Updated: Apr 23, 2020
The previous blog, outlined two reasons why ‘new maps of the world’ are essential. They provide landmarks towards, understanding the things that matter most in life ( particularly those of uncertain, ‘slenderist knowledge’) leading to an individual, internal inquiry, that taps into our heart-felt intuition, which is the source of all real knowledge and joy.
New maps are to be centred on what it means to be human, our potential, as well as our relationship to the world.
It is hoped these ‘new maps of the world’ will move us to an understanding of this ‘whole world’ in contrast to partial views which often leads to manipulation of both people and environment.
The present pandemic has exposed a perplexity at the heart of modern life where short-term fixes, towards a quick return ‘to life as before’, predominate. Discussion of how this pandemic may be linked to the way we treat our world as a whole are rare. The airwaves are full of discussion to do with ‘means’ to fix the problem, without the broader picture, the important 'ends', relevant to the kind of world we want to live in. One exception to this trend can be found in yesterdays Guardian newspaper, entitled “We have to Wake Up…”
“Whatever the history of the emergence of Covid-19,…pandemic influenza, evolved on chicken and pig factory farms… The link between factory farming and increasing pandemic risk is well established scientifically, but the political will to curtail that risk has, in the past been absent… now is the time to build that will” (1)
But how can that ‘will’ be built. There are no quick fixes here. To take-on one of the most powerful industries worldwide, factory farming, will not be easy. Can it be done in a piecemeal way, issue by issue, or will it demand a look at the world views that allow factory farming to happen in the first place? Central to Schumacher’s thesis is that a partial world view, ‘materialistic scientism’ predominates in the modern world. He writes:
“The rigorous application of the scientific method to all subjects and disciplines, … that man is nothing but a complex biochemical mechanism powered by a combustion system which energises computers with prodigious storage facilities for retaining encoded information.” (2, p14)
One can see that, with this mechanistic view as a starting point, ‘scientism' can easily descend into manipulation of both people and environment. Humans can be justifiably treated as machines and the environment as something to be controlled and manipulated. Relevant to our present crisis, it is a view of the world that can justify the existence of factory farms, as well as providing a technology to allow them to work in the first place. ‘Scientism’ was dominant in the 1960’s and is, in some ways, even more dominant now in the 2020’s.
A full critique of 'materialistic scientism’ is best understood by contrasting it to philosophical maps of the ‘whole world’ - only then can it be fully understood how limited this view of the world is.
Let us now start filling in the first landmark, ‘Levels of Being’, to help us see how this new philosophical map will look like.
The chapter on ‘Levels of Being’ is essential reading if one wants to understand Schumacher’s whole thesis, it is a pivotal to the rest of the book.
The first important point to note is that ‘Levels of Being’ are open to practical experience, even if that experience cannot be scientifically proven - they are related to ‘slenderest knowledge’ as outlined above. (3)
The table below with explanation should make this clear.
Downward Scheme - Levels of Being
Level of Being. Subtraction of Powers
Man can be written M
Animal can be written . M - Z
Plant can be written . M - Z - Y
Mineral can be written M - Z - Y - X
Z is self awareness
Y is consciousness
X is life
M is mineral
In practice experience, we can observe that man has powers not present in the behaviour of animals - that is the power of self-awareness (Z). Self awareness is very mysterious and has within itself many levels. Simply put, it is the power to observe one’s thoughts and feelings - to be the witnessing observer to consciousness. The ability to observe thought and feeling, properly executed, enables the power to be free of those thoughts and feelings. The importance of this understanding, cannot be overstated. In every ‘Traditions of Being’ there is a system of prayer and/or meditation. Meditation (one focus of the website) is a systematic practice that allows connection to and enabling of self-awareness. Meditation, then, is designed to open the scope of precisely that quality that defines humanity. What can be more essential than that ! This also highlights, why meditation should always be linked to a systematic philosophy. Without clear philosophical landmarks, the importance of meditation in the whole scheme, within ‘Levels of Being’, can easily be lost - as is the case with the rise of the phenomenon, McMindfulness (4).
