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We, the human beings, are facing an existential crisis that is global in nature. The crisis has many facets that range from personal feelings of loneliness, fear or insecurity, and gender discrimination, to degeneration of modern political institutions, degradation of the environment, and depletion of resources. The global nature of the crisis makes it impossible to be solved only by a few individuals or communities. A consensus across humanity is necessary to overcome the crisis. And we need to ensure, as far as possible, that such a situation doesn’t occur again.
To make our consensus enduring we need a fundamental norm that remains relevant across time and space, capable of integrating various human communities, while fully respecting the unique personality of each individual. Therefore, the idea of ‘Sovereignty’ becomes the central theme of the present discourse.
What does Sovereignty really mean?
The word ‘Sovereignty’ can have many layers of meaning. It could simply refer to the practical or functional self-sufficiency and autonomy of a person or community. It could mean the absolute authority of a governing body over itself. As understood by the various wisdom traditions of humanity, it could also refer to a state of self-contentment, a freedom from fear or want, resulting from self-understanding.
In the modern era, the idea of Sovereignty is mostly applied in the context of political philosophy, especially in relation to the sovereignty of the modern political establishment called Nation-State. The sovereignty of the Nation-State has both external and internal dimensions. Externally it could mean the territorial integrity of a Nation, while internally it could refer to a State’s authority over a population, monopoly over force, control over natural resources etc., within its territory.
What is the basis of the nation-state’s sovereignty? How is it legitimate for the nation-state to claim such sovereignty?
Principally speaking, the sovereignty of a modern, democratic nation-state is derived from its Constitution. The Constitution, in turn, finds its authority from universal principles of Human Rights, which it acknowledges and proclaims to protect from violation. The preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948, and later ratified by most of its member nations, begins by stating:
Whereas the recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy the freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,
Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law…
In other words, the inherent sovereign value or dignity of a human being, who is born free and has inalienable rights, is the foundational idea of modern democratic constitutions and institutions, in general. The constitution gets its legitimacy from its intention to protect this fundamental value or dignity from possible violations by establishing the Rule of Law. The (modern) state is the embodiment of the constitution, and the government the actual instrument serving that purpose. That is to say, in theory, the modern democratic nation-state gets its legitimacy and sovereignty as the representative of the common good or the common will, verified by periodic, independent voting, based on universal franchise. This is how its authority becomes authentic and its monopoly over force and the trusteeship of natural resources legitimate.
How is a common will or a democratic community formed?
From the perspective of the political philosophy outlined above, a democratic community is formed when a sovereign person consciously recognizes that his or her inherent-inalienable value is a common principle, that it is an essential truth of every (human) existencei. This is the basis of the idea of equality; the idea that we are equal in value, irrespective of our gender, class, religion, etc. The idea of fraternity also arises from the same understanding of equality or our one-to-one mutuality.
Since human beings are communal beings by nature, and are necessitated to live together to survive practically, not to speak of our mutual emotional-intellectual needs, sovereigns enter in to a common agreement or constitution. The foundational reference of this constitution is their inherent common value and its purpose is to orient their daily community life, while protecting the dignity of each and every member of the community.
So, what is the relationship between the sovereign, the community, and the state?
A sovereign is someone born free who has the inalienable right to live as one pleases, while the state is an establishment formed to organize community life according to the common consensus (constitution) among sovereigns. The community or the state can interfere in the life of a sovereign, only if one intentionally engages in violence towards one’s fellow beings. Otherwise, a sovereign is absolutely free to exercise his or her will. That is to say, the only thing that a person needs to practice in order to protect one’s sovereignty is non-violence. All other obligations of the sovereign to the community are only voluntary in nature.
How was the concept of ‘sovereignty’ understood in the pre-modern era?
The idea of sovereignty has a long history. In the period immediately preceding modern forms of governance i.e. during the time of monarchy and feudalism, only the ruler was considered as sovereign; his or her authority was understood as god-given. The ruler was therefore generally considered to be above the law, and vested with all legislative, executive and judicial powers in his or her person.
Given such a substantial philosophical basis, why is that in reality, many individuals and communities all over the world experience the modern nation-state as a notoriously militant, repressive, and ecologically short-sighted entity in their daily lives? It is as if the very institution we created to secure the common good is actively destroying it day by day!
(Image Courtesy: Banksy)
There are historical and structural reasons that make the (nation) state tyrannical, which we shall discuss later. Philosophically viewed, this self-contradiction of the nation-state is not a lone phenomenon of that particular institution but the general character of all major fields of modernity, be it modern medicine, education, technology, etc. For example, the Green-revolution, which introduced chemical farming while claiming that it would produce food for all, has caused chemical contamination of the entire biosphere, sparing not even breast milk. And we could trace back such self-contradictions as essentially belonging to Empirical Methodology, popularly known as Modern Science.
Modern Science – The Dominant Knowledge System
Is modernity really related to Modern Science to have such a profound influence? Can we say that the modern nation-state and science have a significant association?
