Work and Freedom

Work is only human when the worker is able to express him/herself via the process of work itself. Labouring in a way that only has the interest of making money and is devoid of any opportunity for self-expression, is a demeaning process for any human being and, because of that, it is anti-human.  

However, from this idea we run headlong into the question of what self-expression is, or more importantly, what would self-expression be in an authentically human society or civilisation? In an authentically human society self-expression has to be imbued with a human worth … But what does that mean?

As the product of rational (in the most part) or creatively irrational beings (at another level) all human activity, whether positive or negative adds to the richness of the experience of being human as long as it contributes in a favourable way to our standards of living and to human progress in the world. But progress can only be positive, and the quality of life can only be good, if the environment we live in, our world, is also cared for. Because of this, non-favourable human activity like the exploitation of other human beings and the rampant abuse of natural resources, intended for the simple aim of maximising profits, can only be considered morally reprehensible.

Yet this ethically unbearable praxis is exactly what our current economic system is designed for, and is meant to foment and propagate. As such, almost all of the daily activity in this global-economy fuelled world is a moral abomination for any authentic view of humanity. And this means that, in order to create an authentically human society, our economic model and its economic conceptions have to be completely demolished and revolutionary (or transcendentally) reconstructed.

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Traditionally, the idea of work has encompassed negative notions of uncritical sacrifice and devotedness. However, labour seen as a process of self-expression transforms those negative notions into positive concepts – the ideas of sacrifice and duty in the realm of self-expression are positive drives.

Likewise, as self-expression by a human being embodies an authentic human experience, the same human authenticity is embedded in every individual human-being’s sacrifice-through-self-expression to humanity. In other words: I express myself because I am human, and because of that my self-expression is a labour geared toward the whole of humanity. In this way, self-expression for humanity becomes a moral duty for all members of an authentically human society.

By aiming one’s self-expression towards our common humanity, human purpose becomes visible and feasible. And once clarity of human purpose becomes comprehensible and tangible, then it becomes more difficult for individuals to operate badly without abandoning that purpose.

Religions have always failed in their task of achieving moral rectitude precisely because the great monotheisms have always held human nature as something profoundly flawed and negative in itself. One cannot expect human civilisation to get better by following a precedent that all human beings are, by nature, bad. Quite the contrary: civilisation will only become meaningful for human beings when it is constructed on a bedrock of faith in humanity itself and embedded with an idea of human purposiveness.  

Hegel talked about spirit not yet finding its truly real substance. The human spirit will only be able to reach its truly real substance when it looks for it in the realm of humanity itself. A human being can only be really conscious of his or her substance when he or she is truly aware of him or herself as a human being amongst a civilisation and within a world full of other human beings.

We are all the same in our condition of being human, and separated by our individuality, and it is our individuality which is the only authentic separation we have. All others: gender, race, nationality, religion, or ideology, are non-authentic segregations and parts of our anti-human historical process that need to be rectified in favour of human authenticity.    

The Worth of Rational Beings

To say that rational beings have the same worth as I do, only makes sense if rational beings have any worth at all beyond being rational to themselves. Humanism can only exist therefore if we have first established the worth of rational beings in the Universe. Or in other words found a rational answer to the question: Why are we here?

If civilisation had been a building of society according to truly rational grounds – which it hasn’t been – then there would be no need for human-rights as these rights would have been built into the very fabric of civilisation itself.

For humanity to be a reality, the Bill of Human rights needs to be taken seriously at all levels of society. But in order for that to happen we have to also firstly develop a credible, coherent and easily communicable notion of what humanity is.

NOTES CONCERNING THE NOTION OF HUMANITY

What has deteriorated, or what was never properly formed in the first place, is our notion of humanity.

From a philosophical point-of-view it seems pertinent to ask ourselves if a NOTION OF HUMANITY is, in the first place, actually possible in the authentic sense. But this is a dangerous question. Before asking it we need to consider the idea of what a negative response would entail – that a surrender to the belief that an authentic NOTION OF HUMANITY is impossible opens the door unto the ethical wastelands and social voids of nihilism.

The need for avoiding nihilism – which in our case has to be contemplated as an escape from the nihilism that we are drowning in – demands a positive incentive toward the task of defining this authentic NOTION OF HUMANITY.