Self-awareness is, therefore, a stage higher in power than consciousness (Y) which is distinctive of animals. All animals can be knocked unconscious and as a result, the power that makes them an animal, is lost. It is consciousness that enables a cat to become a cat and to do cat-like things.
This power of consciousness is precisely the power which is lost when one moves down to the level of plants. Plants have the power of life, they can be observed by their wondrous ability to grow from a seed towards the nourishment of the sun. Although it may be arguable that the plant can display rudimentary consciousness, for example, turning towards the sun, it is beyond doubt, that a typical animal can do things that is impossible for the typical, fully developed plant.
A philosophical argument about the nature of being and reality is not appropriate here. Skepticism on matters, as important as this, only can lead to further confusion and perplexity. (5) All of the above is practically observable in daily life without the need for endless speculation. No one has difficulty in recognising the difference between, a living human, animal or plant and one that has died and returned to the level of mineral (M-Z-Y-X)
Although life can be destroyed, it is beyond all living beings to create it. Therefore, X and the levels above are sacred, invisible and beyond calculation. Consciousness, let alone self-awareness, is denied existence by ‘scientism’, as any more than a result of a mechanical ‘ complex biochemical mechanism’. It follows that the things, most valued in life, by humans, are also beyond the scope of ‘scientism’, including the endeavours to create artificial intelligence.(6)
The addition of the powers listed above, M plus X,Y, Z, lead to an ‘open-endedness’, the exact opposite of the mechanical and partial view of 'scientism'. Schumacher writes:
“This ‘open-endedness’ is the wondrous result of the specifically human powers of self-awareness (Z) which is distinct from he powers of life and consciousness, have nothing automatic or mechanical about them. The powers of self awareness are, essentially, a limitless potentiality…They have to be developed and ‘realised’ by each human individual if he is to become truly human, that is to say, a person.” (p,32)
How can ‘limitless potentiality’ of humans be understood? This will be the subject of the next blog in this series on ‘Progressions’.
To end this piece with a shocking statement made recently in discussion. A Philosophy University student (he left school two years ago) exclaimed, in exasperation, that he could have gone through his, school life “without once, hearing the word, consciousness”. With all the endless testing that now goes on in schools in the UK, how far have we descended, whereby, it is acceptable not to fully examine consciousness (appropriate to understand the animal world) let alone, that which, is unique to our humanity - self-awareness. This statement surely is a marker for the degree of perplexity that we now live in the modern world, and why Schumacher’s equally exasperated plea, to build a philosophy for humanity, is so relevant today.
1.“We have to Wake Up: Factory Farms are Breeding Grounds for pandemics” by J. S. Foer et. al Guardian website, 21/4/2020.
2. Victor E.Frankel, ‘Reductionalism and Nihilism’ in Beyond reductionism, London, 1969.
3. This point is important as Schumacher's work, being 'open to practical experience' enables people to come together, even if they disagree on minor points. At least this approach invites people in, to debate and discuss.
We will return to this point fully in a later blog - Epilogue.
4. For an illuminating article on the McMindfulness industry, read “The Mindfulness Conspiracy” Ronald Purser, Guardian website, 22/4/2020.
5. For a withering critique of modern skepticism in liberal education, read the beginning chapters 1-5 ( unfortunately late chapters are not as distinguished) of Christopher Derricks book “Escape to Skepticism, Liberal Eduction as if Truth Mattered” Sherwood Sugden, 1977.
6. It is just speculation, but the test of whether artificial intelligence can ever be described as humanly conscious, must reference fully, the technologies scope to be self-aware (Z). That is, not to just copy the self-awareness of humans, via software, but in particular, to be receptive to revelation or heart-felt intuition. Only this can be fully understood within an examination of ‘Levels of Being’.
All page referenced quotations, are to be found in Schumacher's book, which is the main subject of this series of blogs - Guide for the Perplexed, Vintage, 2011.