, am excited by the advances in science and technology and their possibilities for the future of our species. I think that quantum physics is helping us not only understand our place in the universe, but also remove obstacles holding us back from achieving our greatest potential. I think that evolutionary psychology and neuroscience provide us a new look into human nature and make it possible to discover moorings to weather the turbulence and the standards by which to navigate our future without simply leaving it to the experts and blowing where “progress” would take us.
But because it is an affirmation of our exploration, you will hear me say again and again that, while I think there are fixed stars by which we might navigate our future, neither the point of view by which we see them, nor the media by which we express them are fixed. In my explorations I will find appearing in events objective truths that we might use as stepping-stones in our postmodern morass. But even these stones may adjust themselves. That just makes the exploration so much more fun.
What do I hope to get out of this? Some guidance, some ways of asking the right questions as we go forward. Yes, there are still important concerns about birth control, euthanasia, crime and punishment, homosexual unions, racial and sexual equality, role of government and taxation, hypocrisy in religion and politics that are both personal and policy issues that we need to think about.
But we as a life form are facing some momentous decisions: Shall we march toward the “Singularity” in which we extend life indefinitely through biological engineering and mechanical technology as described by Ray Kurzweil? How do we respond to the new “totalitarianism” which, unlike governmental controlled 20th century fascism, bolshevism, and populism, is established in our centralizing systems of finance and commerce and our culture of economic and technological growth as described by Morris Berman? How shall we deal with (or prevent) the economic and ecological collapse predicted by the World3 modelers? How do we structure our living spaces to promote what is best in us while preserving the very conditions of our survival as told by Jeb Brugmann? How do we prevent the decline of stagnant political institutions as analyzed by Francis Fukuyama? And where is transcendence or openness to spirit in our fast-expanding entropic, informational, holographic universe?
Now that the ethical question has shown itself, here is what I propose for its pursuit.
Part I is a series of essays in exploration of a model for a universal ethics that accounts for previous models, that can be tested by use, and that is accessible by all of us. In these essays I use the findings of contemporary science and philosophy to discover a dynamic human existence that not only explains, but also guides our activities towards fulfillment and happiness. This is my optimistic meditation that I could entitle the Progressive Mind, but instead I call it “My Holy Grail: A Universal Ethic.”
Part II is the exploration of the American (and, by extension, western or modern) religion and its role in the decline of our civilization. In these essays I deal with the relationship of ethics, morality, and religion and examine how and why progress as economic growth has undermined our humanity and threatens our existence. You guessed it. This is my pessimistic meditation that I could entitle the Depressive Mind. But I name it: “The American Religion and Its Morality.”
Part III is the exploration of our self and our world as we could be here and now if we so choose. In these essays I consider what thinking, judging, and acting are all about and how they uncover what is evil and propel us to good in our present circumstances. This is my advocacy meditation that I could entitle the Thoughtful Mind. But let me just name it the final objective of my search: “Achieving Integrity.“
Let us begin our explorations.