All notions are constructs, so how do we make our NOTION OF HUMANITY out of an authenticity? How do we make an authentic construct?

To make an authentic construct of humanity it has to be a truthful reflection of all human beings – the AUTHENTIC NOTION OF HUMANITY has to be one through which every human being can identify oneself with without exception. This may seem absurdly utopian, but each human being is human, and a NOTION OF HUMANITY must reinforce this truth. The NOTION OF HUMANITY has to be adequate to itself, i.e., it has to be adequate to humanity itself. The authentic notion can therefore operate in the Name of Humanity as a metaphoric substitute but also as an Ideal and an aspiration for humanity.

Whether certainty is in the being or the thinking (cogito), it is definitely embedded in the human and the NOTION OF HUMANITY also brings CERTAINTY to the UNIVERSE through the human.

The simple act of communication between human beings implies the existence of humanity, but in this information age that implied-humanity has been reduced to something which is forever taken for granted. By making this reduction the information-age has managed to diminish the notion of humanity to an almost non-existent state.

We are human and, because of that fact, in order to live a purposeful life we must act according to the dictates of a NOTION OF HUMANITY. But to do that we must educate ourselves humanistically in order to forge a shared will to believe in and understand the importance of the humanity that such a concept would be about.    

WHAT TO DO?

Before 2020 we were sitting on the edge of a cliff, contemplating the possibilities of a very possible, and ever more tangible likelihood of climate collapse, and asked ourselves: ‘What to do?’. Then the pandemic came, and we could see answers to the question allowing a postpandemic philosophy to emerge in which the disciplines of the pandemic experience provided positive, solution scenarios to the problem. However, we quickly got sick of the restraints imposed on us by the Ministry of Health and yearned for a return to all our bad habits, gradually sinking back into the old normality, and with that return slipping back into the need for the old depressing question: ‘What to do now?’. But almost before we had even uttered the last syllable of that weak-willed interrogative, the normality has again been shattered by the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. Our lives are now filled with complaints concerning the rising price of oil and gas which turns into the rising prices of everything, and we bemoan our plight as if we had never sat on the cliff edge before and there had never been a climate emergency, when it fact the real underlying factor and authentic regulatory force that must be tackled if we are to ever avoid the looming dystopia, is precisely that climate crisis. This new disaster, the war in the Ukraine and the energy crisis unfolding from it, requires the same global self-sacrifice that the pandemic demanded of us, because the real problem that envelopes all problems, the mother-of-all crises underlying reason for all our woes, is the climate emergency.  

But why is it so hard to answer this ‘What to do’? Is it because we do not properly grasp what we are asking: that this is not a pragmatic, political question, but a moral one, in fact it is the fundamental question underlying all morality. But that is ignored: the System prefers to pass the question over to the economists who can only deal with the problem in a theoretical way and that, for them, in ultimate terms beyond the next financial year, or at most, the next presidential term in office, the question is unanswerable.

Our nihilistic, capitalist civilisation has no bedrock to anchor its own moralities on and because of that it lacks a meaningful response to the question, so that the question itself dissolves into a simple ‘what should I do?’. But the problem is that even this simple ‘what should I do?’ can become torturous if the general ‘what to do?’ is considered unanswerable.

To anchor ‘what to do?’ we need to place it within the scope of ‘where are we going?’. If the answer to the latter has the form of an eternal continuation through progress, then the commitment to such a journeying will be a liberating one – set free by our powers of creativity, rational thinking and the technologies at our disposal that are themselves products of our liberating creativity. By situating our destiny at the eternal point that can never be reached, we make our purpose an ultimate one: free and ultimate. Asking ‘what to ultimately do to get where we are ultimately headed?’ is, as such, a way of searching for the best way to achieve the end that can never be attained, but will keep us moving forward. By envisioning an end-point beyond a horizon that we are forever crossing, we liberate our Sisyphus-like condition and escape from the tyranny of the systemic hill. The rock we are pushing immediately becomes easier to roll: meaningfulness makes being more bearably lighter. Being itself becomes the object of pursuit, an object that can be worthy and meaningful for all human beings, forever.  

