How can we make this world a better place for all?
Sketching what goes wrong in our world today, the picture does not look very bright… structural poverty, expanding industrialisation and urbanisation and consequent environmental degradation, waste of precious resources, water, food, and products, adverse manifestations of technological risk, economic exploitation, anticipated overpopulation, derailed financial markets, … All of this adding up to old and new forms of social, political, and religious oppression and conflict. Last but not least, regardless of whether or not they are directly affected by the global problems sketched above, more and more people feel lost in their personal life. In search for meaning, recognition and self-confirmation, they feel overburdened and exhausted by the rage of life and stuck in the labyrinth of often conflicting social norms, codes and expectations. As a result, psychological distress and depression are becoming the fundamental personal disorders of our modern times.
So how can we make this world a better place for all?
The stakes are high and the need to take more action is manifest.
However, the adagio goes that the recipes are known…
To tackle the socio-political challenges, we have international politics run by nation states and democracy organised through party politics and elections. We have globalised markets steered by competition and profit and education programmes that prepare workers and specialists to function in any socio-technical role the big system of our society requires. And relying on those modern methods, it is said that the only thing we need is leaders showing commitment and political will to do what reason and science tells us to do, and entrepreneurs and consumers showing a sense of responsibility and the will to cooperate in executing the plans. In our personal spheres, we have the checks and overcodes that bring order in our life and that help us to realise our goals: a proper education, a partner, kids, a career, money, a yearly holiday, a house and a car. We have religions with gods that prescribe what to do and what not and we have religions without gods that prescribe what to do and what not, and in case we are insecure or mess up, professional life coaches and spiritual leaders are there to help us to get back on track. And our mental deviations and disorders are now categorised and analysed down to the finest detail, and the market has medication and tailor-made therapies to cure any form of them.
The rationality and necessity of these methods is key, it is said, because the world is complex, societal problems have no easy solutions, and the outlook on our personal paths of life is troubled by multiple uncertainties and ambiguities. And at the same time, we are told by political and corporate elites and self-declared spiritual gurus that we should not be naïve but simply accept that our society lives by the grace of competition and self-protection, and that altruism and spontaneous solidarity of haves with have nots are nothing but nice philosophical ideas. People are selfish, it is said, and will always put the individual before the common good, regardless whether they are rich or poor. Politics and markets cannot be but competitive and conflictuous power games, the theory goes, where the most popular opinion or product wins. And are the multiple acts of terror and aggression of the last years not the prove in themselves that security and defence are the only working remedies against the so-called unavoidable human evil? Also our personal lives are said to be driven by competition and self-protection. The fact that the rich mate with the rich and the poor with the poor is simply a law of nature, we are told. And of course you are not necessarily doomed, as you can always work yourself a class up, that is: you are always free to try. And what about love and sex then? Well there is the love and sex from the movies and the videogames and there is the love and sex in ‘real life’. And in that real life, you better pragmatically conform to the norms and find your better half, as any alternative life form can only lead to chaos, pain and misery…
And here is the thing.
Our modern methods and overcodes of social and political life may be seen as signs of social, political and even moral progress, given that they are the results of historical emancipatory struggles away from the often brutal oppressions by the pre-modern elites of emperors and priests, but in essence they are not designed to cope with the complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity of that life. Although each of them has its own history, one could almost say their common feature is that they were rather designed to escape confrontation with that complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity. Today, …
prepares you for a job,
not for (the complexity of) life;
is (still) designed to ‘relieve’ you (and your innocent children) from doubt with regard to your origin and destiny and from choice stress with regard to the Path of Life,
but it (still) relies on (competing) dogmatic power structures strategically promoting collective beliefs in fictional ‘truths’ that cannot be proven;
the modern relationship
is as much a construction meant to help you to resist lust and curiosity and to streamline doubt about your feelings as it is the materialisation of a ‘bond’ of love,
but breakups, cheating, dissapointment and pain seem to be basic consequences of that construction as much as feelings of belonging, security and joy;
is organised as a quest for measurable and usable truth at the service of politics and the market,
but it is not designed to advise on issues open to value-based interpretations and troubled by uncertainties that cannot be resolved (yet);
are organised as systems of competition that reward strategic insight and profit,
but they are unable to demarcate their own ethical boundaries;
is (still) organised as a conflict of opinion relying on political self-promotion and simple ideologies (including that of the nation state)
but it is unable to deal with thoughtful nuance as well as with populist misuse;
In sum, we will not save our planet and humanity in a society that remains blind for the fact that our current ‘modern’ methods to make sense of and organise our co-existence are too primitive to grasp the complexity of that co-existence and are actually denying instead of recongnising who we really are as human individuals. In addition, it is important to realise that these methods and overcodes are not ‘errors’ of the motor of modernity but rather strategic tools. They prepack, streamline and exploit our human quest for belonging and recognition (as lover, as spiritual mind, as consumer, as citizen, …) at the service of the contemporary elites of emperors, entrepreneurs and priests who need these methods and overcodes to legitimise and safeguard their own power and privileges.
And here we are. The adagio that we cannot solve our societal problems with the same methods that (facilitate to) create them is well known. The vision that inspiration and motivation for ‘new methods’ need to come from deeper thinking about who we are as individuals and groups and about how to deliberate these problems with each other is less popular. This vision is the point of departure of the New Humanism project.
The New Humanism project aims to facilitate dialogue about that vision and, consequently, about what these ‘new methods’ should be and can be. The idea is that, in order to tackle societal problems such as climate change, poverty and the various forms of social depression and oppression, we first need to rethink and reform the formal methods we use to make sense of our coexistence, namely the methods of education, scientific research and democracy.
Why would we need a ‘new humanism’ for this? What’s wrong with the old one? We aim to present here a vision on our individual and collective being and capacity transcending the humanist one that emerged as a reaction against oppression by the pre-modern elites of emperors and priests. While liberating ourselves from this oppression was of course a good thing as such, throughout the following ages of social, scientific and technological progress, humanity has built up a self-confidence leading to the current ‘hyper-rationality’ driving education, science, economics and politics today. In that sense, the New Humanism Project explores a new way of looking at the problems the world is facing. It rejects cynical post-whatever defaitism as well as ‘back to the good old and simple times’ nostalgia. Alternatively, we want to present a ‘pragmatic ethics’ view on who we are, what we can know and should know and how we can deliberate the issues, and we believe this view is essential for how we organise our coexistence in general, and education, science and politics in particular.