All too common diseases, the vast majority of which are preventable and becoming more prevalent, are not befitting the inherent nobility of a human being. The imperative of health care is to empower patients with the knowledge, the insights, the understanding, the will, and the resources to maintain their health and prevent diseases
At the root of the matter, the current poor state of health care is not so dissimilar to the cause of other ailments crippling our communities: a paralysis of human will. This crisis requires a re-examination of our assumptions of basic human nature. Instead of treating ourselves and the people around us as problematic, unresponsive, and self-consumed, we must view human beings as noble, intelligent, altruistic, and desiring to contribute to the betterment of the world. Coupling this understanding of identity with the necessary knowledge and resources will empower an individual to improve his or her own physical health, and other aspects of daily life.
Moving beyond the individual, the culture of a community is something that, if transformed, can effect a profound change in public health. Smoking is one such example. For decades, smoking has been one of the leading causes of preventable disease and death in the world. Knowing that smoking is detrimental for health is necessary to reduce its popularity, but even with that knowledge people will still begin to smoke. On the other hand, if smoking was not portrayed as “cool” or popular in society, then rates of teens and young adults who start to smoke would decrease drastically. The same concept of a change in culture applies to exercise and healthy diets, both of which contribute to preventing obesity, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia, which, along with smoking, account for most causes of preventable death.
Across the entire country, and placing a large toll on the cost of the health system, is the culture of receiving primary care in the ER. Citing one recent study from the University of Virginia, 26% of patients visiting the ER claimed their complaint was something easily able to be treated in a doctor’s office, while another 9% stated that the ER was their only source of medical care. An additional 30%, not knowing whether they needed the ER or not, would have chosen their primary physician if they had consulted with him or her before choosing the ER. Once trust is built, education is provided, and encouragement is extended from primary care providers to their patients, each individual’s understanding of health will improve and better treatment and continuity will be provided, changing the culture of health care delivery and directly alleviating the high costs of our burdened system.
The changes in the individual and the changes in the culture of the community need to occur in parallel with each other, as they are complimentary and reinforce each other. As more diabetics begin to eat more vegetables, then the community will slowly respond by predominating more vegetables. The development of knowledge and will in an individual, and the mindset that each patient is capable of contributing to his or her well-being along with society’s well-being, go hand in hand with the profound changes of culture reflecting the interactions between these patients and their physician.
The Baha’i world has been learning how to use an education program to raise capacity in individuals and populations to take charge of their own spiritual, social, and intellectual development and to build communities that understand the dynamic coherence of material and spiritual prosperity. Based on the conviction of the nobility of the human being, on the oneness of humankind, and on the principle that science and religion are two complementary systems of knowledge and practice by which civilization advances, this educational system regards “man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value”, and believes that “education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.”
Of course, we know that our perceptions are built upon our assumptions. Thus, as first glance, an onlooker might perceive simplicity, tangentiality, indoctrination, limitation, rote learning, or a whole list of other problems. Perhaps this perception is biased by assumptions and values adopted by society’s conceptions of education – which breed passivity and facilitate oppression. And perhaps another look might help.
Current models of education are information based. They consider a human being as an empty receptacle waiting to be passively filled with information and technical skills necessary to fill positions in an economic system to maintain the status quo. They aim to provide enough thoughtfulness that a high-school graduate can vote in an election, yet not so much thoughtfulness that he will question the political system. Education as society knows it promotes a false-dichotomy of right/wrong in order to allow for a highly simple method of evaluation, which conveniently can be capitalized (pun intended) by the economic system to brainwash consumers to buy the “right” product over the rest. And current systems perpetuate a fragmented view of reality in order to make the minds of their graduates easily able to be controlled by those with power, yet build in enough curricular association to prevent complete disintegration of what holds together various disciplines.
