Counterpoint by Mark Nicol – The human predicament – Towards a holistic solution

| September 9, 2020

Yes, I shudder when I see that word ‘holistic’ too. It’s the connotation, the link with a certain retro-hippie culture. It’s holistic medicine. It’s the greens’ holy shrine, turning off the lights once a year as a panacaea for global ecological crisis. I’m really up for celebrating a new dark ages. But wait, there’s more. If we all practise village living, focus on the small picture, recycle our own effluent, emit minimal carbon, eat no meat, then all of the world’s large problems will be solved. Sure.

Dear dreamer, one must inform you that this thinking is hardly nouveau. It seems very redolent of that retrospective romanticist of the enlightenment. Rousseau thought that the sure way to supercede all the travesties of civilized culture, it was to retreat behind the skirts of primitive, simplistic living.
How does one fathom the attraction of this ‘holistic philosophy’?

Well, the fabric of an attractive thinking must not be too intellectually dense. On that count a logic comprised entirely of holes must come up – trumps? The hew of an attractive thinking must also be morally soft-edged, inoffensive to its plebiscite. So, if this ideology indites the capitalist as sole source of the whole modern problem, human and ecological, then the retrospective naturalist is let entirely off the hook.

Ignorant and indulgent cultures have to invent patron mythologies. Primitive man had to concoct mythological conceptions of how and why nature works, because inescapable cosmological ignorance and human mortality were not conditions that could be psychologically countenanced. Ancient man began to develop an honest account of how nature works.

The dividends of that honest science furnished far superior technological prowess. Ancient man, however, clung tenaciously to the ficta of wishful religion. In fact, the standard political contract of the ancient world scripted in that theocratic element, which amplified the falsehoods of mythological religion and appropriated this thesis as a cynical autocratic tool.

Western transition to the modern world was dependent upon recanting proscriptive theocratic order, and theological thinking. Thus, modern man, formally at least, disavowed of that mythological religious conception, which had endured as a wilful intellectual concoction in the human mindset for tens of thousands of years.

So modern man has formally embraced honest conceptions of how and why nature works. Yet, in religious thinking we have really achieved no credible comprehension of any coherent moral design inherent to nature. This disparity underwrites the paradoxical manifest, and predicament, of modern human expression:

In technological command of a volitional destiny modern man displays intellectual brilliance, monumental expressive prowess. In moral or teleological command, modern man is still an inept thinker exhibiting poor prowess. And, in many guises revealing this incompetent moralogical outlook, modern man still engages in mythological thinking. These various genres of mythological conception are still generated out of the same deficient intellectual conditions as ever, out of ignorant or indulgent mindsets.

It is all too easy to deride the retro-hippie movement for its idealistic naivety, shallow analytical intellectualism, and mythological optimism. But the green-left proponent of humanitarian and environmentalist ideals at least embraces, aspires to moral values superior to those of base self-interest.

Elon musk is an enormously successful entrepreneur, whose most ambitious project is to generate new space technology readily facilitating human occupation of mars and other planets in our solar system. This is envisaged as the precursor to interstellar travel, man reaching for the stars. Musk’s vision is inspiring. But it is also deluded, in a sense mythological.

Firstly, the technical thinking is optimistic, not realistic. No other planet in our solar system is pragmatically habitable, in comfort or en masse. It would require a double quantum jump in human scientific knowledge to develop technology that could reach the next nearest solar system of alpha centauri, 4.3 light years from earth. And there is but a minuscule chance that that solar system would contain a habitable planet either.

Musk’s space vision is technically unrealistic, in terms of what is achievable within any proximous time frame. It also ignores the massive geoecological and geopolitical problems, crises which threaten to devastate any space outreach program before it really gets off the ground. Moreover, do we really want to export our current human expression, predicament, anthropogenic devastation of this biosphere and irresolution of broadscale human conflict, warring, to any other planet?

