I have just been reading #NotesfromUnderground by #Fyodor_Dostoievsky as part of a reading list on Existentialism I have downloaded to my Samsung phone. This relates to my ongoing struggle with Life and Living and my present angst arising from the struggle between interminable feelings of regret, failure, and depression and, on the other hand, the inexpressible joy of having savoured Life and Living, tasted the happiness, integrity, and exhilaration that come from a job done with ability and courage whether or not it was deemed successful or merited accolade from others.
In my undergraduate days at #UCC, I was elected President of a small College society , called the #Academy_of_St.Thomas, which was a constituent part of the #IrishAssociationofCatholic UniversityStudents, and through that affiliated to the international #Pax_Romana movement. On one occasion we had a scheduled monthly meeting on the topic of “Existentialism”. Needless to say, back in the days of the 1960s, as an Engineering student, I was not expected to know anything about Philosophy; but the secondary school catechism (bold print part only) after a Catholic upbringing, – a definite ‘yes’, -the Bible, a qualified ‘yes’ provided it was hierarchy approved and not the King James version, – the Beatles, a definite ‘yes’. Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara was not the only one to
Teilhard de Chardin
dream and to sniff revolution on the breeze. I had been given a present of “The Phenomenon of Man” and didn’t get beyond the first few pages as I my mind could not cope with the translation from French of the ideas of Teilhard de Chardin about the evolution of consciousness on this planet. Nevertheless, as President of our little College “Republic of Thought”, I was required to step into the breach when our visiting Philosopher pulled out of the engagement due to illness. Yet, he kindly forwarded his script to be read at the meeting. At the hastily called meeting of our Committee, and faute de mieux, I was given the job of reading the script. I do not remember volunteering but, “as the boy stood on the burning deck,” he remembered his duty to God and Country. Either that or the awakening in me of a gene from the distaff side. My mother was a concert contralto singer and regular performing member of the Cobh Operatic Society. Theatre was in my blood. Argol! I thought it was my duty to respond.
I skipped some morning lectures and afternoon practical to sweat the text. Fortunately for me there were enough clerical and ex-clerical students in U.C.C. in those halcyon days upon whom I was able to rely for explanations of the hard words and prayers of support to prepare me for the ordeal ahead. In any case, some of them would undoubtedly be attending the lecture. They usually studied Arts and spent the afternoon in the College restaurant drinking in coffee and the ambience of student freedom. #Gaudeamus_Igitur!
The remainder of the day is still a blur of conscience-stricken ignorance, a churning stomach, of Thomistic support, and a certain je n’ sais quoi, which I recognised many years later as what happens when scales fall from the eyes with the attendant vigorous stirring of the little grey cells and a further leap in the evolution of one human specimen. For thus, without my realising it at the time, had begun with toddler steps, my thirst for the writings of Camus, of Sartre, of de Bouvoir, for the music of Brel and Piaf, as well of the emerging Left in European literature, and of an addiction to the Theatre of the Absurd. This unscratchable itch has stayed with me, unsatisfied, irritating, threatening yet attracting, like a vaguely discerned shape perceived behind a permanent veil of unknowing.
More recent social, political, and related developments in Irish, European, and global affairs have been like patches of dried skin that have appeared occasionally on my right leg! I now know better how to deal with the latter, especially since I became familiar with energy healing, acupressure, and somatic effects relating to the left side of the brain and its connection to the right side of the body. This has now brought me to strive beyond our current binary model of either/or, black/white, yes/no, good/bad. Is it possible for us to think outside these two boxes and the fixed beam that joins them and gives them motion?
That two-dimensional system, like the cinema screen, gives us an illusion of certainty, of a three-dimensional world, that we would control. We can ignore it if we don’t like what we see. In our democratic fervour, every time the see-saw changes, we claim that “The people have spoken”. Excuse me? Even when we have accepted the will of just 51% and ignored the will of the other 49%? Sorry, but you must accept the will of the majority! Why? Why not? When we draw a line of difference in an intact group, community, or society, yet wish that unit to survive as a unit we must also provide a process, a mechanism, for the effective integration of the differentiated parts into a new picture of the old reality. This is the primary problem facing the American people of the U.S. at present. It is a recurring phenomenon in the course of our lives.