The Ruhi Institute, which provides a highly successful example of a set of curriculum that adopts an entirely different set of assumptions about human nature and education – some which are mentioned in the first paragraph. Its foundation is the Word of God as revealed by Baha’u’llah. Regarding its pedagogy, here are a few thoughts:
– Ruhi curriculum is not content and information based, but rather concept based. The purpose is not to impart information but to advance understanding about concepts. If one just takes a glance at the material, under the assumption of information-provision, one might think “there isn’t anything in here I didn’t already know, any new information, any dates or facts”, and one might perceive it too simple. However, the purpose of human life is to achieve understanding: “…the ultimate goal of human existence which is the station of true understanding…” and “Man’s distinction lieth not in ornaments or wealth, but rather in virtuous behavior and true understanding.” To understand is a verb, and its corresponding subject is the human mind. It’s object is a concept. Through advancing understanding, the human mind is able to generate insights into reality; to produce knowledge, sciences, and arts; to effect a change of cultural; and to advance civilization. By imparting information, the mind simply gets information. Paradoxically, then, curriculum based on facts are actually more simplistic.
– The questions in the Ruhi curriculum are designed to engage the participants with the text. At first glance, a fill-in-the-blank question may be simplistic, rote, mindless even. Under current educational assumptions, it may seem very low-level. However, the purpose of education is to advance understanding and enable participants to generate insights from the ocean of the Revelation. In order to do this, in order to discover pearls in an ocean, one must interact with the words and concepts. Take math as an example. Simply reading 3+4+7=14, and then discussing it, might not advance understanding about numbers. If the goal was information, perhaps one could waste a lifetime memorizing the sums of various combinations of numbers. However, 3+x+7=14 requires operation; requires interacting with the numbers. What kind of integer, when added to 3 and 7 make 14? What kind of deeds lead to the betterment of the world? This type of operation can then grow in complexity. 3x+5=6x-7. And so on. It is through operations, through interaction, through engaging, that someone learns the concepts behind numbers, and similarly the concepts within the Word of God.
– The true/false questions can also be misperceived under current educational assumptions. Society’s educational models are based upon a system of evaluation founded on a right/wrong dichotomy. In this paradigm, a true/false question is meant to evaluate the test-taker to see if they recalled the information correctly, and to see if they got it ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. However, again, the questions in the Ruhi curriculum are carefully designed to advance understanding. It breaks down current paradigms by creating true/false questions which are ambiguous, thus opening up space where understanding can be advanced in all participants through a discourse – in which people of all backgrounds of mind can advance understanding on equal footing, supporting each other’s advance and respectful of the knowledge that each one possesses at any given moment, and in which all can benefit from a diversity of perspectives. Under an anachronistic evaluation model of education, however, ambiguous true/false questions just seem poorly worded.
– Humanity is one. And the human being is one. Thus, all aspects of the human being are one. And all fields of human endeavor are one – a collective investigation of one underlying reality. Over time, human society has successfully fragmented educational disciplines (as it has fragmented all aspects of life). It has become popular to claim a multi-disciplinary approach to education, yet all current education does is associate disciplines together. When studying physics, a series of math problems about gravity are presented, as a way to integrate math and physics – but the result is only an association (and hard math problems). True integration occurs when education revolves around the understanding of concepts, the acquisition and generation of knowledge, the development of skills and attitudes, the formation of habits, the strengthening of qualities, all related to performing an act of service. Here, service becomes the key to coherence and integration – the balance. Because in the end, isn’t the purpose of education to reveal the gems of an individual and enable mankind to benefit?
In the curriculum of the Ruhi Institute we have a potent example of how education can empower the masses of humanity to take charge of their own development and contribute to the establishment of a new world civilization – a pedagogy of the empowered.
Development as an enterprise will fail until it studies the inter-penetration of reason and faith, the same way that students who memorize by rote repetition will always be 2nd best to the genius who understands the essence of composing music. Just ask that guy who was jealous of Mozart in the movie Amadeus.