In order to psychologically cope with the humanitarian and ecological tragedies man has unintentionally scripted on this planet, the simple genre of green-left idealist embraces a mythological thinking envisaging a holistic panacaea. And in order to muster focus on another vision of human outreach, the modern technocrat, brilliant in technical conception, must embrace a mythological thinking willfully ignoring any technical barriers, any moral censure.

The monumental ecological and political problems caused and faced by mankind, today, most certainly call for resolution of a commanding holistic solution. This holistic solution can only be generated by the most pedigreed intellectual culture in the contemporary human mix, the western, modern-mode culture. Yet let us look at the intellectual capacities developed therein.

There are but three fundamental intellectual faculties, through which the intellectual animal may come to understand and navigate his passage in nature. The discipline of physics pertains to explanations of how nature works, the derived intelligence capacitating our technological prowess.

The discipline of metaphysics pertains to explanations of why nature works, the derived intelligence capacitating our teleological or moral prowess. And the discipline of philosophy should pertain to the holistic explanation of how and why nature works, this intelligence capacitating our ability to navigate a wholly logical, virile, and noble volitional vision.

In respect of intellectual account in physics, science, modern man is a brilliant thinker. This capacitates prodigious technological prowess. In respect of intellectual account in metaphysics, moral cosmology, modern man is still an inept thinker. This underwrites our abysmal moral expression, calamitous in ecological and human terms.

In order to develop a moral thinking that is functional modern man must transcend the dictums of wishful adductive thinking and of abnegating reductive thinking, of cosmological conceptions mythological, alternatively areligious, materialistic.

If we look to the actual text of cosmic actions, human transactions, daily, historical, evolutional, we can perceive consistent laws of moral cause and effect, and a real teleological pointer evident in that script. It is this natural moral truth, empirical truth, which must tutor a post-theist, post-existentialist human volitional vision.

If man is to seize holistic command over a virile and noble destiny, then the days of abstracted philosophical conception must be superceded by a new disciplinary culture respecting the proper, overarching concerns of that faculty. So, on two counts out of three as intellectual practitioner, modern man is unequal to the task of navigating a mature, fulfilling destiny.

Next, do the current institutions of the western state, the modern liberal state, facilitate or impede resolution of a holistically integrated volitional design? Free market economics and democratic politics were ad hoc generated as institutions delivering citizens of the modern liberal state emancipation from autocratic dictation.

But the industrial revolution experience revealed that, in a total free market system, inherently inequalities in human economic skills are flagrantly exposed, licensing a highly predatory paradigm. Only the later development of trade unions, of commons dominance in parliaments, and of labour party franchises rectified the first, despotic nature of the total free market.

Democratic politics, based upon the egalitarian vote franchise, offered the commons an equal voice in parliament. Yet the free market/democratic system is one that sets up counterveiling balances, only. The wealthy entrepreneur advances his materialistic ends by manipulating the free market. And the socio-economically disadvantaged classes advance their cause via voting remonstration in the democratic legislature. This is not an integrated system, such as might simultaneously and intelligently nourish selfish, humanitarian, environmental, and aspirational interests.

Moreover, the egalitarian vote franchise guarantees dictation of political prerogative by the lowest common denominator of intellectual and moral reckoning. Finally, the adversarial construct of the parliament, and the franchising of political parties as generic lobby groups ensures that selfish, humanitarian, environmentalist, and aspiring interests will be antagonistically separated, not holistically reconciled.

The modern education system inculcates lucid intelligence in science, inchoate reckoning in moral-logical intelligence, virtually nothing of worth in philosophical conception. Any holistic grasp of command upon a real human destiny is then foiled by the senseless morass that is the current reckoning of human history, which fails to see linear, sequential progression in human technological and teleological potentials.

This latter, institutionalized deficiency then points to our final problem, re a holistic solution to our enveloping geoecological and geopolitical crises. How do we drag a vastly disparate set of cultures, highly differentiated in intellectual, moral, and volitional pedigrees, in their current aims, to one imperious task?

No. It’s all too much. I think I’ll just go and watch Gilligan’s Island. Bon voyage!