Civilisation as an Obstacle

We have, for more than a century, been experiencing the fall of Western Civilisation, i.e., the collapse of the so-called democratic world also known as the W.E.I.R.D. (Western Educated Industrial Rich and Democratic) civilisation. There is systemic ossification: while industry booms, academia and high-culture are undermined by the power of popular cultures driven by vulgar economic motives that pump wealth inexorably upward to the already wealthy; and while hi-tech industry booms thanks to the information revolution, our WEIRD obsession with growth and consumption has created its own systemic disruption, the existential threat of a climate collapse that highlights our dangerous dependence on fossil fuels for energy, creating its own bellicose power struggles to control the wealth and political power generated by energy distribution that is now seriously threatening to boil over into the third world war, which really will be the last world war.

In this state of decadence and corruption, civilisation itself has become, not only an obstacle to the development of human progress, but an actual threat to our existence. In theory civilisations are built for human survival and needs, and are designed to ensure that the fruits accumulated in the construction of a civilised world will perdure by being passed on from one civilisation to another. Nevertheless, this optimistic view of civilisation has one basic flaw: the human element of all civilisations has always been sadly lacking. Whilst it is true that communities of human beings have been formed for the survival and needs of its group members, civilisation in itself is built for the interests of the accumulation of wealth for the Wealthy and its own real aims are in preserving the status of the oligarchies that are shaped by that wealth as well as the aristocratic nature of wealth itself. It is the aristocratic and plutocratic fabric of civilisation that is maintained over the long run and passed on from one civilisation to another. In many ways, if we look at its effects on the majority of individual, human lives, it has never been more than an obstacle. There is a widespread belief that civilisation is essential for creative and cultural progress but in fact it has always limited the capabilities of individual expression and has frustrated the greater part of collective human potential through the design of systems aimed at the accumulation and perpetuity of wealth.

Civilisation is, in fact, an anti-human organisation. Only through authentically human orientation will societies truly function in a liberating, creative, and truly progressive way for the realisation of authentically-human, individual capabilities.

Social institutions, and our duties within them, will only cease to be hindrances on freedom when they can be geared towards human purposiveness rather than the self-interestedness of a civilisation designed exclusively for the needs of the wealthy.     

Resolving the Other

The phenomenon of war is a tragic, amplified cultural exaggeration of our individual psychological issues surfacing from the reality of the ego’s encounter with the Other, and developed by an inability to resolve the issues that this encounter entails.

In other words, the roots of war are embedded in the psychological question of the Other, and because of that, in these tragic times, with the Russian invasion of the Ukraine is in full swing, it might do well to reflect on how that problem can be resolved.

If we can believe Freud, then our first other is our oedipal opponent, the father. He is the first challenge to our central position in the universe established by our enclosed condition of self that gives us a feeling of being essential – or, as Hegel called it, the essentially real.

The problem of the Father-Other or this First-Other, as well as the Lacanian Real Other (the Mother) are resolved by the family.

The concept of the family is a unifying balm for the tremendously conflictive relationship between the self-contained individual and the others that challenge the inherent solipsism of our early experience of the world.

However, once the issue of the first others has been resolved by absorbing the self into those others within the family, the family itself finds itself surrounded by others – those other families, the neighbours.

This second phase of confronting the Other can either be resolved by the families allowing themselves to be absorbed into a community of families that communicate and share their experiences of reality, or the confrontation can be exacerbated by building fences behind which each family unit hides itself and experiences the Other as something unreal, because never truly experienced and only appreciated through judgements made from mere glimpses over the fence or fleeting superficial encounters in the street.

The community is therefore the second solution to the problem of the Other, just as the family was the resolution at the primary level.

The process of resolving others expands outward until we get the political geography of the world today delineated by the borders of nation states and empires. Nation states have been around for hundreds of years and we have had kingdoms and empires for thousands, but the big leap to the Big Resolution which would dissolve the problem of the Other in Humanity has always been overlooked, undermined or quite simply resisted through ridicule and the presumption that such a development is impossible.

Impossible or not, the only way that the tragedy of war and the existential threat it is today will ever be overcome is through a conscientious grappling with this problem of the Other and a serious political will to resolve it through an authentic globalisation of humanity, not economically but psychologically via a striving toward an authentic human community that would be the Big Resolution that would end wars forever.        