Materialism has an exclusive claim on rational approaches to development the same way that Desperate House Wives have a claim on their husbands: They scream as loudly as possible about how’s he’s faithful to them, but everyone watching kinda knows that there are alternative rational approaches to development.
Scientists stating their religious beliefs explicitly are not saying other views are wrong, anymore than people posting beautiful pictures of their travels on facebook are saying other landscapes are ugly or should be removed. The vastness of truth prevents conflict between anything more complex than religious fanaticism and ideological fundamentalism.
The freedom from criticism enjoyed by science under the aegis of moral relativism is like the mass shooter who killed off all the annoying people at his postal office before he finally turned the gun on himself. Like a loose cannon, moral relativism is beginning to question the assumptions at the foundation of the scientific enterprise.
How great is our capacity for change? The endpoint of our progress is as difficult to imagine as space travel is to cavemen. Social reform will outpace our technological ingenuity. Freedom fighting at present is dwarfed by the liberties of the future. Cause-drops merge into revolution-streams; but the goal remains oceans away. Over fair seas, where life is fair, sail with me.
Activists confront wide-scale cynicism. Their hopes dashed by erroneous assumptions of human nature. Does the past have to be our future? Competitive economics prescribed because of the struggle for survival in World War II? Cutthroat education climates because individuals procreate their genes? Contentious politics because checking leads to balance?
Selfishness theory is self-fulfilling. Its prescription causes the disease; the disease is mistaken for our nature; that nature is re-prescribed. If disease is described as health, symptoms become prescribed as cure.
Although, failure is common, is it also our nature? War and injustice reinforce this illusion. The state of the world, however, reflects a distortion of the human spirit, not its essential nature. Anachronisms disallow drawing on the extraordinary reservoir of spiritual potential available to us.
Drawing on this power, activists develop spiritual capacities to contribute to social reform. Like hard earth, prevailing theories, seem impervious to alteration, before the spiritual springtime brings rain. Like flowers, accurate theories of human nature, are due to spring up fresh and fair.
6. Citizens, body politic, societal institutions struggle for power. Cooperative Baha’i alternative emerging: responsible individual, nurturing institutions, eager community.
7. Revelation recasts societal relationships. Economic injustice tolerated; disproportionate gain emblem of success. Eschew dishonesty, exploitation.
8. National Mashriqu’l-Adhkars to be raised in Democratic Republic of Congo and Papua New Guinea. Remarkable response to Plans.
9. Mashriqu’l-Adhkar weds worship and service, reflected in devotionals and educational process, correlates with size and SA. JYSEP fuels SC’s and CC’s. Learning site fortifies E&C. Erection of Local Houses of Worship: Battambang, Cambodia; Bihar Sharif, India; Matunda Soy, Kenya; Norte del Cauca, Colombia; and Tanna, Vanuatu clusters.
10. Temples Fund established. Sacrificial contributions invited.
11. Seven countries breaking Temple-ground. Every city prelude. From these Dawning-Points peal out anthems of His praise.
The Universal House of Justice
“…extraordinary reservoir of spiritual potential available to any illumined soul…”
5YP – Five Year Plan
SA – Social Action JYSEP – Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program SC – Study Circle CC – Children’s Class
E&C – Expansion and Consolidation
Human nature has been misinterpreted. We are not selfish and competitive by nature, but rather, altruistic and cooperative. Human societies to some extent actually represent an anomaly in the competitive theory of the jungle. Humans demonstrate a detailed division of labour and exchange of goods and services, with or without a cooperative intention on the individual level, between genetically unrelated individuals, that amounts to an economy-wide scheme of cooperation for collective prosperity. Modern societies with large organizational structures for meat and vegetable production and distribution, banking services and widespread trust in economic stability, and the rule of law and order, do the same. Since earliest days of the species Homo sapien, we have seen dense networks of exchange relations and practices of sophisticated forms of food-sharing, cooperative hunting, and collective warfare in hunter gatherer societies. The world of the animal for example, exhibits little to no distinguishable division of labour. In the jungle, cooperation is limited to small groups, and when it is seen it is almost certainly among genetically closely related individuals (eg: a family in a pack of wolves). Even in non-human primates (chimpanzees etc.), cooperation is orders of magnitude less developed than it is among humans. One may argue that certain insects such as ants and bees, or even the naked mole rat demonstrate cooperation in colonies of 1000’s of individuals working together. However, cooperation of these types of organisms cannot be appreciated except in the context of their considerable genetic homology. Genuine, conscious, cooperation that is biologically altruistic or selfless (ie: lacking genetic incentive) is seen in human society because of our unique nature, distinct from the jungle.
