Three antithetical ways of encountering the World
Posted on September 18th, 2013

R Chandrasoma

As members of the uniquely intelligent and enactive species on Planet Earth we humans are faced with the problem of survival at two orders or levels. In the short term, how to feed, clothe and house a dense and expanding population of greedy beings dwelling upon a fragile planet with finite resources.

The long-term problem of survival is to fashion a sustainable strategy for human existence that eschews immediate allurements for the sake of sustained viability in a precariously balanced ecosystem with a plethora of things both living and non-living that have significamce and claims of their own.

The ancient aphorism ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ encapsulates a wisdom that goes beyond mere religiosity and subservience. It reflects deeply the fact that in ‘dealing with the world’ there are issues that go beyond mundane satisfactions and rough and ready adjustments to counter environmental challenges.

Human well-being is a matter of balance and compromise in what we ought to recognize as an isolated planetary world full of subtle and unforeseen challenges. What we attempt here is to outline three broad (and antithetical) -Ëœphilosophies-â„¢ that underpin our existential struggles as denizens of Planet Earth -” our -Ëœencounter-â„¢ with the world we are fated to live in.

The first is the religious outlook which encompasses the foundational view that there is a life to come in which -Ëœdivinity-â„¢ is ensconced and our life in this sublunar world is a mere prelude or preparation. It necessarily follows -” if our secular world is a mere staging-post -” that our acts as human beings ought to be inspired by -Ëœotherworldly concerns-â„¢ and not by the secular challenges facing a living species.

Indeed, throughout history we have had peoples and nations that steered affairs in this world as if the opportunities available in a putative life to come ought to determine the true measure of rightful action in this vale of sorrow that is our fleeting abode. That this -Ëœmeasure-â„¢ is still widely held to be valid is made evident when we reflect on the many problems facing our species today due to a disastrous clash of ideologies rooted in other-worldly concerns.

More pertinently, much of the misery of the poor in countries such as India arise from a misplaced godliness that sees the call of heaven (?) more important than the dictates of innate goodness that secular learning and collegiality instill in most sane and balanced people. As Dr Steven Pinker puts it -” -Ëœthe doctrine of a life-to-come is not such an uplifting idea after all because it necessarily devalues life on earth.

I would argue that nothing gives life more purpose than the realization that every moment of consciousness existence is a precious and fragile gift-â„¢. Let us turn, now, to a second way of encountering the world -” a way that is greatly respected in modern -Ëœpraxis-â„¢ even if its evils are evident on serious reflection.

It is the view that the -Ëœconquest of Nature-â„¢ is man-â„¢s unique prerogative and that all resources -” material as well as intellectual – must be employed to maximize the creature-comforts rightly due to an apex species that commands a planetary homeland with inexhaustible resources.

The Marxist theoreticians -” now a vanished species -” were notorious for espousing this view, but classical capitalism in the West and elsewhere came close to this position in that -Ëœevironmental damage-â„¢ was dismissed as a form of scare-mongering by latter-“day Luddites.

The disastrous results of this folly are seen in the widespread loss of native species and habitats, the pollution of air and waters, the plundering of oceanic fish-stocks and the endangerment of the Planet as a whole as a suitable habitat for the kind of rich and beautiful life it was once renowned for. Let us recognize that Planet Earth (its Biosphere, to be more specific) – if not actually dying, is seriously threatened by the runaway expansion of a single dominant species.

This is, surely, a brute fact that can hardly be challenged. Given this dire circumstance, how should we respond if we set aside God-â„¢s diktats and the compulsions of man-â„¢s insatiate greed? The famous philosopher William James had this to say – -ËœTruly, all we know of good and duty proceeds from nature-â„¢.

In the current context, this means that God (or Gods) cannot help us -” nor can our tunnel-vision based on innate selfishness and stupidity be allowed to rule collective human action. These reflections brings us to a consideration of the Third Way -” that which sees the real solution to our troubles in the wisdom of Secular Humanism.

This -Ëœhumanist life stance-â„¢ emphasizes the unique responsibility facing humanity as a whole in -Ëœdealing with the world-â„¢ and the far-reaching consequences of collective human actions. Put more poetically, we must be aware of our own fragility as a collective of living, interlocked beings precariously perched on a rocky cosmic object. We must be aware that some of the things done locally -” ostensibly for the collective good – are harmful and destabilizing when implemented globally.

This means that we cannot expect the Gods above (if such things do exist) or our own unresoned hopes to be the leitmotiv of action in dealing with the great challenges of life. Today -” and in the centuries past -” humans have shown monstrous -Ëœspecies selfishness-â„¢ when competing for goodies and positions down here on Earth or in the Heavens above.

The time has come for mankind to achieve a livable modus vivens through his own foresight and intelligence – so as to maximize the collective good given the constraints and challenges facing a weak and mortal species living briefly and tenuously on a planet that is a true -Ëœisolate-â„¢ in the Universe.

It is our collegiality and shared intelligence that will provide the true answer to this monumental challenge. Alas, the old and time-worn survival-paradigms based on a destiny sanctioned by the Divine and the Unseen still rule the world and the future for our species looks bleak.

One Response to “Three antithetical ways of encountering the World”

  1. Fran Diaz Says:

    Thank you, Mr Chandrasoma for your thought provoking article.


    When will mankind learn to keep to Needs only, with no Greed ?

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