Of course they are related! Modern Science is the only knowledge system considered to be authentic by modern education or by modern institutions in general. It emerged thus, as the dominant knowledge system, by sidelining various other approaches to knowledge, including indigenous and religious ones. Modern science could be described as the real originator of modernity, the ideology that made modernity possible. It also enabled modernity to emerge and expand practically by bringing out a paradigm shift in technology and resource usage. Inventions ranging from the steam-engine to artificial intelligence, in fact, created and continue to sustain the entire infrastructure of modernity, including that of the military, communication, transportation, etc.
Modern science is the yardstick of our time by which every other field of knowledge must verify and prove themselves in order to be considered legitimate. So the contradiction of the modern state also has to be understood in the overarching context of Modern Science.
Let us start by exploring further the political philosophy we had been discussing. As we have seen, the foundation of modern political philosophy is the idea of the innate value of the human being. But what if we question this basic axiom? Is the idea of innate value true? Do we human beings or our lives have any real meaning or significance? Could it not be a mere ‘social construct’ to make a harmonious collective life possible? Or could it not be an unverified collective delusion necessitated by nature for the survival of the species?
If we ask such questions, what would be the answers deducible from modern science, the authentic knowledge system of modernity? How would it establish scientifically, beyond doubt, that we or all existence, are innately valuable?
The fact is that empirical methodology i.e. modern science has absolutely nothing to say either about the innate value of human existence or about value itself. Maybe it could, at best, elaborate the neural-physical processes of the brain that it thinks is the basis of our sense of self-worthiness. Put differently, as a methodology that insists on objective observation, measurement, experimentation, etc., modern science is inherently incapable of conceiving the value aspect of a human being or of the universe. Indeed, it is a self-contradiction that the dominant knowledge system of modernity does not substantiate the central assumption of the (modern) human rights thought and democratic institutions, in any manner. Thus, science implicitly reduces the idea of innate value to a possible collective delusion.
Does this mean that the contradictions of modernity essentially arise from modern science itself?
Of course. Any system of knowledge that is worthy of that name, must address three aspects of knowledge in an integrative manner. These are: a) Epistemology b) Methodology and c) Axiology. Let us consider the aspect of Axiology or the Science of Value. A knowledge system or a science must have absolute certitude about value, in general, to justify its own existence. If there is no such thing as value, then there cannot be any value to the knowledge or the science itself; it is self-negating. So claiming to be a science without an axiology is one of the major self- contradictions of modern science.
What are the implications of this contradiction of modern science?
We have seen how it effectively hollows any claims of basic human rights. This makes those rights constantly vulnerable to the whims and wills of the ‘powerful’ – as is evident all around us.
Innate value is the supposed universal or common that is true for all of us. When this axiom is negated, implicitly or explicitly, we are negating our commonality. Common sense or the sense of commonality cannot survive in such a situation. The community begins to be individuated or disintegrated into exclusive individualism. When a person gets individuated thus and identifies with one’s body alone, the entire world becomes alienated as the other. Likewise, since the individual body is something that is always susceptible to illnesses, accidents or even death, fear or insecurity becomes a constant in an individual’s life. This basic insecurity arising from alienation and consequent short-sightedness of a person is the primary fuel of the system. Such a person relentlessly works to secure oneself from the ‘other’ as well as for domination over it. States, from their side, constantly tap certain aspects of this fear of the ‘other’, making a militant State appear ‘natural’. And market economy promises liberation from the void, resulting from alienation, by the constant consumption of materials.
Let us look a little further into this modern Market Economy, which perceives everything, be it humans or nature, as commodities to be exchanged for monetary gain. How could such a totally reductive, utilitarian approach to life be not only legitimate but the only possible way of life for the majority of people? It is made possible only because of Empirical Methodology, the mere touch of which makes all its subjects objectified and materialized i.e. void of value. The universe becomes an aggregation of matter, gases and liquids, and human beings, mere collections of cells, secretions etc. Not to speak of the human self, the primary abode of all value or aesthetic experience altogether left out by such an approach. It is this materialization of life or nature by modern science that is reflected in their commodification by market economy. Modern science supplies the logic and legitimizes the very existence of such an economy. Similar is the case of technology, which is the reflection of a methodology devoid of any sense of real meaning and direction, a mere instrument of a materialistic world view.
The all-pervading discourse of ‘development’ (of the economy) that typically avoids any substantial questions regarding the meaning or purpose of the process, also demonstrates the essentially evasive orientation of the contemporary knowledge system.
It is also intriguing to see how the mainstream media characteristically stresses the relative nothingness of (human) life in general, even as it details the exploration of the universe by modern science. Such narrations could be sensible and even logical only against the backdrop of modern science.
Is the contradiction of Empiricism only related to values?
