Sunday, April 13, 2014

Journal of a Soul 50

Introduction: Towards the More in Humanity

Our winning all-Ireland Science debaters! Towards the More!
I've been arguing that the phenomenon of our consciousness in itself is a greater entity than the mere sum of the signals or perceptions we register on our brains.  Indeed, I have also been arguing that the mind in the sense of consciousness is also greater than that organ known as the brain in which it is said to mainly reside.  What our personhood or selfhood may be is also somehow linked to our consciousness of what or who that person or self may be.  These are major areas that can be learnedly discussed in philosophy, philosophy of mind, psychology, philosophical psychology, anthropology, philosophical anthropology, neurology and indeed in psychiatry and cognitive science. (I'm sure there are many other learned areas of study in cognate areas that I have not listed here!)  Indeed, the arts in general explore that complex area of self-identity through all the various creative media: painting, sculpture, architecture, music and writing in all its incarnations.  Come to think of it, we should not leave the sciences out either. After all, they too, share in the creative impulses that make up our human consciousness.  Maths, Engineering and Technology also capture on the one hand the beauty, magic and brilliance of the human mind as well as its sheer practical application to human affairs on the other.

In my last post, I spoke about human passions that mark us out as different from the other animals in the Animal Kingdom.  I referred to (a) our desire for knowledge, (b) our desire to love and (c) our desire to be loved as demarcating qualities.  There are others, too.  I briefly referred to our desire for peace and justice.  As Pope Paul VI put it rather pithily, peace is the work of justice.  Let me turn to this last desire or passion here as a demarcating trait of the human person.

The Desire for Justice

One thing that has always inspired me about human beings is their idealism that is shown in many ways, and most especially in their desire to see justice done.  That we are instinctively drawn to causes which promote justice is certainly undeniable.  The Civil Rights Movement, headed up by the late great Martin Luther King Jnr., great prophetic figure, is an excellent example of this human trait I am describing here.  Then, closer to home, we had the Civil Rights Movement in the North of Ireland which sought to do the same for the Roman Catholic population of North of Ireland as its sister movement had achieved for the black population in the USA.  People gave their lives, and still do give their lives in great numbers in all parts of the globe for causes that promote justice for all.  And why do it?  Why put your life on the line for the cause of justice among others, especially when you yourself have those rights that are denied to those for whom you fight?  Why?  Because you believe that there are some values that are universal, and that those values point to what is great and good in the human being; that those values transcend the person and are interpersonal and even trans-personal;  that they somehow point to an author of values beyond us, to an horizon of meaning beyond us*, and perhaps point to some Giver of values beyond us... perhaps.  I will leave these thoughts open to a possible greater meaning or horizon of values above and beyond us.  I will stay with that tentativeness because I just cannot prove this last observation one way or another.

In the wake of the Nazi atrocities committed against innocent people before and during World War II, it was hard for the Allies to convict the accused before their courts of justice at Nuremberg without appealing to a higher court than those of mere mortals.  It has always appeared to this writer here that without the atrocities committed by both Hitler and Stalin; that without, as it were, falling into the pit of sheer atrocity and knowing the sheer depths of depravity to which we humans can descend; that without plumbing the depths of human evil we should never have been inspired to conceive of, write and agree to the International Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.  Article 1 states:
  • All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
We are all endowed with reason and conscience.  As to the nature of conscience the Declaration, needless to say, has nothing to say.  After all it is a international document listing and declaring solemnly the rights of all men and women everywhere in the world.  As to where that conscience comes from, this document does not state, nor should it, indeed, as it is neither philosophy, theology or ethical theory.  Perhaps like Newman, and Kant before him, that conscience could be the voice of a higher power, an author of such universal human rights, before whom in conscience we stand accountable.  Perhaps.  I'm not saying, obviously, that this is definitely so.  I am merely stating it and leaving it out there as one of some few main propositions on the matter.

The Power of Vision

The power of vision: St Vincent's celebrate victory in our School
Another characteristic that describes humanity, both in its essence and in its actions, is that of having a vision of how things could be if we dream big dreams of progress, not alone in technology per se, but in technology which has an ethical and humane dimension to it, namely to improve the lot of other human beings.  Undoubtedly, this is linked with the desire for justice, but here in this paragraph I wish to emphasize the visionary aspect of the desire, rather than the work of justice itself.  In other words, I am talking essentially about the same thing, but from a different perspective.

Vision belongs equally to the engineer the technologist as it does to the poet and novelist.  It belongs to all peoples, to all cultures, to all faiths and to all colours.  In short, it belongs to the man and woman in the street, no matter what their profession, or indeed, their lot in life.  Here, I am reminded by those wonderfully apt words composed by the great Irish writer, socialist and dramatist,  George Bernard Shaw (1856 -1950) in Back to Methuselah (1921): ' "You see things; and you say 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say 'Why not?' '  For me as an Irishman, the first time I heard these words was in the famous speech of John F. Kennedy before the Irish Parliament or Dáil in June 1963.  In the context of his speech, he was highlighting the very heart of justice, which is essentially the work of democracy.  Both he and his extended family have not alone been associated with the Democratic Party in the USA, but with the work of justice on an international level in an effort to bring about world peace.  That the Kennedys passionately believed in the work of justice as central to the democratic process is without doubt.  That John F.Kennedy openly embraced the vision of The Civil Rights Movement and of its prophetic leader Martin Luther King Jnr is also beyond question.  That JFK's brother Bobby was the bearer of his brother's beacon of justice for all after the latter was assassinated is a question of historical fact.  However, that Bobby Kennedy was perhaps the more courageous and more passionately driven of the two is not without evidence.  That the two were assassinated for their beliefs in peace as the work of justice can never be denied.  Their assassination as the asssassination of Mohandas Gandhi, Ruth First and Martin Luther King Jnr., just to mention a few, happened because their outspokenness for justice and equality for all stepped on the toes of those powerful interests within all societies that look to exploitation of the weak and poor for their selfish aggrandisement.  This is all incontrovertible.  The human drive to a vision of how things could be, the innate drive for a Utopia almost lies at the very heart of human dreaming, it seems...

And yet, history teaches us the very sad lesson that while we have such visions of how things might be, in reality wars and injustices abound.  However, without such visionary drives in humankind as witnessed in the lives and sacrifices of great prophets for peace as the work of justice, we should be in even a worse state of moral disintegration.  There are so many prophets of peace who have paid the ultimate price for their vision besides those few whom I have named above, and, indeed, many of them are unacknowledged and many more unknown.  Their sacrifice has not been in vain, as many countless others have benefitted by their sacrifice by either achieving their freedom or in escaping from injustice with their lives.

A Final Word

And lastly, dear reader, how do we account for the courage of heroes putting their lives at risk for those of others?  Where does that fit into an atheistic or indifferentist scheme of things or in an agnostic Darwinian structuralist view of what we humans really are?  Or push the idea of heroism further, and one comes up with the actuality of someone sacrificing their lives for those of others, many of whom are unknown to the hero or sacrificial victim to put it in more religious terms, as it were? How do we explain this in the overall scheme of things? These are all big cultural questions, all big philosophical and anthropological questions. Perhaps they are even spiritual and religious questions.  One thing is sure, they are not cold scientific ones at any rate.  Whoever we are essentially is a work in progress, and sadly we find out more and more about that essence by experiencing how low at times some of us can stoop.

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