The decisions humanity has taken in the past have led us to believe we are in a state of global crisis. Perhaps we made erroneous choices. Or perhaps it is simply easier to consider a situation that could have been better had we chosen what we hadn’t chosen. A classic case of the grass being greener on the other side or does our present scenario truly warrant an alternative approach? Maybe it is time to navigate the other routes, the ones we discarded in favour of our current path of reductionist science and neo-liberal globalization.
“I am myself and my circumstance”, pointed out the great Spanish philosopher Jose` Ortega Y Gasset. The decision I take implies all the decisions I did not take. The route I choose is part of all the routes I did not choose. Life presents itself as an unending sequence of bifurcations. A few minutes earlier or later or a few meters away in any direction might well have determined a different bifurcation and hence, a completely different life. What holds for individual lives holds for communities and whole societies as well. People in the west are what they are but they could have just as well been what they are not. It becomes vital to reassess the decisive bifurcations…
Sometime during the 12th century in Italy, a young man named Giovanni Bernardone decided to radically change his life. As a result of his transformations, we remember him today under a different name: Francis of Assisi. When he referred to the world, Francis spoke of brother Sun and sister Moon, of brother Wolf; and of water, fire, trees and people as close kin. The world he described and felt was a world where love was not only possible but made sense and had a universal meaning.
Sometime later, also in Italy, the resounding voice of the brilliant and astute Machiavelli could be heard, warning us that “it is much safer to be feared than to be loved”. He also described a world, but in addition, he created a world. Ironically, today the connotation of his name occurs in the same breath as that of politically crafty (marked by cunning, duplicity, or bad faith). Perhaps a far cry from the astuteness this philosopher once stood for. The world we have today is that propagated through the eyes of Machiavelli. Francis is the route we did not navigate. We chose Machiavelli and today our social, political and economic conceptions are constructed from the same source.
We have accepted, even embraced fear as a means to dominate and essentially, to survive. What other ratiocination can we attribute to the dictatorial behavior of so-called super powers of our time? While disguised attempts to eradicate world poverty are promulgated, the very same nations display ostentatious disparities between the rich and the poor. At just twenty-three years of age, Giovanni Francesco Pico della Mirandola prepared himself for the public defence of 900 of his theses about the concord between the different religions and philosophies. Convinced that truths are multiple, and never just one, he longed for a spiritual renovation that could reconcile humanity. Years later, Francis Bacon, a fervent believer in absolute truth and n the possibilities of certainty, invited us to torture Nature so that through the delivery of her secrets we could extract the truth. Most significant of the many lesser travelled paths was Goethe’s; whose scientific contribution has been unjustly overshadowed because of his colossal achievements in literature and arts. For Goethe, “science is as much an inner path of spiritual discovery as it is a discipline aimed at accumulating knowledge of the physical world. For Galileo and Newton, Nature was mathematics. To them nothing that cannot be measure is important in science. Science is the supreme manifestation of reason and reason is the supreme attribute of the human being claimed both Newton and Galileo. Science as Goethe conceived and practiced it, has as its highest goal the arousal of the feeling of wonder through the contemplative looking, in which scientists would come to see God in Nature and Nature in God.
Two worlds once more. Another bifurcation. We are still under the spell of the overpowering luster of Galileo and Newton and have chosen not to navigate the route of Goethean science. Feeling, intuition, consciousness and spirituality have been banished from the realms of scientific understanding. The teaching of conventional economics, which, as incredible as it may sound, claims to be “value free”, is a conspicuous case in point. A discipline where mathematics has become an end in itself instead of a tool, and where only that which can be measured is important, has generated models and interpretations that are theoretically attractive but wholly divorced from reality. Spectacular successes have been attributed to the routes of Machiavelli, Bacon, Descartes, Galileo and Newton. Meanwhile Francis, Picot, Bruno and Goethe have been relegated to historical footnotes.
We have arrived at a point in our human evolution where we know a lot but understand very little. Our chosen navigation has been piloted by reason. We celebrate the apotheosis of reason, but in the midst of such a gala, we suddenly have the feeling that something is missing. Yes, we can achieve knowledge about almost anything we want. We can for instance, guided by our beloved scientific method, study everything there is, from theological, anthropological, sociological, psychological and even biochemical perspectives, about a human phenomenon called love. But once we achieve that complete knowledge, we will sooner or later discover that we will never discover love unless we fall in love. Eventually we will realize that we can understand that of which we become a part. Understanding is a result of integration while knowledge is an upshot of detachment.
In order to achieve completeness, it is essential to understand that the relation between science and spirituality is not through knowledge only. We therefore need to undertake, at last, the navigation we have long postponed. But in order to do so we must face the great challenge of a language shift. The first three centuries of the second millennium witnessed the dominance of a teological language; one that found its roots in finding a calling that was superior and beyond the needs of everyday life. This made possible the construction of magnificent cathedrals; after all they were constructing for eternity and time was not of essence. Gradually the shift in language toward one that was coherent with the historical challenge of the times was apparent. It is only in the twentieth century that the dominant language has become that of economics; a hard language that recognized economic domination as a means of survival. This language gave way for a more ‘developmental’ one, one that was visibly utopian, optimistic and happy. Promoting true development and overcoming world poverty were its taglines. True, the disparities in income strata’s are far more pronounced now than before… which brings us back to this moment in time where we must rest and reflect. Possibly by unearthing the forgotten map, we can pursue harmony between the many varied truths or maybe postpone our navigation of knowledge until we can truly understand the knowledge itself.
Or maybe, we need a brand new language that opens the door of understanding: not a language of power and domination, but a language that may emerge from the depth of our self discovery as an inseparable part of a whole that is the cradle of the miracle of life. If we manage to provoke such a shift, we may still experience the satisfaction of having brought about a new century worth living in.