Certainly not. Consider the Epistemology of Empiricism. A proper epistemology is supposed to enunciate a theory of knowledge i.e. ‘what is Knowledge’, or ‘what is the purpose of the Knowledge’. For a science, there can be nothing outside of knowledge; knowledge is its absolute constant by which science is destined to realize the truth of knowledge itself. From the perspective of the human being, knowledge is the very element that makes the being ‘human,’ which in turn enables human to realize the beingii. So a science that claims itself as the authentic system of knowledge, and as the foundation of all specialized fields of knowledge, must establish first what it means by ‘knowledge’. It is an absolute must for a science to legitimize its own existence.
Yet modern science does not explain the truth of knowledge or the truth of the human being. It contents itself as just the enquiry for it or as the study of specific fields of knowledge. It only hopes to discover the truth (of us), which is here and now, in an unpredictable future and even that discovery is considered as only probable.
This truthlessness of modern science regarding knowledge makes everything, not just science itself, but human beings, the entire existence, hollow. There cannot be any true, enduring meaning to anything; instead, things could have only transactional and transient meanings arising out of daily life necessities, until that golden day of ‘truth’ dawns arising out of that ultimate scientific experiment!
One may also take modern psychology as a telling example of the situation: If we are to understand the abnormal, surely we need to have an idea of the normal. But what is that ‘normal’ today? The norm is a conformist who internalizes the reductive outlook of the system and nourishes it practically.
This complete reduction of life into utility is evident everywhere. What is the worth of a human being now? It is directly proportionate to one’s monetary earnings! What is the value of a river? It is proportionate to the quantity of water that could be sold from it!
Can we then say that as a knowledge system, modern science is ‘self-negative’?
Yes. When we say that a word or knowledge is not self-aware, that is just another way of saying – a human being is not self-aware or self-knowing. This self-ignorance could be about nothing but one’s own value. Indeed it is self-negative, hence our modern suicidal lifestyle.
When we postpone the understanding of the truth (which is freedom) to an indefinite future and occasion i.e. to a linear time and space in the very domain of knowledge, that approach pervades into every other realm of human life. In modern education systems, generally, students are told to tolerate all sorts of intimidations and restrictions in order to be happy at some point in future. One of the fundamental, implicit teachings of the modern system is that “You are not supposed to be happy here and now. Life is a struggle (read: experimentation). Now you should work, so that you can be happy in the future.” Here, we are actually being trained to postpone truth or self- contentment by ignoring the self-evident. Similar is the situation with the so-called development process; we are supposed to wait patiently without complaining for that supreme age to come, even while we are literally suffocating to death due to the aggregate pollution generated by the process!
(Image Courtesy: Banksy)
Briefly put, there is a clear negation of the living truth, the timeless-spaceless Being that is eternally present, in favor of a ‘truth’ that is placed remotely in linear time and space. This approach sharply limits, shapes and interprets how we personally understand and experience time-space. It is not unlike religious priests’ postponing heaven to another world, even when wise ones have unmistakably declared time and again that it is here and nowiii. This postponement of the truth (or of sovereign value) is what always legitimizes and normalizes the existence of hegemonic institutions and their command over human beings.
And, when modern scientists claim that they are going to figure out at some point the whole truth, for the first time in history, their assumption at once makes the lives of human beings who have lived before that ultimate moment essentially trivial.
A (Very) Brief History of Modern Science
To begin with, how did modern science come to have such an erroneous philosophical foundation?
All knowledge is finally meant to be valuable or to refer to the human being, one way or the other. Therefore until the modern era, Philosophy (the science of principles) that contemplates on the purpose, meaning or value of human existence, the constant reference of all knowledge, had been considered as the foundational knowledge system for all specialized fields of study. Likewise, since the essential truth of human existence must be identical with the truth of the universe, cosmological enquiries like ‘what is universe?,’ the relationship between the human being and the universe, or the relevance of the human being in the universe etc., were also considered to be necessarily philosophical. That is to say, psychology and cosmology, the microcosm and the macrocosm, were always understood dialectically or unitively. And subjects like astrology, biology, alchemy (chemistry), etc. conducted their researches within the outline given by philosophy.
In Europe, when the (Catholic) church became the dominant institution following the 5th century (AD), philosophy got replaced more or less by the theology of the Church, which nevertheless retained Greek-Roman philosophical influences. During that period, many of the researchers of (empirical) science subjects were Catholic priests and their studies had often been for religious purposes.
Later, during the late Middle Ages, many findings and conclusions of empirical studies that had aligned with the worldview of the Church, were proved wrong by new (empirical) discoveries and reformulations. For instance, the earth was considered to be the center of the universe according to the theology of the time, but Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543) proved the church wrong, empirically.
The response of the Church to this and similar explorations and studies was dogmatic and it tried to suppress such empirical findings through threats and punishments. The Church burned alive, Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) who challenged the cosmology of the Church, and intimidated many like Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). This situation led to the gradual separation of theology (or the ‘philosophy’ of the times) from science, that is, fields like astronomy, medicine etc. The scientists of the time didn’t dare to revalue and restate the epistemology and axiology of theology either, but went ahead with empirical methodology alone for furthering their studies. Probably, they expected that they would soon discover the truth empirically and that these findings themselves would initiate the required revaluations. But gradually, especially during the later Age of Enlightenment, empirical methodology positioned itself center stage and revalued epistemology and axiology in its own image. The scientific community’s experience of actual religious oppression and the lack of freedom of thought during the medieval period in general, also could have encouraged them to assert the empirical approach to knowledge over the non-empirical, philosophical approaches. Thus we got a modern science that does not have a sense of meaning in general.