The “Jungle” interpretation of human nature comes from looking at humanity’s past of war and crime and deducing that human nature is selfish and competitive. No serious sociologist would look at a child and deduce that human beings are 2 feet tall and irrational. Yet, that is precisely what has been done when we look at humanity’s war- and crime-ridden history and deduce that human nature is selfish and competitive. Over the course of the child’s maturation and development it will become evident that he is actually capable of being a 5’10” professor of physics, for example. To judge human nature based upon an immature stage in human development leads to misconceived notions of who we are and how we should behave. The problem arises from the mistake of taking descriptive observation and mistaking them for a prescription of how things should be. The is-ought fallacy. Based on the observation of selfish and competitive behaviour, sociologists have prescribed selfish and competitive standards for others to follow. Instead of describing humankind’s violent past and seeking to overcome and transcend these difficulties in the future, many social theorists normalize these characteristics and prescribe them as the mode of interaction in economics and political practice. The sad truth is that much of our social order is built with this view of human nature in mind, catering to the worst aspects of our potential. No wonder society and the global state of affairs are in such shambles. A distinctive effort is needed to rethink human nature and our relationship to the collective order. Nothing less than a spiritual revolution in the hearts and minds of people and a transformation of the values of society will redeem us from the course we have set for ourselves with bankrupt self-conceptions.
Current economic theory is modeled around a self-interested conception of human nature analogous to the competitiveness of animals fighting for survival and reproductive resources in a jungle. I believe human nature is fundamentally altruistic, analogous to the harmony of cells and tissues cooperating for total organismic prosperity. The best advantage of the part is pursued in the progress of the whole. Cooperation of the various parts leads to health, and selfishness of any cell leads to cancer. The human body and not the jungle is what I choose as my model for societal and economic organization.
Assumptions of the Jungle Interpretation of Human Nature:
1. Human beings are naturally self-interested
2. There is a finite amount of goods, services, and opportunities with an infinite amount of wants, drives, and competitors
3. Competition is both biologically necessary and mandated by the scarcity of resources
4. Survival of the fittest is not just a biological law, but a social one as well, equally applicable to the biological and social human condition
Assumptions of the Body Interpretation of Human Nature:
1. Human beings are naturally altruistic
2. Goods are produced in proportion to the sense of a duty, purpose, and enterprise animating human endeavours, individually and collectively
3. Needs are satisfied in a way that does justice to their severity and intensity, which balances the extremes of satisfaction and want society-wide
4. Creation of a just and prosperous world order is the fruit of all social evolution, just as the manifestation of the rational mind has been the fruit of biological evolution
The statements of a language that seeks to be rational must also be internally consistent. Obviously, premises and claims cannot contradict each other, otherwise, truth could never be sought, and reality could never be adequately assessed. The importance of consistency is that it is a direct requisite for justice – if justice is the faculty of the soul that enables the mind to differentiate truth from falsehood and understand through one’s own knowledge, then one must strive for consistency in one’s perception and analysis, and the actual reality. This path to coherence requires constant reflection. And as words, thoughts, and actions all influence each other, consistency in words becomes even more important – for consistency within and between thoughts and actions is also praiseworthy. One cannot believe one thing and do the opposite. Consistency expresses itself as a commitment to long-term action informed by vision; as thinking in terms of process; as a learning mode characterized by action, reflection, and consultation; as being uncompromising in principle, never sacrificing values for practicality; as maintaining resolve in purpose; and as aligning methods and approaches with goals and ends, and with humanity’s innate nobility.
