The present, if left alone, never guarantees the future. It is up to us to do our best to guarantee a desirable future from the present.
In this simple statement we can find purposiveness.
The present, if left alone, never guarantees the future. It is up to us to do our best to guarantee a desirable future from the present.
In this simple statement we can find purposiveness.
Living in society creates a constant preoccupation over the way that others act, whether those actions directly affect our own lives or not. ‘Others’ can be annoying or kind; friendly towards us or antagonistic; threatening or helpful; dangerous or loving. Our attitudes towards them will run between an apathy and an absolute concern, but it seems unlikely that any individual in society would be able to regard the rest of the members with complete indifference. Even the fully-fledged narcissist measures his or herself by how they differ from the behaviour of others.
The same is true regarding how we organise our environment: the houses we live in and the rooms in those homes; the clothes we wear; and even the accents we speak with are designed and refined according to our relationship with the others. They are organised according to the way others organise their spaces. This is how cultural sameness comes about. We compare, we initiate, we learn, we improve on, we invent from … and – at the higher level of progress – we enhance it again.
On the other hand, change can be feared. We compare, we imitate, we learn, we are comfortable and happy – why change?
Despite our fears and our desire for comfort, accumulation of learning mixed with the inevitable decadence caused by stagnation, makes change necessary. Human beings want to live in reality, and that means we want to live according to our own concept of truth. This is why Christ was said to have said “I am the truth”.
For religion to work it has to be accepted by the faithful as true – as real. Scientific truth has always been a thorn in the side of religious reality, as has free-thinking. Religious-truth’s claim is to make us comfortable and happy because we have found the absolute truth and, consequently, there is no reason to change, no need for progress. If accumulation of learning makes change necessary, then that is a dangerous element for religions. And this also means that religions are dangerous elements in progressive societies.
Discovery is a fundamental feature of the human, and discovery always implies change. Any absolute truth must deny the possibility of change, unless that Absolute Truth is that everything must change. Although this idea of transformation is not anathema to all religions and we see it embedded in Buddhist philosophy, nevertheless, it is abhorrent to most monotheistic dogmas. Where change is an abomination, however, we always approach anti-humanism, because, by denying the virtues of progressive transformation we also negate a fundamental human trait and, by doing so, deny humanity itself.
So, to return to our earlier interrogative: why change?
By changing we affirm our own humanity; and by progressing we make humanity purposeful. Our sameness with the others can only make sense if that sameness is always evolving and open to progressive transformation. Humanity only makes sense if we live in creative orientated societies and cultures.
The practical worlds that societies enclose are shared experiences that can exist without a common language. If you have access to money and there is a supermarket nearby, your survival is ensured. Any tourist or ex-patriot who is ignorant of the local language knows how that works: you go to the store, pick what you want off the shelves, pay and leave, without needing to utter a single word.
What this means is, we have created societies in which even dummies can cope … but … have we intentionally made societies for dummies? Is there a structural aim to this simplicity? If the basic elements of survival are quite simply ‘get a salary and close proximity to a supermarket and you’ll be fine’, how can real progress on a human, sapiens level, come about? What is there to inspire the masses for more when they are perfectly comfortable with much less?
The essence of the practical reality boils down to this, and practical reality is economic reality. The progressive motor of the homo economicus is his or her ambition, but the most practical side of the practical world is that ambition and dreams are not necessary – in fact, they are not even practical. The American Dream might hover around, but in general it gets lost in the linings of the corridors of Walmart.
A society that can be imagined without any need for language is a sapiens-impoverished one. The practical world that economists dream of is language-poor and Sapiens deficient. It is an inhuman or anti-human world.
The opposite of this world would be one in which language becomes a priority. This means that a literate society is a human one. Humanity as a purposive, progressive entity, could be measured according to its literacy. Reductionism is a fascist, anti-humanism with a purpose toward creating a silent, ant-like species (although, even ants communicate more than supermarket shoppers do).
Linguistic interaction is necessary for intentionality and its development is necessary for the intentional progress of society itself and for the creation of a human civilisation pushed forward by democratic, intentional progress. A linguistically poor society, on the other hand, is impoverished in democratic intentionality.
Deep thinking requires linguistic richness. Even the ability to synthesise linguistic expression needs linguistic richness as well. One who lacks linguistic dexterity in the first place cannot simplify what they could never express in the first place.
Language, along with our physical motor skills, is the first thing we learn. For human society to properly function in an intentional, progressive way, we should never stop progressing linguistically, even if this means abandoning the practical side of life.