It seems, there is a general scepticism in the modern scientific tradition about anything that speaks with certitude about reality!
Having experienced the dogmatic assertion that insisted on faith at the expense of reason, and experiencing its dire effects, we could say that there was a reactionary suspicion by scientists against anything that conceives truth in an apodictic manner, and which the scientific tradition retains to this day.
The Post-Modern Turn
In the post-modern era, ‘truth’ is a very contentious word. The perspectives that could be called post-modernist, generally take a position against any universalized version of truth that transcends time and space. Here, ‘truth’ is contextual, individualistic or an amalgamation of various perspectives. There is no truth, but truths! And it could be genuinely felt that the idea of ‘One Truth’ is the single greatest ingredient for a dictatorial regime!
We cannot stop discussing truth citing the abuses that have taken place in its name, just as we cannot stop discussing community life citing the possible errors in leading one. And it would also be self- contradictory to say “there is no truth,” as truth or as universal fact!
When we say ‘truth’, we are not referring to any individual preferences, views or actions which are necessarily divergent, but the (all inclusive) Existent. It is the Beingness of everything or the Being in all beings. If we say, “There are many truths”, then there cannot be any certitude about anything, including about the value or meaning of life. Every assumption could be contrarily disputed and negated including the very statement: “there are many truths”! In this sense, when we say, “there are many truths”, it is the equivalent of saying that there is no truth at all. It is a situation of absurdity or chaos. Likewise, in a no-truth situation, all perspectives would be equally valid or invalid; the idea of the better would be null and void.
When the oneness of Truth or the first principle that is true of everything is negated, then the assumption of commonality is impossible. The term ‘we’ used in an inclusive manner would be more or less nonsense. In fact, such post-modernist arguments originate from modern science itself.
But these schools of thought seem to be in rival camps at present. In fact, many post- modernists even question the very relevance of modern science.
For a philosophy or science that systematically studies principles that are universal or true of everything, it is impossible to negate the oneness of the real. In other words, science seeks to understand the common; if the commonality or oneness is negated, there cannot be anything such as science.
But as we have seen, the epistemology of modern science that postpones truth to an indefinite future essentially makes the common non-sensible; it makes everything disintegrated and individuated. That is to say, when the all-inclusive, absolute aspect of the Being is negated, the relative identities become absolute. Hence, the disproportionate postmodern assertion of various cultural identities. The ongoing endless specialization of various areas of study, while not having a comprehensive view of the whole, can also be cited as an example of the relative becoming the absolute. In this sense, postmodernism is just a more genuine and blunt version of modern science. As the name itself suggests, post-modernism is literally a continuation of modernism.
Revaluing Modern Science
Given the existential crisis we have discussed at the beginning, we need to have a common, global, consensus. So, how could we move from the disarrayed present narrative to an integrative one?
The disintegration of the common produces a lot of miscommunication. Due to the prevalence of private truths, it becomes irrelevant even to listen to someone else; communion is really missing. To revalue the situation, we need to first look at one of the master blind spots of modern science in relation to an integrative approach.
Human understanding, by default, has a horizontal aspect of knowledge – the relative, actual, objective and transactional world of the many or of various names and forms. The understanding also has another aspect that is vertical, subjective or aesthetic, which can abstract and generalize the actual plurality to the utmost limits and further, touch the Absolute, the Singular. Therefore, throughout the history of human understanding, there has been a consensus about the need for a dialectical methodologyiv for conceiving the total knowledge situation.
The horizontal aspect of knowledge is the domain of the ‘measurables,’ where an empirical approach could be of use in gathering functional, utilitarian information. In non-modern knowledge traditions there is a clear recognition that this positive-empirical approach is inherently incapable of realizing the Absolute, the Immeasurable, the Aesthetic. For this, there is another approach known as the negative wayv or the nivrtti marga (the path of withdrawal), that does not intend to name or measure, but instead takes the approach of being negatively assertive, ‘not this, not this’ (neti neti) – rejecting piecemeal, object oriented knowledge, in view of an absolute vision finally emerging by itself. The very term Vedanta, which means ‘beyond words’ or ‘end of knowledge,’ marks this approach unmistakably. The icons of the Buddha, spread all over the world, sitting with half closed eyes – indicating disinterest in relative knowledge with a touch of stillness – as if united with the Word or the Silence itself, holding abhaya-mudra (gesture of fearlessness), indeed reveals the perennial inclusive way.
This negative way of understanding is guided by the a priori approach, wherein conclusions regarding knowledge are not derived from actual observation and experimentation (a posteriori approach), but from introspection and innate logic. The necessity of reality being One, is such a conclusion which does not call for any experimentation to verify itself. But unlike other such knowledge traditions, modern science one-sidedly insists on the empirical, the relative, based on experimental verification.