Consider the following reasoning:
– A humble posture of learning is essential in order to contribute to the advancement of civilization.
– The western systems are the most advanced in the world.
– The advancement of civilization is conditioned on establishing western systems.
Are these statements consistent? What are the assumptions underlying them? What is the relationship between them? How was this conclusion reached?
What are some other examples of inconsistency you see in society? Do they correlate with injustice? Do you see examples of consistency and justice?
In addition to clarity, another important characteristic of the language of science is rationality. Again, as language informs thought, using rational language helps create reasonable thought. And because words and thoughts influence actions, a language that seeks rationality will translate into action that strives to be strategic, efficient, sustained, and with long-term vision. What is rationality? What is logic? What is the process of reasoning? A quick wikipedia or google search demonstrates the difficulty of this subject. Instead of going through philosophy 101, a few basic principles can be explored with the aim of applying them into language, thought, and action.
Rational thought and statements result from a process of reasoning. One type is deduction – reaching a conclusion that follows from premises. “All iphones have a camera” + “Your cell phone is an iphone” = “Your cell phone has a camera.” Theoretically, this type of reasoning is comforting – if the premises are true, clear, absolute, and relevant, then the conclusion is correct. However, this type of logic is highly limited; rarely do we have these types of premises regarding social reality. Instead, the premises could be false, ambiguous, or conditional. “Some iphones have a camera” would lead to “your cell phone might have a camera – not sure”, which is unclear. “Your sandwich is an iphone” would lead to “your sandwich has a camera” which is just not true. (And please comment below if it is).
Another process is that of induction – to create generalizations from observations. “The iphones I’ve seen have cameras” and thus “All iphones have cameras”. In order to have correct and clear inductions, the number of observations made must be large and in diverse conditions. The more observations one makes that fit one’s generalization, the more confident one is of the truth of that statement.
The above examples are but two of many processes of logic. They are very simple, and just go to show the basics of rationality in language and thought. In everyday life, however, there is much more than rational thought that is needed. Regarding the simple process of deduction, where do the premises come from? What assumptions underlie them? Consider, for instance, the following:
– Poor people steal more than rich people.
– Joe is poor, and John is rich.
– I should trust John over Joe with my car keys.
The logic is sound, but where did the first premise, in particular, come from? What assumptions underlie it? How is logical reasoning being deceptively used in our society to manipulate and distort views of reality?
Similarly, with inductive logic, what assumptions lead to the lens through which observations are made? And what assumptions form the framework through which observations are interpreted? If one wanted to use induction to determine whether collaboration or competition leads to more productivity, one would set about observing instances of competition, instances of collaboration, instances of productivity. What factors determine the conditions of these instances? What constitutes productivity? What are the mindsets of those competing and collaborating? Obviously, rationally is important – but it is not without a conceptual foundational built on assumptions about human and societal nature.
The advancement of civilization – the theme of this blog – is achieved through action. It occurs through building capacity in individuals, institutions, and communities to work towards a prosperous world civilization characterized by a dynamic coherence between the material and spiritual aspects of social existence.
Why type, why talk, why think? Why read? Why not only go act? Plenty of reasons. Some, like the relationship between action, reflection, and consultation, have already been discussed. Along the same note, and key to the field of discourse itself, is the relationship between thoughts, words, and actions. The way we individually and collectively speak influences the way we individually and collectively think, which influences the way we individually and collectively act. And vice versa. Each affects the other two – and a transformation of one can lead to a change in the others. Discourse shapes thought, action, structure, and relationships.