In order for progress to happen in any field (social, scientific or cultural), there has to be a space cleared within societies to allow for the planting of possibilities. Without possibilities there cannot be any creativity in all social, artistic or scientific advances.
Once planted, the seeds of possibility need to be nurtured and protected from economic limitations. In fact, the first step that has to be taken to allow possibilities to grow and progress to thrive, is the creation of a new kind of economy that releases possibility from all economic restraints. In order to do this, there must be a revaluation of the purpose of money in societies and a new rationale concerning how rewards are gained and how incentives are distributed.
Democratic societies need to open such spaces by making them available to the mutual benefit of all. Each member of society should be able to feel empowered with the ability to plant their own seeds of possibilities, made available and encouraged by the collective society.
Our current, capitalist model of distribution and its global economy has been stripped bare by the coronavirus pandemic. Beyond the tragic effects of the human life lost to the virus, the ultimate legacy of the pandemic will be a collapsed world economy which, paradoxically, will actually be good for the health of the planet. This sad absurdity has to make us contemplative; in its essence it is crying out for us to revaluate the way we make exchanges and the existential prices we will have to pay for those exchanges.
But what the pandemic scenario also reveals, is that the current status quo is not the only way things have to be. With the walls of the current system cracking all around us and the foundations of the house we live in sinking into the bog we have created in building this house, it is time now to pull the house down and rebuild. But let that new home be a safe and beautiful edification for everyone, and one which is designed to make the space full of openings to other outward and inner spaces of all possibilities for everyone.
How can we honestly gauge concepts like progress and achievement on a social level? Technological advances are obvious – of course they are, this is a technological revolution age – but positive evolution has to be measured against the negative, dystopian-production side of our hi-tech, global-economy world.
Technology has created machines that can transport us over land and sea, and even through the air. It has taken us to the Moon, and we have landed robots on Mars. We are capable of exploring the entire Solar System and we can look with our telescopes into the deepest reaches of the cosmos whilst with our microscopes we can examine the minutest particles that make up reality. We have cured diseases and the average life-span of men and women is increasing at a constant rate. In terms of recreation, we have developed sports and arts that give us a wealth of cultural activities that can be easily enjoyed wherever we go in the world thanks to our marvellous digital technologies.
Nevertheless, despite all these fantastic attainments, our standards of living are dropping, and the new generations being born today will most probably have a worse standard of living than their parents and grandparents. The havoc being wrought by the climate emergency and the covid-19 pandemic have stripped the emperor bare, and it is now easy for us all to see the enormous weaknesses in the structure of our system. The world we live in is not just full of cracks, it is infested with a plague of bugs that are streaming out of those cracks.
Could it be that we have not really achieved anything at all? Could it be that the opposite is the case? – that our historical process is a constant evolution towards more despair and perdition?
If we have ever achieved anything it must be considered in terms of gain for humanity. But once we analyse achievement in terms of human-gain we find that we have lost so much. The anti-human forces (ideologies, nationalisms and religious dogmas) have always been so strong that the idea of HUMANITY has been reduced to an impossibility that only exists in Utopian fantasies. HUMANITY today equals humanity. So, if HUMANITY is impossible, how can human achievement be possible? Of course it can’t. If we want humanity to achieve anything, we must firstly believe in it.
There is a profound paradox slicing through our global-world civilisation – progress is also decline. However, the contradiction is easy to understand once we accept the erroneous nature of its inception.
Growth is supposed to be a virtue, but any growth that goes beyond natural limits is a vice. The values ingrained in us, telling us that growth is an essential component of our well-being and happiness, are not in step with reality: they are perversions, breeding deadly monsters and engendering tragic scenarios.
The problem with civilisation in the 20th century, therefore, is that it is built on this dangerously false premise. Our System tells us that the greatest value for all societies to aspire toward is growth and that non-growth means death. This argument is absurd and wrong and yet at the same time it is so widely accepted that it is the driving force of civilisation. Because of this, we can and must declare that with this century we have now become deeply entrenched in the Insanity Age.
The growth that is preached to us from the pulpits of economic wisdom, has been tagged, at the political and social level, as progress, even though the result is decline.
Our world is an empire without an emperor, and its decline began with its inception, so that there never has really been a vice, the vice is embedded in that which is.