Consider, for example, the Big Bang theory of modern science. It states that the universe originated from an all-encompassing (cosmological) Singularity. But science is preoccupied with the relative, manifested aspect of the Singularity, i.e. the universe, while marginalizing the non-relative aspect of the universe, the Singularity. Vertically viewed from the perspective of the Singularity, that has nothing outside of it, the entire creation-dissolution of the universe is happening within itself, unitively. But modern science seems to be fixated on the details of the Big Bang, much like how children get enamored by fireworks.
It is not that the empirical is irrelevant; but that such a methodology needs to be integrated with the innate axioms of knowledge derivable from the a priori approach in order to be substantial. The various fields of science themselves are the primary victims of the absence of such an integrative first principle; they just get lost in the pursuit of endless specialization or ramification. Further, science’s insistence on the empirical methodology for its own sake, in practice translates into a technology-driven world which exists for itself. So it is that science has reduced itself to a tool of technocracy. If modern science is a religion, technology is its God, which it trusts to solve every single problem!
Unitive Philosophy or Unitive Science
Can the innate axioms of knowledge be elaborated?
Both the Oneness of the Being and the innate value of Being are foundational axioms. These primary axioms are unquestionable; for, if disputed, there cannot be any Meaningful Understanding. In other words, if these axioms are negated, there cannot not be a systematic, valuable, approach to knowledge.
If we accept these axioms, we can deduce other verities of understanding or knowledge from them: Since Being is an all-inclusive substance that has nothing outside of it, its value could be relative to nothing but absolute. From the psychological perspective of the human being, this implies, I am the Absolute, the Perfect, the Sovereign. The maxims of the Upanishads such as, ‘I am the Absolute’ (Aham Brahmasmi), or ‘This Self is the Absolute’, (Ayam Atma Brahma), and ‘You are That’ (Tattvam Asi), as well as Jesus’ saying: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” or “I am the truth” (Ana’l-haqq) as declared by Mansur Al-Hallaj, unmistakably confirm the axiom. So does Chief Seattle, who asserts our Oneness when he says, “We are part of the Earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters, the deer, the horse, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadows, the body heat of the pony and the man, all belong to the same family.”
It is an objectively verifiable fact that such a non-dual axiom has been discovered, realized and proclaimed by so many humans across time and clime. The appeal their words and lives continue to have across generations and geographies is also a similar fact.
‘One who knows one-self, knows the Absolute’ or ‘one who knows the Absolute is the Absolute itself’, are similar verities exalted by the perennial wisdom traditions. ‘Man, Know Thyself’ was the maxim inscribed in the forecourt of the ancient Greek wisdom temple of Delphi. ‘Man is the measure of all things’ said Protagoras (490-420 BC), a Greek philosopher.
Put briefly, the final conclusion of a philosophy or science worth that name is not even that You are Free, but You are Freedom itself. Viewed thus, contemplation is the process through which Freedom understands itself, for itself, through itself. It is a grand process of Self-appreciationvi.
How do we go about integrating these innate axioms with modern science?
If we understand the innate axioms, we could see how the dialectical counterparts at all levels, like the Self and the Universe (non-Self) or the psychological and the cosmological, are participating in a complementary, compensatory, reciprocal, process that culminates in a cancellation or union of both, as we could also see in the man-woman relationship. Manifestly, it is a constant revaluation or re-embodiment.
Understood this way, each field of science can be viewed as the study of a particular form of the same dialectical process, as between the positive and negative numbers of mathematics mediated by zero. That is to say, each field of knowledge is a particular language of Self- appreciation unfolding for itself, through itself and by itself. Unitively, the negative or a priori or metaphysical aspect of knowledge and the positive or a posteriori or physical aspect of knowledge could be understood as necessary counterparts of the total knowledge situation. These counterparts have a natural one-to-one correspondence and can verify and confirm each other to arrive at absolute certitude, just as algebra and geometry can verify each other and confirm a central verity. Maybe we could call this integrated field of study Unitive Philosophy or Unitive Science.
History and Historiography
But our history seems to tell a story of contradictions and violence between philosophy, science and religion, rather than of dialectical union…
That may seem true, and to understand why, we must examine the history of historiography itself! Modern historiography, which originated in Europe and has been made popular through the curricula of schools and colleges worldwide, more or less projects the history of humanity as a series of perpetual struggles and acts of violence for survival or for domination. One of the main reasons for such a narrative is the fact that traditionally historians have been appointed or endorsed by kings, monarchs etc. They tend to document and comment on events and exceptions, like wars, rather than the rule – the daily peaceful co-existence of communities. They then serialize these events into ‘the story of an era’, or worse, the story of humankind. This traditionally dominant-official historiography, meanwhile, also normalizes both the existence and the violence of the contemporary system(s). In the present scenario, this narrative of history is further twisted to make violence appear inevitable, and therefore something to be tolerated and even encouraged. Essentially, the system produces historiography in its own image; in other words, a historian sees what he or she is looking for. The purpose of their study of history or life in general generates their historiography. This is not to say that everything was rosy in the past… but still, there is a clear bias towards recording exceptions, and exaggerating the negative.