What led to your conceptions of the nature and purpose of a human being? Of a community? Of education? Where did you get your speech about the idea of health care? Of politics? Of the role of parents? Why do you do whatever it is you do on Friday nights? On Wednesday mornings? On the first of the month? How did you learn what to do at a baseball game? A church? A hospital?
Most of this develops on an unconscious level – at the level of assumptions – as a result of all the complex social forces and implicit environmental factors that constantly surround us. Existing social structures and patterns of community life think, act, and speak a certain way, all of which bears upon how we think, act, and speak. In turn, however, the thoughts, words, and actions of individuals make up the thoughts, words, and actions of the communities and institutions of which they belong. Furthermore, words, thoughts, and actions all influence each other. And this is just one glimpse of the interconnectedness that governs the universe.
Discourse is indispensable in the process of civilization-building. Speak to your friend about the underlying oneness of humanity, and he will think about it. Then he will see others’ actions in this framework. And then act upon this assumption. Others will see this action, and express the oneness of humanity in their speech. What the world needs now is for more and more people to openly, consciously, and intentionally think and speak about our shared collective destiny – at the level of principles, at the level of assumptions, and with a real and foreseeable optimism. And of course this requires courage – any effort to champion the cause of justice does.
The idea of humanity as one, interconnected, interdependent, social body implies that each person is born into this world as a trust of the whole. The role of governance, then, comes as an exercise of the power of collective trusteeship. This idea of governance is irreconcilable with its current characteristics of competitive groups struggling for power to advance their own interests. As our world has become highly socially, ecologically, and economically interdependent, the well-being of each part is dependent on the well-being of the whole. The conception of government that is modeled after a contest for power – susceptible to economic corruption, diminishing the voice of the marginalized, and disregarding the interest of non-constituents including those unborn – has ceased to promote prosperity, has failed to address the needs of an evolving humanity, has served to oppress and divide. Why continue? Why cling? Why allow humankind to suffer to keep an obsolescent system built on an anachronistic assumption?
One example of an alternate system is presented here, if for no other reason than to demonstrate that systems of governance don’t have to be contests of power. The Baha’i community is developing a system that has proven effective in every culture, geographic location, and level of government. It has an electoral process that is purely democratic yet free of competition – every adult is responsible to vote, is eligible for election, and has the duty to serve if elected. There are no nominations, no campaigns, no parties; no manipulation, no slander, no economic influence. Voters have the complete freedom to choose those who they think will serve the role the best – and these names are cast with secret ballot. Those who are named most frequently on the ballot are then elected to serve on consultative institutions – and it is in these bodies where decision-making authority resides, and not with any individual elected member. Of course, this system is evolving within a learning mode, and only works when certain conditions are met – for instance, that it is adopted in a voluntary manner and that certain values and commitments are cultivated in those participating (such as truthfulness, detachment, selflessness, and support of majority vote in decisions, just to name a few).
Where have you seen alternative models of governance that employ mature conceptions of power?
What are ideas of how governance can be unifying? How is power exercised in unifying and cooperative systems?
As we can clearly see around us, governance stands in need of reconceptualization. At this moment in history, when humankind is in a transition phase, and when changes are occurring at accelerated rates, the development of just and effective forms of government is imperative. Democratic government, which has become the predominant form over the last century, has lost its legitimacy as a result of the corruption, hypocrisy, and elitism that has come to characterize its practice, rending it ineffective to address complex social challenges. One main cause is its cooptation by lobbyists and interest groups – which, nominally may seem democratic, but in reality are just manipulations through selfish expressions of power. These problems are not just confined to politics. At the level of the market, corporate governance is viewed with distrust and suspicion – again, through the corruption and hypocrisy that characterize their economics, and through their pursuit of self-serving goals at the expense of broader concerns. The result in this case has been outrageous ecological damage, a collapsed worldwide economy, and an ever-widening abyss between the rich and the poor. Even governance of civil society and social organizations have been subject to the same problems of competing selfish factions, corruption, and viewing with otherness – rendering anarchy in the management of a school board or a hospital. Considering the interdependence that characterizes all levels of governance, the interactions of these three levels leaves dismal expectations in one’s mind.
