December 5, 2004/ February 5, 2008
The Crisis of Unity is included in the print anthology Rising in Words with this introductory note: “This essay was written in late 2004, following the first material for my forthcoming dystopian novel, Pyramid of Babel, which explores the same themes (and many others). I very much wanted to express these ideas as soon as possible, and given my characteristic perfectionism, I knew it would be some time before my novel would appear.”
Forethinkers among us realize that we humans stand at a crossroads, about to define unity and culture with some finality as mighty forces both political and personal bring the globe together, for better or worse. Can we achieve a world of individual promise, or must the ongoing unification of humanity impose a collective, universal society and a centralized, global government? I will portray one possibility in my upcoming dystopian novel Pyramid of Babel. But let us leave that hopeless option to fiction. In our world, here and now, we must remake our very notions of ourselves and our species for individual realization in a hopeful future.
World as Cosmos or Collective
In our lifetime, or at least in this century, humans will forge a really unified community of world culture, and the definitive social unification of the human race will likely occur in some form. The real question is not so much how this will happen, which seems to be largely taking care of itself, but what form — whether transcendent, as the realization of a new order of society, or limited by governmental, collectivist, millennia-old paradigms.
The various internationalist and multi-nationalist political movements, alliances, and organizations generally ride on the same pushes which contributed to nationalism. On one hand, citizens have understandable urges to fix what has gone wrong with smaller political structures by ‘going over their heads’ to appeal to a larger, superior body. The similar desire to circumvent local interference (or lack of intervention) fueled appeals to national politics over local politics, eventually bringing greater weight to the nation-state. On the other hand, larger political structures also ride on attempts to exploit citizens according to the same old methods now commonly used at a national level. Formerly such methods were more extensively applied in localities, when the means of power could be found at that local level, before nationalism.
Both the power-plaintiffs and power-profiteers push toward sociopolitical unification together. Those petitioning a larger authority for relief from tax, tariff, or regulation burdening them at a more local level of government might be surprised to find that in time they, or their descendents, may have tax levied upon them in even greater amounts by that larger authority, just as happened in the States of America.
Likewise, demands by a faction for greater interference in individual choices through a larger body follow courses and motives predictable by those who study history. The past agricultural subsidy within the EU and aggressive policies against agricultural imports from without have simply mirrored the so-called “protectionism” prevalent in the histories of many nation-states, a practice which effectively extorts money from consumers for the sake of a particular industry cartel with political influence, like steel tariffs in the US, and ultimately weakens an industry’s ability to compete, often forcing a repeal and reform.
If the motto of the nation-state was e pluribus unum, “from many one,” we may expect the presumption of a future centrally-politicized world would proceed in much the same way, with comparable problems enlarged, played out and suffered on a massive global stage. The idea of our future world of individual people must instead become e uno plures. From one world, many individuals.
From one world must come many worlders. We must individualize our perception of the world, even as we all inevitably, and many willfully, progress toward one world for the reasons of politics or the reasons of personality.
We individualists welcome the world into our consciousness, and are eager to broaden our cosmopolitan minds. We applaud prosperous and peaceful commerce crossing the face of the globe. We also fervently wish to reverse the historical fragmentation of our whole cosmos of fellow individuals into petty little spheres of contentious and divided group mentality, limited in scope and deadly in friction.
But many who conceive of the potential social unification of the Earth or economic globalism mainly as an unfortunate machination by the US, UN, IMF, WTO or some other factional organization understandably fear the process, and somewhat quixotically seek to resist unification itself in favor of nationalism or some other relative localism. But this shows a basic misunderstanding of the depth and breadth of the process, and perhaps the extent of their own parochial group loyalties and lack of individualism.
Permeable Groups for a Cultural Cosmos
The individualist philosopher Nietzsche spoke of the need to be ‘good Europeans,’ conscious of the wider world in space and time — Europe was his world. We must be good humans, good worlders, not as citizens of a world government, but as inheritors of the best of all cultures and all pasts. It is in our interests to become guarantors of the future world, not future nations nor a global state.
The good worlder has two alter egos, both unappealing: not only the good collectivist, but the good chauvinist.
