"The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant." ~ John Stuart Mill
Looking Forward...to What?
The evasive, plastic bubble of our present cultural freeze-frame context is born of a lack of future. We are holding onto illusions of prosperity because all we see ahead of us is loss, emptiness, and desolation (in all aspects of our existence).
Philosopher G.E. Nordell elaborates:
'War, pestilence, hunger and stupidity we have in abundance. We no longer look to any Dream to give us guidance, to live into. The future from here is an unavoidable nightmare . . . . Standing on any factual variant about the Current State of the Planet, there is NO probability that Mankind will survive two more generations.' ' G.E. Nordell
Of course, there are alternatives. Nordell stresses reason. I will take that, as a tool, and go a step farther, stressing responsibility.
Liberty, in consequence of these tools, is not a way to 'hold on' to anything we now have. We can only avert the coming disasters by reaching for something real, something potent, and something better than what we have now (or have ever had before). We can only 'live into' a future that holds the promise of more--a factual promise based on reason and underscored by practical reality.
At this point, our empirical sciences and our technology will lead us into the pit, efficiently greasing the skids of our demise. We have been sliding down this chute for a long time, even though we thought the future looked fairly rosy. In terms of technology, it was. We went to the moon and our economic standards of living increased sumptuously! But that technology was built of rickety bamboo scaffolding over enormous chasms of irrationality and inhumanity. Not just minor gaps in philosophical understanding, but foundations built over cauldrons of religious fairy tales and cesspools of wishful thinking. We haven't got a premise to stand on. The Enlightenment was impatiently thrown together in a couple of centuries, and they forgot to put a foundation under it. (The British answer: Empiricism, was just another brand of Dark Ages--the foundation of Hitler's Germany and modern America.)
Thoreau wrote: "If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."
That's our situation. The splendid castles are collapsing. Atlantis is sinking. And, yet, we are ambivalent.
On the one hand, we reek of denial, fear, evasion, avoidance, and drug ourselves with delusions to sustain a reality that has no foundation, and thus that is no true reality, but one big delusion.
On the other hand, we would not mind, terribly, if the whole thing collapsed anyway. The trip here was cool, but the reality is tedious, stressful, and there's nothing 'to live into' from here. It's like a failed experiment. It took us so far, and no farther.
So, yeah, let the tide come in and wash this sandcastle away. And make another one another day.
It doesn't take a pole reversal, Planet X or any other interstellar conflagration to destroy human civilizations. We're not, like, dinosaurs, you know. All it takes is a lack of an interesting future ' and we're outta here! Booooring . . . don't wanna play no-mo ' so, end-game.
The point is not, what do we have that is any good? We have lots of trifles and gadgets. But none of them do the trick, hit the spot, satisfy . . . indeed, for the most part, they erode our health and well-being. Not such a good road, after all, was it?
More to the point is what we don't have. Not just the erosion our health, well-being and liberties, but the continued inability of the species (in its current manifestation) to get a handle on war, hunger, disease, suffering, misery, slavery, bigotry, or despotism.
The gadgets just don't compensate for this kind of unending future. We now know that the promises (of the politicians, scientists, corporations, academics and religions) to address these issues are bald lies of a power elite that will say anything to retain power (and, therewith, to continue their raping and pillaging). It is an old reality, but for many of us it is a new realization ' it gets increasingly difficult, past a certain age, to continue believing in the Tooth Fairy.
Although we fear losing our trinkets, we also know that they aren't worth anything. And because of this visceral knowledge, we will let the whole thing collapse. We know (in our blood) that it ain't worth saving. It's going to be a bum-deal to live in the dark ages for the next couple hundred years, but, what the heck, it's better than another century of this nonsense.
So we fear the immediate consequences of the collapse, but not the fact of the collapse. Indeed, we conspire, through our inactivity, to bring it about.
To avoid the collapse, we would need ' not merely reason, not merely responsibility, not merely industry ' all these things come easily enough to a human being who is motivated. The history of the planet is jam-packed with the creation of awesome civilizations during the past million or so years. Stupendous ones. And we haven't done half-bad ourselves.
But if this is as good as it gets, we aren't having any more. No need to trash the place; it'll collapse of its own weight in a short period . . . if we don't sustain it. And we won't. Because, as a future, it is not worth 'living into it.'
Not just that it's not as good as it used to be (in terms of human values), but there's no handle on the things that count in life. There has been no equivalent HUMAN technology (philosophy) to get a handle on war, pollution, corruption, slavery and all the rest of the 'stuff' that really matters. We have cell phones, automobiles and airplanes . . . whoop-di-doo. Don' matter, do it?
As to alternatives. (Oh, you are so desperate to hold on, aren't you?) Well, there is 'reason' and 'responsibility.' That'll buy us some time, but not much. Not without a dream.
Thing is, we can't come up with a dream, in this context, that surmounts our desperate need to hold-on, and thus that is bigger than our petty material images of utopia or our wistfully impractical ideals.
For all that we cling to our socio-religious fairy tales, our political myths, our economic superstitions, and our beliefs in scientific wizardry, we are disbelievers in utopian dreams, in human goodness (outside of ourselves, if that), in causes, or in justice. We are steeped in contradictory ideals, corrupt applications, and cynicism.
In the context of our present fairy tales, from which we premise our beliefs, we cannot see any way out of this mess. [From within that context, there isn't a way out.]
When I say that we need a dream, I do not mean that we need a new fairy tale, myth or false premise ' upon which to build another disastrous, corrupt, debauched, hypocritically civilized world.
If we are to go forward ' and do it better this time 'round ' we will need those minimal tools of reason and responsibility. The dream will have to stand up to our scrutiny, and be realized through our individual efforts. It can't be another religious delusion, scientific delusion, or political delusion. Been there, done that; fun ride, but the end is a big downer ' to everyone but the powerbrokers.
What dream do I propose? Oh, hell. No one PROPOSES a dream, least of all a philosopher.
It arises. Somewhere. You can't invent it. You can't create it. You can't make it.
But you can choose it.
Because it's already here. Somewhere. Waiting to be found and chosen. Or not . . . overlooked, passed over, ignored, discounted, and lost in the rubble of our collapse.
Odd, because it's really hard to overlook something so big. So potent. So powerful that it can pull an entire species from the brink of extinction and propel them into a future they cannot begin to imagine.
It is right out in the open, where everyone can see it ' and overlook it. Right . . . over . . . there! No, not on TV, not on the Internet, not in any of our technology stuff. It's right . . .
I'll tell ya this: if it's in your back yard, then it's in everyone's back yard (in Botswana , Baghdad , Boston and Bangkok ). It's a dream; where do you think you'd find a dream? It has the power to kickass everyone on this planet eagerly into the future. Now, what do you suppose that's going to 'look' like? Obviously, it's not going to look like anything you've ever thought of as a 'dream' before, since all the species' dreams to date are superficial fairy tales.
When you find it, pick it up. Don't look back.
By the way, the dream for the future of this species is not something that is going to be vetted by a committee, approved by authority, or sanctioned by your peers. Scary thought, but it's an individual dream. It won't 'play' to a group. It doesn't need to. Neither do you. When you find it, pick it up and move forward. You don't have to say a word. You won't need to. It will be written all over you, for those who have eyes to see it. It will spread by contagion, and will be implemented or rejected individually ' internally.
It may have already started. Somewhere.
Can you imagine?