On the Moral Foundation of Society

On the Moral Foundation of Society

By Ac Devajinana

 

A human being is provident, which means we create our present using individual and social identity using a culturally discoursed mental story, and we create our future by the collective telling of a new story for humanity: a story that is dedicated to the all-round welfare of all people, plants and animals, the present and the future, and which defines progress in terms of humanity, solidarity, life and love. This article examines our relation to the universe, the facts of human existence, to realize the direction of human progress and the role of society.

Ethics: our relationship to the universe and its social implications

“Love the earth and sun and animals, Despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, Stand up for the stupid and crazy, Devote your income and labor to others…And your very flesh shall be a great poem.” — Walt Whitman

Deontology judges ethical correctness based on adherence to rules, norms, duty, or obligation; the present is contextualized by the past, by history and by culture, thus giving rise to ethical motivations and presenting us with moral obligations. Utilitarians rate the moral value of an action by its utility maximization. Both are intellectual excursions and leave the common human being standing on shaky ground when faced with anything except the most trivial ethical choices. Virtue ethics is concerned with the development of moral character, rightly noting that morality needs to filter into our life, our business, and our education systems. Virtue ethics is being orientated (I am moral) rather than a doing oriented (I behave morally), and is closer both to the eastern traditions as well as our practical experience of day-to-day morality. While it is true that the past contextualizes our actions, that duty motivates us, that prudence towards the result is essential, all this morality is nothing if it does not exist within the character of human beings.

“When a man begins to have an extended vision of his self, when he realizes that he is much more than at present he seems to be, he begins to get conscious of his moral nature. Then he grows aware of that which he is yet to be, and the state not yet experienced by him becomes more real than that under his direct experience…his will takes the place of his wishes. ” Our moral nature allows us to see that there is purpose in life because our will can create, that we are not restricted to our self, but our truth lies in our future greater-self, that we are universal to some extent. Animals are amoral, they cannot be moral, they cannot postpone and plan, but man is moral: for good or bad. An evil man is immoral, or “imperfectly moral,” but has to utilize his moral nature and “sacrifice his present inclination for the unrealized future. ” At each level we have the immediate and the moral urge. On the physical level we have desire for pleasures and a desire for health. On the mental level we have the desire for entertainment and desire for mental expansion through concentrated mental effort. On the community level, we have selfish needs and a desire for collective good. The former we share with the animals, the latter is characteristically human, and to be wise is to let the play of the former exists with the boundaries of the latter. And so in good health we find pleasure, during the act of learning we have fun, and community welfare vicariously gives us benefit.

Law “is nothing but the perception of harmony that prevails between reason…and the workings of the world.” Natural law springs from the simple rule of action and reaction, for every action there follows not only a subsequent action—but there is a reaction which is the appropriate response of the universe. The manifestation of the laws of universe, the style of response, is called nature. This requital of action has guided the vapors to form earth, guided the atoms to form life, and guided life to develop into human beings. That is to say natural reaction has lead to the evolution of the universe until the formation of human life which is characterized by reason and independence. Human beings, though still constrained by natural law just as animals, have a dominant psychic existence where we are governed by human laws. In the psychic realm we have some freedom, but our minds have still sprung out of the universe and are governed by the same response mechanisms which created natural law. It follows that our minds need to be in constant communion with the life of the universe outside ourselves for reason to blossom, if such contact is lacking our intellectual excursions will lose touch with reality like an uprooted tree.

Were we not bound by law our lives would lose meaning. Tagore compared this to a river: at first glance the banks confine and limit the river, they do not allow it to freely merge with the surroundings, but without the banks the water could not play its role, it would be without purpose. Just as in accepting its banks the water becomes a river that is able to flow to the sea, in accepting law our lives become a mission and we are able to progress. “It is only those who have known that joy expresses itself through laws who have learnt to transcend the law. Not that the bonds of law have ceased to exist for them–but that the bonds have become to them as the form of freedom incarnate. The freed soul delights in accepting bonds, and does not seek to evade any of themi.” A more modern example: in his acceptance of the rules of basketball, Michael Jordan was able to transcend the rules and aspire towards perfection. If the rules had not been there, if in a moment of frustration Jordan would have asked to be exempt from the prohibition against traveling, then the play would have been lost into a chaos in which no greatness could have be achieved.

