Humanity’s ultimate existential challenge requires an integrative metanarrative.
In a BBC news program, the social media phenomenon of “…anyone being free to rush to comment on topical issues…” was described as “… wanting to be part of the narrative.” This set me thinking about the fundamental change that occurred in our human meaning-making narrative. From being informed by religious precepts, it became informed by science.
But still, this new narrative does not seem to have addressed our human problems of conflict and environmental degradation. With the growth of democracy and freedom of speech, our prevailing ethics of relativism would suggest that if any praxis works for sufficient people, it must be all right. That ethical notion has not only failed to address core human problems, it has also failed to deliver on the critical issue of global sustainability.
That is why philosopher and complexity theorist Rhett Gayle is drawn to the challenge of designing regenerative cultures. The question of how to enable such a regenerative culture focuses on the notion of integrated complexity. That, in turn, demands whole-systems consciousness. It’s about being able to experience the world through integrative and intuitive right-brain perspectives whilst employing analytical left-brain processes to design practical interventions.
Theoretical physicist Shantena Sabbadini warns that our mechanistic model of existence feeds the prevailing machine metaphor of life. Scientists, he says, carry a particular responsibility for the dominance of ‘abstraction’ in the culture of our time—the tendency to abstract modelling and categorisation. He, therefore, calls for a perspective of ‘being’ that is rooted in embodied experience rather than in definitions. Transcending the subject/object dichotomy—namely ‘me’ as a separate observer of the world—he urges that abstraction be balanced by a new quality of emotional intelligence that is enabled by our being rooted in the living world.
“We are part of a rich network of relations, a cosmic ecosystem: when we forget that we create suffering for ourselves, and for many other living beings.”
Sabbadini suggests it’s time to reconsider our philosophical assumptions in favour of a view of mind and matter as complimentary, co-arising aspects of the process of experiencing. With this notion, he echoes the view of holism’s author, Jan Smuts, that existence is not about ‘things,’ but action and experience. Sabbadini refers to a worldview informed by a ‘participation mystique’: entering into a dialogue with ‘other’—a dialogue in which ‘other’ is felt just as alive and conscious as oneself.
“The human subject is immersed in a circle of life, which is felt as ultimately more real than one’s individual existence.”
Sabbadini warns that if we do not want to perish in this post-industrial society, we will have to re-appropriate some of the natural wisdom of pre-agricultural society. It boils down to how we view and experience the world—our prevailing epistemology. Whilst Thomas Kuhn introduced the ‘paradigm shift’ to describe a radically new scientific view, Gayle asserts that even more important than that is how we engage with the world. He prefers the notion of stewardship to describe such a quality of engagement. Taken together, a more appropriate description of such a shift would be the Greek word metanoia, a radical transformation of how we engage with the world.
Sabbadini shows that from the radical quantum perspective, this apparently material world is only the phenomenal representation of a much deeper universal reality. Such an assertion is not easily understood, but it does suggest that, if we accept the notion of a cosmic ecosystem, stewardship is not merely related to the material world of people and planet, but indeed is spiritual stewardship. Jan Smuts in holism suggested that the culmination of the evolutionary process through configurations of space/time into matter, life, mind, and evolved human personality, was the generation of universal ‘values’ existing of their own accord. Quantum theory now points to that deeper human responsibility.
The challenge of engaging in such a profound quality of presence, capable of functioning both in the manifest material world and in resonance with those deeper dimensions of energetic intelligence that enable it, could appear daunting. Surely the province of mystics. Yet, my wife reminds me that such a quality of consciousness can already be practically developed in our daily engagements, by becoming deeply aware of ‘other,’ as Sabbadini suggests. We now call that enabling ‘profound encounter.’ But, she stresses, that is enabled by also becoming finely aware of our own subtle responses. When we realise that we are co-creating energetic fields, intelligences, or, as Smuts suggested, values, something other/greater can occur in our deeper motivation.
With this consideration, let us return to the imminent plight of humanity and planet earth. What ultimately is the potential impact of such an abstract, philosophical perspective on the challenges of habituated collective human behaviour in 2019? I am wondering whether the required metanoia might yet be enabled by a new shared narrative for humanity—one that might be both a product of and a catalyst for a new convergence.
The New Convergence
Author Salmon Rushdie uses the term homo narrans to describe humans: story-telling creatures. The question then is how to generate a shared understanding, a new compelling storyline, related to our global challenges on the one hand, and our various meaning-making and coping strategies on the other.
There does appear to be a growing awareness that our economic, political, social, and ecological problems will ultimately converge into a meta-existential challenge—the future viability of the human species within our whole enabling milieu. Given the emerging political belligerence, there is an imminent risk that political, social, and economic conflict might still lead to the deployment of our arsenal of destructive weapons. Then there is the mounting evidence of climate change and pollution that so clearly threatens our future viability.
But it is also possible that our philosophical, scientific, religious, and economic narratives about our coping strategies could also converge into a meta-narrative—one that recognises the need for eco-systemic integration, or ‘wholeness.’ I’m imagining a convergence of awareness in conscious individuals about the ultimate challenge to human viability and the increasing requirement of wholeness. Could such a deeper understanding, occurring beyond the subject/object dichotomy, serve to transform both the perceived problem and the perceived coping strategy? Might this enable that ‘participation mystique’ Sabbadini suggests to represent that desired metanoia?
Meanwhile, the burning question is how to enable ordinary folks, as the BBC put it, to become part of the narrative and, in so doing, support the emergence of Gayle’s regenerative cultures. I trust that even now, it is possible for human effort to be informed by a new spiritual narrative holding a holistic vision and practice, and supported by new physics. This potential must reside in the human psyche awaiting liberation from our prevailing epistemological trap. It could add new meaning and purpose to human endeavour to the extent that collectively addressing our existential challenges might yet become joyful.