If we look closely, we can see many facets to this exaggeration of the negative. According to popular Western historical understanding, spirituality is something that emerged out of fear of natural elements such as thunder and fire, as if it could not have risen out of any other feeling like a sense of beauty and awe! We can see how this lopsided view nevertheless conveniently dovetails with the rest of mainstream Western culture. For example, institutionalized spirituality (in Europe) stresses the notion of original sin while the dominant (neo) liberal economics assumes that the human being is essentially a selfish maximiser. Similarly, the fundamental postulate of modern economics is the assumption of scarcity – again, projecting a sense of deficiency. The habit of understanding life as a struggle was further accentuated by a negative conception of the Darwinian theory of evolution, in which the ‘struggle for existence’ and ‘survival of the fittest’ are central references. Such a negative, fear-based, orientation of our understanding of the past, naturally extends to our comprehension of the present and the future, and is being continually reinforced through the propaganda of market economy, in order to serve its own ends. This conglomeration of reductive projections makes the collective past of human communities appear ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’vii, and nothing to be inspired by. It is no surprise that this has resulted in a society cut off from its roots, infused with hopelessness about human life in general.
For an exploitative system, it is necessary to establish weakness or violence as the first principle of human nature and to normalize violence as the ‘natural’ way of our life. Primarily, this legitimizes its own violent existence while also establishing the necessity of a system as the protector against violence from the ‘other’!
So, what is being suggested? To have a balanced outlook?
Yes. Our popular history is mostly confined to a minuscule four to five thousand years which amount to only a fraction of human existence, and even that with major limitations. Before the first farming settlements started appearing around ten thousand years ago, human beings mostly lived as nomadic communities and more or less moved about all over the planet. They would have been enjoying the beauty of this Eden Garden –one of the most sensible and obvious things to do here!
Contrary to the image created by the above historiography, we don’t have a clue about the intellectual-emotional or subjective life of those human beings with their history of 100,000 (to go with modern style of time-lining) years or more. Perhaps a close study of indigenous, pre-modern communities and their traditions may enable us to develop a more balanced perspective of our shared history. If we care to look, we would see immense sacrifices made out of love and care, such as the passionate nurturing of children by elders, all around our daily lives.
Our collective past has to be understood dialectically without any exaggeration of either positive or negative aspects.
We were talking about the need for a global consensus and we also saw that modern constitutions are common covenants with good intentions. Is it possible to convert these covenants – and thereby the institutions that govern in their name – into something truly liberating?
There is a paradox.
The common inspirations or goals of modern democratic constitutions can be traced to the triad of ideals – Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. In view of a general human wellbeing, these principles are indeed laudable. These constitutions envision the nation-state as the administrative institution to orient our daily community life based on these ideals. That is to say, modern constitutions are detailed by keeping this institutional structure as a constant.
But if we trace the actual, historical evolution of the modern nation-state from previous institutions, we would clearly see that the modern state emerged and developed in Europe with a one-to-one correspondence to mercantilism and later to the Industrial Revolution that began in England during the 18th century and gradually spread all over the world. Unlike the pre-modern regimes that had been sustained by farming, the modern nation-state and its apparatus like the military, communication, transportation etc., were totally dependent on the surplus value generated by the industrial mode of production. That is to say, without the mode of industrial production and the consequent market economy, there would not be any nation-state as we know today.
Market economy, in turn, is something that primarily exists for private profit and has scant regard for the common good. It unilaterally aims for ever growing (private) profits through ever growing material production and transactions. Such an idea and attempt towards infinite material growth and accumulation of private wealth on a planet with finite resources would be nothing but violent and destructive. It also necessarily leads to the unequal appropriation of natural resources, the common wealth of humanity, by a few. Needless to say, such a market economy is sustained by competition, and “divide and rule” is its unspoken motto.
The question here is: How can such an administrative institution that totally depends on an inherently violent production system for its survival, secure the universal ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity? It is impossible. In fact, the state now essentially functions as the military wing of the economy, which exists primarily to provide security for – and to further the interests of – private capital. To illustrate this, we only need to look at one of the biggest and most urgent crises we are facing: climate change. It is clear that the intertwined institutional interests of the state and the market are the greatest impediments standing between the climate change crisis and its solution.
Image Courtesy: Jeff Widener (Tank Man)
In modern times, every single human being is born as a citizen of one or the other nation-state, without exception and without choice. There is indeed no place for human beings to live outside of this system and people are forced to swallow the state’s own propaganda that it is the best system possible. Certainly, this violates one of the basic principles of democracy – a person’s free choice. And this is not unlike the situation where children are initiated into one or the other religion in their earliest years without any informed consent. Briefly put, if we do not have a choice to opt-out from a system, the system indeed is dictatorial and hegemonic.