As humans we have reason and will, we can proceed against the flow of law, just as we could swim against the current of a river, but not indefinitely because the accumulation of reactions will eventually overwhelm our will.Wisdom is our moral alignment with these laws, and it leads to development and progress. Natural law has created progress up to the birth of man. Society should be structured so that we continue the tradition of progress, which has lead to our birth in the universe, by continuing to evolve to higher states of being. Hence, in creating society we are to extend the order of nature into the human domain by proper application of our will. But such a society needs to follow the same ideal that nature adheres to: the requital of action based on the principle of universal progress, i.e. social order (law) is our response to each other and to the environment based on universal welfare, which is love. And just as natural law is the expression of this urge for progress (welfare) in the form of an evolving ecological harmony, society is the expression of our collective urge for progress in the form of an evolving human family. This is manifest in the flow of humans organizing around the principal of social equality and justice in a ceaseless effort for all-round collective progress. Returning to Tagore: morality is our ability to extend our vision of ourselves beyond our current self, to make the yet unmanifest society more real to us than what we see on the evening news.

Logically, the ideal of progress exists provided there is a goal which can be considered absolute. In an effort to identify such a goal we are at the mercy of the great teachers of humanity—if any knowledge is to be considered valid in the history of human learning it is the patient observation and experiment of the founders of humanities wisdom traditions for they have given us knowledge about the goal: an ultimate state of consciousness, a place of inner joy and love, beyond all relativities. Progress is movement towards that state, not mental or intellectual developmentii. However, mental and intellectual development becomes progressive when it serves humankind’s goal of establishment in universalism, love, and freedom from greed en route to spiritual unification. Thus morality is not a goal, but if it be practiced through a conscious act of living then it creates a dynamic force which enables us to progress. “Moral ideals must be able to furnish human beings with the ability as well as the inspiration to proceed on the path of Spirituality. Morality depends on one’s efforts to maintain a balance…The aim of such morality is attainment of such a state of Oneness…where no desire is left for theft; and all tendencies of falsehood disappeariii.”

In the judo-christian fable of Adam and Eve, with the development of reason, creativity, free-will and thought, humanity was dispelled from (evolved beyond) the paradise of animal existence, and now had to confront the challenge of life, of awareness, and of death. As with the eastern tradition, we find that man is caught between two forces: one to retreat (escape) back to animality and another to progress towards full birth as a human being. Animal is lived by the biological laws of nature, it is a part of nature and never transcends it but man must live: must develop in reason, love, understanding, and creatively express himself. “Being endowed with reason and imagination, man cannot be content with the passive role of the creature…In the act of creation man transcends himself as a creature, raises himself beyond the passivity and accidentalness of his existence into the realm of purposefulness and freedom. The healthy answer is to create his reality, the pathological answer arises when man feels helpless and expresses his power destructivelyiv.” To be identified with ones “I” feeling is to achieve internal certainty of self, and to be able to embrace the uncertainty of life; one can either identify with one’s sense of being, “I am I”, or gain identity by virtue of having conformed to a social group, “I am we”. Submission to irrational authority, over-intellectualization, and idolatry are escapist answers to the challenge of humanness. Devotion is an effort to arrive at truth with ones entire being, with the entire and dedicated act of living. For psychologist Erich Fromm “The problem of man’s existence, then, is unique in the whole of nature; he has fallen out of nature, as it were, and is still in it; he is partly divine, partly animal. The necessity to find ever-new solutions for the contradictions in his existence, to find ever-higher forms of unity with nature, his fellowmen and himself, is the source of all psychic forces which motivate man….the understanding of man’s psyche must be based on the analysis of man’s needs stemming from the conditions of his existencev.”

The two forces give man two alternative ways to answer each these needs, one productive and one regressive—but one must have some answer, for these needs are as real as hunger, and if human development is lacking then we are left with a regressive response. As humans we must (1) Relate (love vs. narcissism), (2) Transcend (creativity vs. destructiveness), (3) Be Rooted (fraternity or universalism vs. incest or groupism), (4) have a sense of identity (individuality vs. herd conformity), and (5) have a frame of orientation (reason vs. irrationality). Likewise, for Sarkar, the human situation is inherent with natural longings which distinguish human existence from animal existence. To fulfill them is to live a human life but requires struggle and fight, to choose the easy path is to live an animal life. Sarkar saw human life as a march towards divinity, requiring stamina and courage. Thus the natural human longings are a continuous impetus which motivates man. One wants to express one’s creativity in productive work, to move in life with increasing speed while experiencing a continuous feeling of love and safety (this feeling arises when we relate to the world through love, and when we are identified with our inner self), to expand in every aspect of life and comprehension, and to unify one’s existence with the supreme consciousness.