Truth is Reality

If truth is reality, then what is a lie? A lie cannot be an irreality for non-realities don’t exist, whilst lies do exist. A lie is, in fact, an affirmation of something which is unreal, or, as a negation of something that is real.

Truth, therefore, rests in the knowledge of what reality is. But reality is often hidden from us and for that reason truth has to be found through a process of disclosure.

Reality is itself always honest. It does not hold any possibility of any irreality in it. Dishonesty is only possible once the observer has arrived, and is only really made feasible through analytic consciousness. In other words, deceit is only possible through consciousness: the same power that allows sapiens beings to know is also that which makes us prone to be confused.

Truth is reality, but we live in a dual reality: the external reality of the world, on the one hand, and the internal reality of our mind on the other. Even though the former is enclosed in the latter (and the latter in the former) we can separate them: the reality of the chair by the wall is not the same reality as that which knows there is a chair by the wall.

So, does truth gain anything by having knowledge of how we have knowledge of things? It can be said that by having knowledge of things allows one to uncover the veiling mechanisms that we would not have been aware of had we not tried to understand this process. Reality, and subsequently truth, is constantly distorted by the colours of the lenses we perceive it through. A search for truth has to also be a search for a clean, unfiltered lens to observe it with, which may be an impossible achievement but that does not mean attempts to do it are pure vanity. Struggling for clarity is always better that resigning oneself to obscurity.

Psychological investigation is concerned not only with how we come to perceive reality, but also how we come to terms with our own self-centredness. But this egocentricity is always misleading from a universal point of view. Truth, as such, would benefit from the development of a more human macro-psychology which would have to involve some effort in developing educational methodologies capable of transcending self-centredness.  

However, it is also true that ego and individual character are vital elements for any creativity and this implies a certain paradox which can only be resolved by asking ourselves what lies between the individual and the universal.

Fortunately, this middle-ground phenomenon can be easily found: it lies in the universal substance that is produced by individuals and can be readily found in all art and technology. From this we can deduce that what links the individual to humanity as a whole is that which the individual is capable of producing for humanity as a whole. The simple act of placing emphasis on this could stimulate the kind of transcendent self-consciousness we are talking about. I am here to produce things which have a universal importance, could be see as a motto for a future university for the transcendently self-conscious truth.  

A methodology of transcendent self-consciousness, therefore, would have to be a process that reinforces individual character at the same time as it develops universal awareness, and the only way to achieve this apparent contradiction of aims, can come through an anchoring of the fulfilment of self to the purposiveness of the universal through the medium of creativity. Only by viewing individual growth and fulfilment through the prism of human progress itself can self-centredness be transcended in a creative and meaningful way.

Thinking of the World for Itself: Hegel’s Positivism

In his thoughts on development, Hegel recognised a process in nature in which things evolve from a thing in itself to become a thing that is for itself.

In an organic-whole Universe (which is also a Hegelian concept) this idea of the for itself would logically amount to being for the Universe. A Universe that has evolved into a being for itself, is one that has developed from being the thing that is, to being the thing that is because it knows it is, and knows what it is for. In other words, a Universe that exists for itself is a thing imbued with purpose.

Our suggestion on this point is that our own Universe has evolved in this for-itself way through the creation of life-forms with sensory abilities and intelligent consciousness, that make them capable of knowing what and where they are, as well as, ultimately, what and what for the Universe itself is.

Through its power of reason, humanity is therefore tied directly to the Universe’s evolution into the thing that is for itself, or the Universe imbued with meaningfulness.

It is reason as well, as such, that distinguishes the maturity of human beings and the human faculty that must be most meticulously developed if we can ever evolve into the most mature form of human (sapiens) beings.

Individuals can and have managed to achieve this maturity, but authentic human maturity can only come about when humanity itself develops its reasoning powers and knowledge collectively, and by doing so living up to the title of homo sapiens.

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To describe his concept of development, Hegel used the analogy of a plant:

“The bud disappears in the bursting-forth of the blossom, and, one might say, the former is refuted by the latter.”[i]

In the same way, the future mature sapiens species will refute the homo economicus that walks the earth today. To interpret this in Hegelian terms would imply an optimism. Hegel saw the bud and the flower as being mutually incompatible manifestations of the plant, although necessary ones.