These are just the symptoms. Any change must be at the level of principle – deeper still, at the level of assumption. Some assumptions underlying these problems include: 1) Governance has to be divisive. 2) A single individual with good intentions can go into the system and change it. 3) Government is inherently ineffective, but necessary, so the more privatization, the better. 4) Governance is just an expression of power struggle. 5) There is no role for nurturing human potential. 6) Governance is largely a bureaucratic endeavor, and bureaucracy is cumbersome by nature. 7) To prevail, you have to undermine; to win, another has to lose. Can you think of others?
The next series of posts will provide some insights into the concept of governance based on the assumptions provided throughout previous posts, rooted in a recognition of the spiritual dimension of human existence as well as drawn from the experience of governance within the Baha’i community. What will be extremely helpful is your thoughts and contributions on the topic – to generate more and more insights; to understand issues, concerns, and needs; to raise questions for further exploration; and to identify challenges associated with profound changes both at the level of thought and at the level of structure.
Operating under the assumptions that human beings, by nature, are cooperative and not competitive, and that there are spiritual sources of power that can unleash the latent capacities of individuals towards contributing to the advancement of civilization, the model of contest for social structures is ineffective. Instead, what are other models of social organization that are just, sustainable, and empower humanity to take charge of its destiny?
We, again, arrive at the analogy of the human body. Human society is a single body – composed of diverse yet organically unified cells, dynamic in its function, and in which the well-being of every part is inextricably linked to the well-being of the whole (and likewise, the well-being of each part can only be had through seeking the well-being of the whole). How does the human body exhibit power? Movement is achieved when the muscles exert force onto the skeletal structure, while in harmony with a relaxed counter-muscle, and in concert with the directives of the nervous system. There are multiple entities, all working together and for the same goal, that allows power to manifest – it cannot be accomplished without the cooperation of all parts, and surely not if some parts are in competition with others. Organic bodies are characterized by having properties that only emerge on the level of the whole, that do not exist at the level of any parts.
With this understanding, power is an expression of unity – an emergent property of our organic social body that is manifest when the relationship between individuals and institutions is marked by harmony, cooperation, integration, and interdependence. Power ultimately resides in the individual members of the social body (muscles), but the capacity to release this power rests with the institutions of society (nervous system) – the creative powers of humanity will never manifest to their fullest without a true harmony, trust, and common vision between these two. Social structures, as trustees of collective well-being, must learn to guide, coordinate, and tap into the capacities and powers of all people in pursuit of collective goals. And individuals must align their initiatives with this guidance and vision. Only then will we have the makings of a healthy social neuromuscular junction.
With the understanding that the human being is a potential instrument for the expression of spiritual powers and capacities within social realty, just as a lump of iron has the potential for the expression of magnetic forces within the physical world, then how do we conceive of social structures and their role in fostering human nature?
Our current models of society have normalized a contest of power. They are based on the assumptions that human beings are only competitive, egoistic, and selfish by nature; thus the role of social institutions are to mitigate and regulate selfishness in an equal playing field in order to maximize utility – much like the role of a referee in a competitive sports game. We have deluded ourselves into believing that the mythical free market, driven by some “invisible hand”, will bring about well-being; we have fooled ourselves into thinking that a tug-of-war will result in movement. So it is seen today, not only in sports, but in the economic, political, legal, and educational systems of society the results of acting on these assumptions – the disintegration and breakdown of academia, the collapse of economic vitality, mistrust and apathy towards governance, extreme moral relativism in law, and utter and irreparable ecological disaster.