Society and Neohumanism

“Now when you are in a mood of pleasure, just distribute it throughout the universe – let all the hearts of the created universe dance in ecstasy and throb with energy. And this is the gospel of the day: we are for all, we are for the Neohumanistic progress of the entire Cosmos. This is the idea.” — P. R. Sarkar 

The community is the local manifestation of our universal self. Society as a whole, and community in general, is the merging of our stories into a culture, and is thus an expansion of ourselves, it is an inclusive vision which “we” struggle to manifest. It is our cultural self that defines our subjective discourse and allows us to translate our experiences, to make sense of our existence, and to form a story of who we are and why we are here. “A true society is like such a group of pilgrims who attain a deep psychic affinity while traveling together which helps them solve all the problems in their individual and social lives…Together they share their possessions, and together they march ahead, singing in unison. In their eagerness to move ahead with others they forget their tri?ing differences…The essence of cooperation resulting from this collective movement aims at expanding a person’s mind by striking down the barriers of meannessvi.” Furthermore, society should stimulate man to be an active and responsible participant, to be productive, creative, reasonable, and to grow spirituality; should be such that “no man is a means toward another’s ends, nobody is used…for purposes which are not those of the unfolding of his own human powers; man is the center, and where all economic and political activities are subordinated to the aim of his growthvii,” negative qualities are not rewarded by material gain or prestige, acting morally is the norm, opportunism and exploitation are deemed antisocial.

“In this universe of living beings there are some fundamental problems applicable to all which are to be solved by all. These problems may be taken as the common features in the life and Dharma of living beings, and the allround health of living beings depends on the happy solution of these problemsviii.” Humans, to be sure, are faced with the more poignant problem of living with reason, responsibility, and love, whereas the problems of animals are largely automatically solved by the harmony of nature and their instinctual behavior. If we visualize ourselves as nature extending herself in an effort for transcendence, then humanity becomes the evolution of the universe into a new paradigm in which creativity, love, reason, and justice are objectively manifest. That is to say, these qualities had been concealed within the universal principal of action and reaction, but this principal has come down to earth, as it were, and is doing its patient work as human beings, as a human principle. It could not have been otherwise, spiritual union is an individual affair, and the divine enters creation most effectively, not through the imposed relatedness with animals, but in an act of love through the voluntary union with human beings—and so with the emergence of the human principle devotion is created.

“The more these problems are solved with mutual cooperation, the more bene?cial it will be.” Neohumanism is the inclusion of nature and animals within the jurisdiction of social order and justice. Nature can thus be seen as a template for humans to expand upon. If we neglect those who cannot take care of themselves, or if we usurp nature’s laws with our own, then we have violated our purpose which is universal welfare and spiritual progress. “Nature’s wealth belongs to all living beings. What is a burden to the earth is a burden to all. Disregard of these ultimate truths eventually leads to disorder in social life, and society’s potentialities are destroyed before they have a chance to develop….The signi?cance of founding a true society lies in solving all problems in a collective way….always remember that those possessing little strength and ability, and those not provided with the means to survive the struggle for life by Nature, must be led along in companionshipix.”

Conclusion:

“Is it a dream? Nay but the lack of it the dreamx.” This is not a dream—rather it is the absence of dreams of personal aggrandizement and the acceptance of the responsibility and potentiality of human life. Choosing the right answer to the challenge of our own existence is the only way to build a good society, and that means taking responsibility for all. The light of reason must shine in every direction if it is to shine at all. We have been passe in acceptance of our place in history, waiting the perfect market, the classless society, or the return of the messiah—only to find that our greatest enemy is our own humanity which turns evil when it is removed of the chance for productive expression. A good social order is closer, perhaps, then we think, for evil is not an end in itself, but just a perversion of human needs resulting from the lack of our progressive response to the universe.

 


iR. Tagore,1916. Sadhana. Project Gutenberg Ebook. Page
iiFor a discussion of the psychological degradation of modern society and human progress see P.R. Sarkar A Few Problems Solved part 6, and E. Fromm To Have or To Be.
iiiP.R. Sarkar A Few Problems Solved: Part 6, in The Electronic Edition of the Works of P.R. Sarkar, Ananda Marga Publications. Page 12
ivE. Fromm, 1955. The Sane Society. Routledge, London. page 36.
vIbid. page 24
viP.R. Sarkar A Few Problems Solved: Part 6, in The Electronic Edition of the Works of P.R. Sarkar, Ananda Marga Publications. Page 40
viiE. Fromm, 1955. The Sane Society. Routledge, London. page 269
viiiP.R. Sarkar A Few Problems Solved: Part 6, Page 32
ixIbid. Page 34
xWalt Whitman