The glaring but sad reality seems to be that we do not yet know how to organise and administer systems in which there are, apparently, inherent presenting contradictions. This then leads to the lauding of one view and the vilifying of the other view. This generates spite, anger, fear, resentment, recriminations, and general negativity on both sides, but not necessarily of the same kind or of the same magnitude on each side. The longer this division lasts the deeper the division grows and the more difficult it becomes eventually to resolve the problems generated by the binary or two-dimensional system. This, in turn, leads to each side finding further justification for their views and stance in the contrary beliefs and perceived dissident behaviour of the opposition. The dimensions of the reality perceived on each side are concretised and measured in the resulting total system where they are further separated and perceived in consequence as separate irreconcilable and opposing realities. Yet because it is a fiction that we have created, we feel the need to hide the savagery of the process by giving it a few coats of the varnish of civilisation to conceal the pain. But that varnish is not rust-proof. The truth will out. Just as applying cosmetics to the face of a corpse, and replacing the former shroud with nice everyday clothes is merely an effort to negate grieving by pretence and to deny Death and Dying as unavoidable aspects of Life.
The question that arises for me then is this: would the result have been different had the inherited framework used and accepted for decision-making in politics and in life in general been different. If Pain and Differentiation are inevitable, how and when can we introduce Joy and Integration? Most importantly of all, is it possible to design and use a decision-making process that caters for both and, if possible, at the same time?
In broad terms the dominant feature of Western social systems is compromise, whereas in Eastern social systems the dominant feature described is one of consensus. In the West we tend to give virtually the same meaning to both words, “compromise” and “consensus”. I have lived and worked for extended periods in the East and in the Middle East, where I have experienced fundamental differences in meaning between the two. They each belong to different realities. These differences have resonances and subtleties that are reflected in the cultures and philosophies developed broadly across each of two halves of the globe. They have been modified with some mutual accommodation in the regions of contact and overlap between the two major spheres of influence. Compare the teachings of Socrates, Plato, Thomas Aquinas, the Buddha, Lao Tzu, Confucius. Compare the belief systems of indigenous tribes, of Muslims, Jews, Christians in war-torn areas of the Middle East,of the same groups in Europe, Australia, America. How did they see the world? How do they make decisions?
This basic mode that I have described, of differentiation and integration is again perceived in the subordinate regions of each global sphere of interest and culture and power, where regional units such as islands, countries, nations, and tribes predominate. Within each of these, further processes of differentiation and integration are involved. We thereby arrived eventually at what we chose to describe as the fundamental building unit of the human
species, namely “Man”. Yet within the relatively tiny duration of my personal life-span, that “fundamental” unit has been challenged and re-construed as “Wo(man)” or “Woman/Man”. Yet further these definitions were re-defined more precisely recently as “Woman-Man”, an expanding range of human individuality with seamless transitions from one sub-division to the next, from “All-woman to All-man”, portraying a rainbow of subdivisions spanning the scale. A romantic and gentle picture of differences. This panorama is reflected in the basic building block of Life, in the DNA molecule where the blueprint for differentiation is laid down and the propensity for differences in future generations have been labeled by scientists.
This is where the problem begins. This is where “Wo(man)”, as “God”, or as replacing “God”, can, or may, or must decide the future of conscious Life on this Planet. What would you do? Would you use Science, an as yet incomplete body of experimental data and therefore subject to further change and revision as the result of incremental data? What moral and ethical principles would guide us? With what degree of certainty can we produce laws and metrification to guide us in the inevitable choices we shall have to make? Given what I have written above, how will we govern society and make decisions for the human species and all its relatives? Are we so afraid of Death, Disease, and Dying that we must strive to eradicate them and to produce the Immortal Human? Will Woman, Man, or Androgyne be the norm? Should we have brought Spirit into our discourse before now? What difference would that make to the Story of Life?
Or would you choose Nature as the model for the future of our Planet? Would you be able and willing, as our ancestors were, of necessity, to live with the reality of Death, Disease, Dying and the attendant faults in the DNA that lead to disability, to fatal abnormalities, of aberrations from the anticipated development of human life and of, as yet, unrevealed and un-encountered variations in life forms? Who would decide when an intolerable Life should end or be sedated until natural death intervened, or how would such decisions be made? And, as for Science, is there a role in Nature’s Story of Life for Spirit?
© 2017 Tony Pratschke
NOTE: I plan to develop this thesis further and to expand my ideas with further detail. I would appreciate readers leaving critical comment, opinion, and questions on this topic in the Comment box below.