When analysing the insanity of our age, one has to wonder if there is some kind of phoenix-hope psychology embedded in the subconscious of its affirmations. What the global-world civilisation longs for is a resurrection via a process of annihilation in its all-consuming-fire economy. This kind of thinking is of the most primitive kind: an observation of the seasons and a sympathetic-magic belief in the power of cycles. But, there is no perpetual growth in nature, it would be impossible.
The cycles don’t support perpetual growth, they inhibit it. They pull it back. In nature also, winter is not a crisis, it is a natural alleviation and a necessity. There are no elites in nature who benefit from the cyclic organisation of the biosphere; natural cycles unfold in order to create harmony. So, if we really must be cyclic in our organisation, let us be honest about it and take the real seasonal changes into positive consideration.
To have faith in progress without having any conception of what that progress is moving towards is absurd. So is the idea of progress as a nothing more than a quantitative thing, such as growth. And yet, this is our present insane condition. We are condemned to the absurd whilst we remain in the impossible tension of progress through nihilism.
Progress will only happen when we can replace the work elite with the values of thinking; using the theoretical to lift us away from the constant tyranny of the pragmatic. We have been building machines to alleviate labour for millennia and yet, in many respects, we work as hard as ever – we are certainly more stressed than ever – and, despite social networking, individuals in societies suffer more alienation than ever. For progress to happen we need to have a theoretical image of where it should take us. The future is a guide and our objectives are horizons – we can always see them, and they are constantly changing and can never be reached, but we need to keep advancing toward them for progress to happen.
Progress has to be measured qualitatively and not quantitatively. Our obsession with the quantitative measure of reality has been the greatest error of our Insanity Age.
“… evolutionary novelty comes about when ecological opportunities are truly large.”
(P. Ward, RARE EARTH)
For evolution to be creative, which basically means for it to be able to operate on a radical scale, there needs to be a wide-open field to nurture it and allow it to grow within. The same could be said of any innovations. In the human-made world, our creative evolution, which is manifest in the arts and sciences, is dependent on the economic environment. As such, we can assert that human creativity (artistic and technological) can only come about when economic opportunities are truly large. But what does large in this case mean?
Surely it should be understood as widespread, giving opportunities to as many creative and innovative people as possible. Opportunities in these areas don’t have to mean enormous amounts of money, and certainly shouldn’t be merely big pay offs for projects to make these creators and innovators rich. Rather it should be seen as opportunities to get projects done, because: a) there is a space – a laboratory or work-shop – to experiment and construct in; (b) there is time for the innovators to be able to dedicate themselves to the projects at hand; (c) that there is comfort and security that allows the innovators to work without the stress and pressure of results; and (d) innovators have the opportunity (platform) to present the fruits of their work to the rest of society.
Through this kind of creative and innovative freedom a civilisation can truly evolve. Although this progress depends on the creation of an economic comfort zone for all creators, the problem is not an economic one as such, but rather it is a matter of progressive will.
Under our present system, economics is a hindrance to creativity because instead of nurturing economic opportunities for human innovation it creates barriers and impediments for creators to find the freedom to work in. The question should not be: How can we allow creativity to be financed in our society? But: What kind of economic system can be devised to create a field where creativity and innovation on a massive, evolutionary scale is possible?
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of human reasoning is our capacity to see beyond the actual and perceive possibility.
Possibility is what makes us moral animals and throws us unavoidably into the divisive areas of good and evil and right and wrong. It is through our capacity for seeing possibilities that our tremendous creativity is allowed to bloom. Nevertheless, human society itself is responsible for much repression of possibility and civilisation itself tries to mould actuality into its own image at the price of possibility.
For the most part in contemporary society, that which ought to happen is constantly thwarted by actuality. Thus, poverty ought to be eradicated but actuality seems to turn the idea into some idealistic fantasy; war should be a thing of the past, but actuality makes it eradication impossible; we ought to have eliminated many more diseases and found cures for countless other simple ailments, and yet actuality engenders more new viruses year after year; we should have become more human and less nationalistic, but actuality makes a norm of the nationalistic spirit …
Possibility is constantly being strangled by actuality, and we are gasping in a choking planet. If there is a cause that we should now be defending above all others, it is the Cause of Possibility. Once that is empowered, all the rest of the causes, all the “ought to be” things in the world, will fall into place.