As once, in the openly imperialist, mercantilist, and colonialist past, cultural chauvinists commonly interfered in the lives of other people in other places — and often enough, some still do, less openly — now many refuse to interfere even as a friend. They think this shows respect, as if they compliment by the act of separation. But this shows segregation, not respect to individuals. Meaningful friendship or even amicable behavior presupposes recognition of real, individual people. It further presupposes willingness to influence another’s condition, giving help and advice to those individuals as they wish to accept help and as one wishes to help them. Friendship cannot mean simply accepting them as they are with all the disadvantages of their present and the generalized past which has influenced them, and ‘made them what they are’, if they are to be dismissed and dehumanized into the concept of a distant collective group. We would never pretend isolation from neighbors makes friends. Yet for various rationalizations, whether “multicultural,” “relativist,” “anti-globalist,” “traditionalist” or “isolationist” many observe precisely this pretense to cover their very own forms of chauvinism.
To consider a far-off group as a preservable ethnicity with static customs is to put people behind museum glass. Many of those who would like to do this, and congratulate themselves for not acting like the deliberate chauvinists, the imperialists, mercantilists, and colonialists of the past and present, advise many changes to improve lives in their own lands of residence. Yet for other people on this planet, however things traditionally are seems an acceptable state of affairs, and the neo-chauvinists accept ‘foreign’ problems and flaws as permanent customs.
Our outlook would benefit from thorough consistency — a great and undervalued virtue, and one necessary for global thinking. If we consider ourselves humanists and social individuals fit to live together on this planet, we must treat people with consideration of their basic personal humanity and individual potential, no matter their cultural past or their location. It is not our place as individualists to force ideas on one another, no matter where we live. As individualists it is our place to advise one another and exchange ideas, no matter where we live. Protecting the integrity of a culture at individual expense denies individuality just as surely as the willful destruction of a culture.
The exchanges of world civilization must permeate the bounds of culturalism and localism. So, too, must the scope of our thinking, which eventually produces the fruits of civilization we can enjoy — or the inhibition or spoliation of civilization we must endure.
Beyond Borders and Wars Within
Some may wonder, why all this emphasis on our own characters, on the nature of the future individual, rather than on mapping the future world through impersonal trends and worldwide social processes of history? Because we are most concerned with the human world, the world humans make for themselves, and as far as humans are concerned the inner world becomes the outer one.
It is simply essential to intimately understand, and evolve oneself according to the principle that outer effect can only come from inner change of mind.
This is especially important because of humans’ projection of emotions and personal issues outward into the world, onto surrogates and scapegoats. In an almost palpable if not literal sense, borders and boundaries and limits of every kind are made of the fears of their inhabitants when faced with uncertainties, probably in their own lives more than in the outer world. Unconsciously recognized personal faults, the source of long-buried shame, finally get acknowledgement as the detested faults of others. Conflicts within the mind and without are made of the refusal to acknowledge what one actually does, and the ramifications of one’s actions. Frustrations inside at feelings of impotence, felt at both inner issues and outer problems, become visible as officialdom’s force and fiats, making vain attempts to control and reassert inner order via the outer world. Internal insecurity affects external insecurity. Personal insufficiency demands not an earnest quest for plenitude but the aggrandizement of vicarious stature, even through political domination.
Inner troubles become outer troubles we project onto great depersonalized things, which can personify our own foibles and deficiencies through the cunning avoidance of the unconscious. But then such troubles inevitably blow back, and shock our conscious ignorance as they are wreaked on our very persons by the outer world’s strife and turmoil, at long last made real to us as physical hardship and emotional strain on our own bodies-and-minds. Faced with evidence, the superficial self feels the urge to insist “I know myself. I would know if that were true about me.”
It saves effort, though only in the immediate time frame, to dismiss such a dogged psychological analysis of world events as simplistic, rather than deceptively, profoundly simple. It is very much harder to grant it the benefit of the doubt and look within, conscientiously, and as a diagnostic physician does — benignly, cheerfully even, certainly with salutary intent, but somewhat impersonally, without excessive delicacy and reluctance to give offense.
It is also easier to readily reply: “Well, it may be that changing myself would work, if the world were made of me and people like me. But I have to be realistic. Not everyone is enlightened, not everyone is peaceful, or so devoid of harmful intent as I am. The world is also made of dangerous people who are not interested in personal development, as I am. Maybe they are afraid of me, and preemptively angry at me for no good reason. So, in my own defense, I must be afraid of what they might do, and —”
If you cannot see the vicious circle you draw about yourself, you will never step outside of it.
No More Shangri-Las, and Goodbye to Galt’s Gulch
Local exceptions to the global reach of ideas and practices are typically construed or misconstrued as backwards, maybe backward hells-on-earth by the considerable many. The very same places may be construed or misconstrued as superior precursors ahead of the global zeitgeist, even as advanced paradises-on-earth by those few who favor something those places represent to them — maybe even some factor that is actually in considerable practice there, rather than overestimated or imagined.