But the nation-state and the market economy and their paraphernalia together, play an overwhelming and very concrete role in our daily lives. How could we practically go beyond or dismantle such huge establishments in a globalized world?
As we have seen, though our modern constitutional ideals are worthy, they lack the know-how for actualizing them. This lack of practical wisdom is the necessary result of their paradigmatic ignorance or indeterminism regarding their own foundational idea of innate human value. So, we need to revalue and re-state our common consensus in view of a Unitive Philosophy that absolutely affirms the value, freedom and sovereignty of human beings and the equality among them. When it is revalued thus, the only norm that a human being needs to keep in mind to secure one’s sovereignty is that of non-violence. The community or the state has no right to interfere with a sovereign, unless he or she is being intentionally violent. That is to say, a world citizen who lives unitively, has to be understood as a self-contained, moving republic or a self- ruling self-government.
Self-Government? Can this concept be elaborated?
Self-Government could be understood both as a self-governing, independent sovereign, as well as (an open source) world vision or consensus in which a sovereign participates independently or/and collectively from wherever he or she happens to be.
The greatest strength of such a Unitive-Consensus is that we don’t need any institutional hegemonic force to ensure its compliance by members of humanity. Each person could self-verify the agreement and understand how it ensures their self-happiness, which is the innate-fundamental urge of the human being, as well as the common good. If one chooses to deviate from the consensus, one could only do it at one’s own risk, since such an exclusive, unilateral way of life would necessarily alienate one from the Whole, and thus would necessarily affect one’s happiness negatively. When one chooses to be so, it is not like one might experience its negative effects only at some other time, as religions generally seem to suggest, but that exclusive intention or the act itself is the regression for one. In this sense, one is one-self the legislator, executioner and judge of one’s destiny.
If said from another perspective, the being that we call ‘human’ is a universal concrete – an embodiment of meaning or value. It is a self-reflective, self-appreciative being driven by the fundamental urge of self-care or self-happiness. It is for the self-happiness a human being does everything. But when this self is understood exclusively, everything becomes self-contradictory, and when it is realized inclusively, everything is self-contented. To solve the entire crises of humanity we need only to let the natural self-care be, inclusively.
And, the self is the necessary existent that makes the community possible or everything that the community is, emergent of the self only. When the (true) nature of the self is understood, the (true) purpose of the community and its function would be understood at once, without any additional effort.
But still, what is the practical aspect of the revaluation? What about the state or the economy, with their vested interests, which might actively disrupt such a consensus and the associations arising from it?
All such systems are run by human beings, and wisdom can be transformative for anyone at any time! We need to thoroughly understand that the present crisis and its solution are not ecological, political or economic, but primarily educational. Therefore, no one should be considered to be outside its scope. If we are to handle the situation in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’ that very dualism, which is inherently violent, would ruin everything. In fact, we would be ensuring that the dualism, the fundamental flaw of the present paradigm, would continue in some other form.
Image Courtesy: Peter Leibing (Leap Into Freedom)
This is not to say that we don’t need to discuss the practicalities of the transformation process…
From the perspective of the citizen, the fundamental purpose and duty of the state or any system, is to protect the citizen’s right to life. Therefore it is within one’s absolute right to withdraw one’s consent or affiliation from such an institution or contract that fails to fulfill this duty, not to mention if it actively endangers one’s very existence. That is to say, the right to opt-out from a contract that imperils one’s life is part of one’s right to life, and it is also part of another fundamental right of the sovereign, the right to be left alone.
The practical process of withdrawal could have many facets. The state and the economy envision and propagate a lifestyle that necessitates their existence. In other words, if we are to envision our lifestyles as propagated by the present system, we would consequently need that very system to maintain them. We need to re-imagine our lives thoroughly.
As nation-states supposedly represent the common good, it is the trustee of all natural resources, i.e. all the land except private property – forests, sea, etc. But, this monopoly over resources is being abused in a way that they are continuously being privatized. This monopoly and privatization are the basic reasons for the bonded labour-like dependence of persons and communities on the system. Therefore local communities need to take back these resources into their collective responsibility, not only to ensure self-sufficiency of their communities but also to guarantee the long term endurance of the resources, the common wealth on which all life is based.
All the services like food, child care, health, education, vocation etc. which used to be taken care of by communities or nature, are now mediated and commercialized by the system. Even drinking water is a commodity these days. The process of disintegration of communities into private individuals too, is directly proportionate to their commercialization. Therefore, to protect our sovereignty, we basically need to take back all the services we have outsourced by rebuilding our communities and networking them together. This would also pool-in hitherto privately held resources and optimize their usage.