It is easy to conclude that the life-process stages of a plant are necessary because we know that the process is generally a success. Nevertheless, the evolution of humanity is an unknown factor. Whether what we are now is truly a necessary step towards what we should become, is a highly hypothetical proposition. If the goal of humanity is to develop into a highly evolved, reasoning species, we cannot wait for our material desires to naturally evolve us that way. Such an assumption is as blind as any other faith. If humanity is not looking for any goal it would be absurd to expect it to find one. But the truth is it doesn’t need to look anywhere to find authentic purpose, for we all know we possess the gift of reason.

Now, as we approach the steep cliff of the existential horizon that we know that our own supposedly rational civilisation has created, it is as good a time as any for humanity to acknowledge its reasoning powers as a positive force embedded in our authentic purpose as human beings, and by so doing allow a development to begin that will move us toward the mature form of that reasoning, knowing entity.

Sadly, these ideas are not that different from Hegel’s metaphysics, and if an influencer like Hegel was not able to spark a revolution for a humanity forged for-itself then we can probably expect to see little hope of stopping the homo economicus juggernaut now. Hegel’s metaphysics are, and have been, basically ignored by all except the most die-hard Hegelian scholars. But Hegel himself was writing at the end of a positivistic age – an end that opened the doors unto our own nihilistic era. Hegel’s brand of positivism and belief in purpose now seems like a breath of fresh air, gasping for revival. A positivistic vision of human evolution is necessary now, if we are ever to break out of our nihilistic bubble.

We do not say this in order to suggest any blind imposition of a Hegelian worldview. Our own ideas differ radically from Hegel’s, especially in the idea that cosmological evolution is an infallible process of rational necessity. There is a rationality involved in the Universe, and the cosmological fine-tuning indicated by physicists points to the idea of the Universe created for itself, but, we believe, the mechanical control that the Universe possesses is certainly not infallible, otherwise complex life would be a far more frequent and expanded phenomenon in the Universe than it is. If we examine the Universe, as we should, from the physical mechanics of it, it is a volatile, violent place – the seeming antithesis of the serenity needed for an evolution of rationality.

The rational maturity that we talk about here is still to come, but only if it can. In order for that maturity to be feasible, an authentic sapiens must evolve, and the best candidate we know of for such an evolution has to come via humanity – it depends on us.

And to do that, as we all know, we ourselves need to make a giant leap forward in favour of our identity as a species imbued with the vision of making a world that exists and functions for itself.       


[i] G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind, 2/2; 3, 12

Toward an Authentic Human Society

In a lecture given in New York in 1968 on the proposed theme of Philosophy and Anthropology, Jacques Derrida brought up the relationship betwixt humanism and metaphysics.[i] We say brought up, for Derrida’s thinking is always too convoluted to ever put forward a concrete idea, instead he seems to throw concepts into a whirling vortex that hopefully will throw something meaningful out for us. In this case though there were some interesting historical scraps linking existentialism to humanism and suggesting a phenomenologist chain of humanist ontology from Hegel to Husserl, to Heidegger unto Sartre, whilst situating the same string of thinking within a murky atmosphere of philosophical rejection of the humanist idea. For example, Sartre writes a piece called Existentialism is Humanism but speaks disparagingly of it in his novel Nausea and while with Heidegger’s concept of Dasein, he anchored the essence of Being within human-reality, he also rejected humanism, complaining that it remained too metaphysical. But it seems to us that the post-war rejection of humanism has had very little to do with metaphysics and is much more deeply rooted in the ideological dictates of liberalism and certain tyrannies of freedom. Which is of course ironic, because shouldn’t liberalism be rooted in humanism?

The problem of humanism that arose in the second half of the last century is centred around the idea of the commonality of humanity, and the possibility of our being driven toward a common purpose, because, for liberalism after World War II, which was a war on totalitarianism, the idea of shared meanings and purposes became associated with the same totalitarianism that had shaken the world during the 1930s and was being perpetuated through communist dictatorships. After the war, therefore, humanism was seen as suspiciously Marxist and, therefore, anti-capitalist and anti-liberal.