There are other assumptions about human nature and society, including those being advanced here – that human beings have a spiritual nature, with spiritual capacities and powers; that the nature of human beings is cooperative, reciprocal, and selfless. The culture of contest that is normalized in prevailing thought is severely constraining the developing of our latent potentialities. In our age of interdependence and imminent maturity, collective prosperity can only be achieved through creating systems, environments, and communities that cultivate our spiritual sources of power. It is an evolutionary imperative. Otherwise, we will continue to have ruinous consequences.
Beyond the highly propagated fragmentation of science and religion in current thought, and the resistance to reconceptualize these complementary systems of knowledge and practice, there are, in general, voices that resist change, especially at the level of principle. They refuse to believe that the assumptions they hold dear are not useful. Yet, civilization is in crisis. The fruits of outworn assumptions have gone rotten. If long-cherished social assumptions are no longer bearing the much needed fruit, and are no longer promoting the betterment of the world, then what is stopping us from simply discarding these assumptions and adopting new ones to operationalize? After all, the value and validity of assumptions lie in the results garnered from applying them to social reality – assumptions are all equal until they are tested through application. Let us apply science in the realm of civilization-building itself; let us be evidence-based. If assumptions no longer serve humanity’s developing requirements, then they are no longer valuable or valid; and new assumptions need to replace them. Change is an immutable law of our reality. What is the harm in adopting the assumption that humanity is one? That science and religion are complementary? That human beings are noble? That beauty directs our purpose? That individual and social well-being are inextricably linked? That a world civilization beckons humanity, one that will be governed by justice, one that will achieve a dynamic coherence between the material and spiritual requirements of life, one that will be rich with knowledge from all people?
Tell, which do you prefer: the assumptions that led to our current crisis of civilization, or those listed above?
The last post mentioned some equivalent basic assumptions that underly science and religion as systems of knowledge. All of these assumptions or articles of faith cannot be empirically proven, but rather, their validity is shown over time as they are operationalized – in other words, put into operation and practice. The fruits of science, under these assumptions, have yielded their fruit – advances in communications, abilities in the health field, mass transit, to name a few – and we now have confidence in the premises of science. Thousands of years ago, however, when the scientific enterprise began, these assumptions would have appeared radical and would not have been empirically verifiable.
The fruits of religion are less obvious, and the corruptions more apparent; leaving in many observers a skeptical stance. However, religion’s positive contributions to humanity’s history cannot be overstated. It is the leading force impelling civilizations, moral codes, unification, and many of the world’s moral, intellectual, artistic, and social advancements. It has been the chief source of meaning, order, and guidance throughout human life. Historically, religion’s generating influences have been geographically concentrated, progressively widening in scope in a punctuated manner with the advent of new religions, extending from the tribe to city-state to nation. In time, through the continued operationalization of its underlying assumptions, the fruits of religion will be self-evident in the form and function of a world civilization.
Both science and religion are based on articles of faith, which can only be verified over time and through putting them into practice and application. What fruits of assumptions do you see in daily life?
There are commonalities between science and religion as systems of knowledge that help conceptualize them as complementary and reciprocal. The first is that they both derive from assumptions and articles of faith.
Religion assumes the existence of a Divine and Transcendent Reality, an Unknowable Creator referred to as God. Religion then assumes that, although humanity cannot know God’s essence, we can perceive attributes of God and intimations of Divine will through revelation. Religion further assumes that we can learn to apply these revealed teachings towards the betterment of humankind.
Science assumes that the phenomenal world, apparently chaotic, is actually governed by universal laws and principles which constitute a hidden order. Science then assumes that humanity can increasingly understand these hidden laws and principles through systematic and rational methods. Science further assumes that we can apply this knowledge towards the betterment of humankind.
These articles of faith are almost identical – in one system, applied to physical reality; in the other, to spiritual reality; though in both, being applied to human social reality.
How do you see these common assumptions operating in your field?