One of the chief instruments used by the state-market complex in its drive for perpetual growth is (fractional reserve) banking based on interestviii. It is this monetary-banking that centralizes the system. Interest payment for debt necessitates and ensures more and more production, since interest payment essentially means more labor and resource usage. In other words, a financial system that depends on people taking loans and repaying them with interest is one of the engines that run the show. When we build communities, members could save themselves from debt and consumption of market goods or from submitting their sovereignty to the service of the system. Indeed if a ‘critical mass’ of people could restrain themselves from taking loans or consuming market products, the system would implode within no time and without any particular effort. Put differently, since ever-growing production is a must for the endurance of the system, if we could continuously reduce commercial consumption by building (trust-based) communities, we would deprive the system of its basic fuel.
The nuclear family is a major institution functioning as a basic orientation school and consumption hub of modern life. It brings up children as potential laborers/entrepreneurs, sends them to schools to internalize materialism and urbanism, trains them to be consumers with a stubborn sense of entitlement, initiates them into mediocre spirituality and ethics, and corrupts them in such a way that they mistake selfishness for love.
The case of women is similar. In the absence of enough open-community spaces where she can live with dignity and her children can grow healthy, a woman with a natural inclination to give birth, nourish children etc., the fundamentals of human life, is compelled to fit into clannish groupings and to internalize and perpetuate their mediocre and self-contradictory approaches. Therefore, developing communities at all levels need a way that ensures the free will of women and a healthy life for children. This is an absolute must for the present system to change drastically towards a just world. Needless to say, it is best done when women themselves lead the process.
The need for spirituality to be freed from institutionalized religion is also a very similar goal worth undertaking. Institutionalized religions, in general, postpone the Absolute or Sovereignty to a future time-space by ignoring the living being. Or they more or less maintain a separation of the Being into the creator and the createdix, since otherwise they lose all relevance. This pseudo-theoretical sidelining of the truth is what normalizes and legitimizes the power of any external authority, be it of clan, state, market or religion, over a Sovereign.
We were discussing reorienting community and the state according to the Unitive Philosophy. And we have so far elaborated some of the major initiatives required of communities for the process. But what about the state? Can’t the state participate in the transition?
The nation-state can start the process of undoing itself primarily by acknowledging that it is just one of the transient superstructures totally dependent on an ecological base structure, i.e. Nature. These mammoth states are the unsuspecting species destined to become extinct owing to climate change. Or if we are to allow these States to continue their business as usual, they could very well be instrumental in making humanity, which includes politicians, military persons, bureaucrats etc., nearly extinct. In other words, humanity is now compelled to systematically dismantle States and this process of their withering away could be facilitated from both inside and outside.
The handing over of States’ authority over commons to communities outside the state structure, the disaffiliation of State from the debt-interest based banking system, disarmament etc., would be some of the major steps in the right direction.
Even though these ideas sound substantial, would people in general be willing to take them up?
The truth does not change according to the number of people who endorse or negate it. In that sense, the number of people does not matter. This is one of the consolations Unitive Understanding assures for a Sovereign.
A human being can choose to live as one wills; we can only attempt to make sure that this is an informed choice.
i This is not to suggest that human beings are born independently and form communities later by choice. Here, the approach is philosophical and methodological rather than historical.
ii As Edmund Husserl (1859 – 1938) puts it so aptly: Can reason and that-which-is separated, where reason, as knowing, determines what is?
iii His (Jesus) disciples said to him: When will the rest of the dead take place, and when will the new world come? He (Jesus) said to them: What you are looking forward to has come, but you don’t know it. – Verse 51, Gospel of Thomas.
iv Variously known as Yoga Sastra (Science of Union) or Yin-Yang, for example, in Indian and Chinese traditions respectively.
v via negativa
vi In the practice of art – for instance in dance – this process of self-appreciation happening through itself, for itself can be understood as the central dynamism.
vii From Leviathan, authored by Thomas Hobbes, who is considered as one of the founders of modern political philosophy.
viii Or rent in some other economic contexts
ix Philosophically viewed, the Creator and the created could be understood as the cause and the effect, respectively. Effect has no substance other than that of the cause, or everything the effect is, is of the cause only. Viewed thus, that (the cause) alone exists; it knows no ‘other’. In other words, the idea of the cause and the effect is a necessary but a beginner’s way of approaching the whole, which eventually needs to be abolished altogether once one takes up a systematic approach to wisdom.
Sovereignty and Self-Government – A Dialogue, is mainly based on the teachings of Narayana Guru (1856-1928), the poet-seer from South India, and his disciple-successor Nataraja Guru (1895-1973). Narayana Guru’s works like One Hundred Verses of Self-Instruction (Atmopadesa-Satakam) and An Integrated Science of the Absolute (Darsana-Mala), both translated and commented by Nataraja Guru in English, are important treatises of unitive wisdom philosophy. Nataraja Guru received his Doctorate from Sorbonne University on The Personal Factor in the Educative Process under the guidance of the great philosopher-scientist, Henry Bergson. His major works include The Word of the Guru – Life and Teachings of Narayana Guru and Experiencing One-World. All of their works are freely accessible from: http://advaita-vedanta.co.uk/. A collection of conversations with and selected works of Narayana Guru, is freely downloadable from www.oneworlduniversity.life.