But now, when the hypocrisies and dictatorial tendencies buried in the fabric of the capitalist paradigm are becoming increasingly apparent and the noxious effects of consumerism have become a dangerous threat to the health of the biosphere, we have reached a stage when a common, purposive rally and reaction to the systemic madness is necessary, and the common, purposive façade of humanism needs to be at least reconsidered.

The truth is, societies have always infringed on our personal reasons for doing things – if not, society itself would never have evolved. Or in other words, the very definition of society is equivalent to individual compromise.

Imagine if human beings had never become social: while one individual picked berries because he or she found great personal gratification in eating sweet fruit, another would have discovered meaning by feeling the sun on his or her skin and would have left the group in search of sunnier weather, etc. Although this is also a superficial analogy because meaning and purpose would never have been possibilities for these antisocial humanoids, simply because they would have lacked self-consciousness. They would have had no need for it in their non-social lives, just as they would never have developed a need or ability for languages of any kind. The idea of humanity is tied to the concept of the homo sapiens or the zoon logon ekhon (that living being whose Being is essentially determined by its potentiality for discourse). So, for human beings to exist, there had to first be a humanity born out of a social reality that developed the need for self-conscious, intersubjective communication, and once that communication took place so began a process of communal development of shared necessities, the most pressing and relevant of which was the simple need of ensuring their own survival and the survival of those they felt tied to through the bond of community: friendship, kinship, and/or some other totemic connection.

Purposiveness has always been imbued through a serious sense of necessity, but capitalism has created the same effect via the want manufactured through its desire-creating machinery. Even the unnecessary can be made to feel universally needed and, as such, universally purposeful, if the right kind of advertising campaign is imposed.

A society centred around the idea of human commonality would not so much infringe on individual purposes but would in fact reveal the unnecessary purposes in our lives and guide individuals toward more meaningful authenticities rooted in what humanity is and what it needs to do in order to become fulfilled in what it should be.

An authentic human society would be very different to any of those which have been created so far, and imagining such an authenticity is generally the work of science-fiction. Likewise, a good dose of sci-fi imagination is required in order to conceive of what the authentic human being would look like, because, due to our inauthentic human societies the authentically human has never properly come about – we are but shadows of what we should be, because we should be far better connected within the sphere of our commonality.

While part of us tells us that we have reached a good place, where at we should stay, other forces are transforming this good place around us in ways that are not geared to any human purposiveness at all. Currently, we live immersed in a teleology of greed and our lives are despotically controlled by the plutocratic paradise dreamed of by Wealth.


[i] Jacques Derrida, MARGINS OF PHILOSPHY, Tr. Alan Bass, The Harvester Press, Chicago, 1982, pp.114-117

Sapiens

How intelligent is humanity as a whole? What right have we to call ourselves homo sapiens sapiens? If the idea of the sapiens is wrapped up in reason, how developed is the innate human sense of reason and how widespread is its use?

Now, if we try to answer these questions, the conclusions will probably be sadly pessimistic. But, what if, instead of trying to analyse what we are, we look at the idea of sapiens from the point of view of becoming?, i.e., sapiens is not what we are, but what we need to become. If we see humanity evolving towards our sapiens potential rather than being born with wisdom, we might get a clearer idea of what the homo sapiens really is, and what civilisation should be concerned with.

This idea may sound utopian or fantastical, to expect billions of human beings, most of them struggling for material happiness or simple survival, to suddenly decide that what is important is knowledge. But the fact that this is the case demonstrates how far humanity is from actually being what we claim to be – the fact that most humans have such little regard for wisdom and hold knowledge in such a relatively low esteem, demonstrates how far humanity is from actually being what we claim to be. The truth is, if some authoritarian body decided to take away our sapiens status most of us would probably not give a damn at all. They took away Pluto’s ranking as a planet, so why not declassify humanity?

If there is to be such a thing as human purpose, therefore, we might want to start with what we think that we should be but aren’t – we might start by trying to become a truly sapiens homo. From the point of view of becoming, intelligence is not just a tool that can be used in certain situations, it is a lifegoal. When you feel lost and life seems meaningless, just remind yourself of what you really are supposed to be – that you should be sapiens. Meditating on such an idea might well be enough to point you in the right direction towards an authentic purposefulness.