Consider the examples of clan-governed (not ‘anarchist’) stateless Somalia, and Stalinist North Korea. Anarchists may find in Somalia some fascination, a tempting opportunity or a promise of the world’s future, even as the largely nationally and socialistically governed remainder of the world imagines Somalia as an anarchic mess. North Korea may represent the communistic ideal to the few remaining hard-liners, or at least resistance to a New World Order of primarily fealty to Washington D.C., even as the vast remainder of the world sees it as the most repressive backwater on earth. Likewise, to some extent tribal or traditional societies get criticized, and to a greater extent idealized. Speaking again in broad strokes, many in the East emulate their idea of the differences in the West, and many in the West emulate their idea of the differences in the East. Others of course criticize their own idea of the alternate side of the world.
People make much of the differences still retained from the localistic world of the past. Often enough these are more imaginary than real, but we may desire them to have substance, because that would mean there is some means of escape from the world we ourselves know, which is easier than the work of changing the world (which requires we change ourselves, and with difficulty). The general truth of the matter, though, is that now almost everyone’s world is a far more similar experience than ever before, since humans spread over the face of this planet many thousands of years ago. Local differences still continue, but now they complicate each other, at the level of individual communication and mutual interaction. The local generalizations which may have made more sense in the past now make less and less sense, and describe local groups and ways of life less and less appropriately, even as global generalizations make more and more sense, and describe the people of the world more and more appropriately.
There may have actually been less of a transformation from local to world in practical areas such as communication, migration, trade, travel, transmission of information — for in these ways, connections have been made remarkably far away for thousands of years — than a transformation of consciousness about these developing interconnections, as the pace of them accelerates.
Still, never before the technologies of print and telecommunications and fast travel have concepts and practices, like democratic political and cultural ideas, or massive international trade networks spread so fast or so far as they have in modern times, and now the internet only accelerates this progression. Some of those ideas happened to encounter the modern opportunity to spread, and some were so practical or appealing people were effectively awaiting them. Regardless, the ready propagation of ideas and practices, and the sort of world that readily responds to them is a fait accompli, and a trend that will only snowball. Eventually there will be few if any community islands in the midst of humanity on this planet. Except, of course, for our individual islands: the separate physiology and uniqueness within each individual — the basic factor of our species of species — and the unique developments possible within and from each individual. The rest of the human world, whatever it is like, will affect each of us, we each may affect the world, and we will all compose that world together.
Therefore we ought to make sure the characteristics of that humanity, including our selves first of all, are the most conducive to our own personal advantage and interests as possible, and the ongoing advancement of human life on earth. Ignoring this responsibility or abdicating from it is sheer folly. There is nowhere to go, and wherever we might try to go, the problems we wanted to flee would follow us. Ultimately, we individuals will achieve liberation for our potential everywhere or not at all, just as today, wherever we live, the communicated principles of enslavement, and other restrictions bequeathed and forced upon us by other bodies-and-minds in the world, hinder the potential of our own bodies-and-minds. The world connects to the world, idea to idea, person to person, round the globe. We must solve our problems, we must change ideas, we must improve ourselves. Fortunately, to our great advantage change is readily possible in the climate of today.
Even the idea and practice of a Promethean society (as distinguished from the societies we know) will itself become a temporary stage in human evolution. Such an idea, though highly relevant and revolutionary today, would mean little if all society became a Promethean society in character. In fact it is only because the future degree of mutuality, immediacy and unity in global civilization has not yet arrived, that a Promethean society can work at all as a means of changing or catalyzing change throughout human society. Considering that locality as more than location still remains a much more significant factor than it will become, it is still possible to accelerate the impact of improved ways of thinking in a locality smaller than the world, instead of waiting far longer for the whole world to change (or more than likely awaiting its destruction, first). And the need for such a measure promises to be temporary. Any philosophy potent enough to communicate enough promise to clear away the doldrums of inner inertia, able to convince enough people around the world to brave the storm of alternatives and found an advanced prototype somewhere in the world, a Promethean society which must still bear up against the increasingly universal outside, is indeed poised as the baited breath of the future. As a trade wind it cannot help but sweep fresh and fertile air into the whole world, too.
That is, if and only if enough remarkable people give their support to the future rather than consign themselves to retreat.