The airport could be seen as a gateway to liberty, for, love it or hate it, air travel has given us the wings so many humans must dream of whenever they contemplate the freedom in the flight of a bird. However, the sensation when one is in an airport is not precisely that of being free. Technology has given us the power to fly, but not gratuitously. The freedom to fly comes at a cost: an economic one; a long flight is uncomfortable and expensive, and practicality and profitability demand the design of claustrophobic spaces for travellers. Jet-travel is cramped and stressful, and embedded in the experience is the implicit fact that it if the mechanism you are locked into fails, the metal tube you sit in will hurtle down and crash in a way that will annihilate everyone on board.
Statistically, we’re told, it’s the safest form of travel. Of course, we have to trust the airlines, and hope that their needs to ensure profits will not affect the safety and maintenance standards of the aircraft we are flying in. Nevertheless, each passenger airline is a potential bomb, a potential that was taken full advantage of by terrorists in 2011.
After 9/11 things became more claustrophobic for everyone … or everyone except Power with a capital P. Terror is a liberating force for Power and the latter took full advantage of the terrorists taking advantage of air-travel, to create an authentic space of absolute control in the airports. Rather than feeling that one is passing through a gateway to freedom, airports today seems like an ugly, if thankfully brief, passage through a concentration-camp.
For Power, airports are an ideal laboratory wherein to explore the extents of control that the citizens of the so-called democratic societies are willing to endure, because whenever you travel by plane you are being asked an implicit question: what price (loss-of-freedom-price) are you prepared to pay in order to enjoy the freedom (time-winning-gain) of flying to your destination?
Power knows that the inconveniences, both the excessive controls as well as the possible threats of a hijacking or the likeliness of an accident, gradually become absorbed by society as ‘the way things are’ – an expression which is just as progress-numbing as terms like ‘destiny’ or ‘God’s will’. And this is exactly how things have played out.
To make air-travel less stressful and liberate airports from the concentration-camp models that we have today we need to rethink the whole militaristic conception of air-travel architecture. But, is that possible? Can we make more enjoyable airports? Could flying be a less-claustrophobic and more beautiful experience? Or, does the paradox between the freedom of flying and the measures required to ensure the safety of that experience imply that the airports we have today are the only kinds of airports possible?
The resolution of the paradox is a deep, essential problem, for the paradox is not just a conundrum of airports, but a paradox concerning the human-condition. As with air-travel, so it is with life itself. As with airports, so it is with our cities. The question is the same: Does the conflict between the desire for freedom and the needs of safety imply that the architecture structuring our lives today is the only feasible kind of structure that can deal with that conflict?
Freedom becomes popular when it is safe and safety implies regulation which diminishes freedom. In order to gain anything, how much must be sacrificed? It is a question as old at least as the first magical rituals. But the question we want to raise now is: is there only one solution to the paradox? Might there not be a better architecture than the one we currently have? Why are all the airports the same? How can the best model be so imperfect? Can we design our airports (and hence the entire structure of our societies) in a more comfortable, pleasant, and human way?
Kant divided concepts into those of nature and those of freedom, and now let’s introduce a third concept, lying between these two, which is that of nature which has been transformed by freedom.
With the establishment of this third category we can also now envisage a new philosophy between the philosophy of nature and the philosophy of morals that would be a philosophy of progress: which is concerned with what we can achieve through the alteration of nature and which would have an ultimate of creating eternity – because eternity has to be the ultimate aim of all progress.
This philosophy of progress has both technically-practical and morally-practical principles, geared towards that which is not yet practical but which should be, and hence, which should be the aim of freedom.
The existence of progress means that the practical itself is constantly evolving with the development of the technically possible. Or, in other words, the theoretical of today creates the practicalities of tomorrow’s freedom.
THE IMPOSSIBLE POSSIBILITY OF THE IMPOSSIBLE
The philosophy of progress takes, as its first assumption, that anything is possible and that the impossible is a temporary illusion: things are impossible only until we discover how they can be made possible.
Impossibility only exists while a) we are incapable of developing our technological skills enough to be able to render things we desire to be possible; or that b) we lack the desire to render certain things possible. This lack of desire can come about because of b.1) the condition in which the imagined possibility is morally undesirable (e.g.: the creation of a hard-core artificial-intelligence, by which we mean a super-fast, self-conscious computer that would have access to unlimited information instantaneously and the power to control all that information at its own will, should be considered impossible, not because we could never create it, but because it would very easily and likely destroy us if it ever were to be created. Moral undesirability, therefore, renders the theoretically possible a practical impossibility).
 Immanuel Kant, CRITIQUE OF JUDGEMENT, Oxford World Classics, OUP, p. 7