Can Smart People Hope?

As I just finished to read VALIS from Philip K. Dick, common themes resonated in me, more than ever. One really important, amongst the numerous themes that emerged in this book, is the notion of hope: are we still allowed to hope, and if so, how?

What kind of value systems shall we use, and what kind of mental world shall we create? It doesn’t seem to me that we were left with much palpability, not much substance to extract, and extrapolate; partially because our Gods died, so the moral principles we derived from them:

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Section 125, tr. Walter Kaufmann

As I consider the creation of personal values a moral imperative, I do understand how it proves to be challenging for our current generation. The crisis we live is not one about money, poverty, and war; in fact not as much as the intellectual crisis that is hurting us; taking the form of a narrow neck, being crossed on a lethal vehicle. And this very same vehicle makes it hard to affirm our values, and fully understand our circumstances. The kind of circumstances you would need, such as, the human experience, and the definition of a  moral landscape in our societies. In fact, this is the day these moral principles left us, that we found ourselves lost, in a tremendous chaostrophy. Because points of reference no longer were, and because the immature part of ourselves took the lead on.

Our codexes often don’t make sense, and making a choice isn’t as clear as we wish it to be hélas.

I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but I suggest rather, that we should acknowledge that without a framework, or a manual, making sense of things is not an easy enterprise for us. Especially in these noisy times, where we may ask: Is there any reason for us, as thinking individuals, not to ostracize this part of ourselves, this part that is thirsty for meaningfulness? This is a good question, I often ask myself.

It’s almost as if we could feel the tug of this void within the confines of our own lives, casted like a runaway freight train on a dark night; and I see this quest for meaningfulness shaped like a crystal: our internal definitions become an amorphous medium which at certain temperature, will form facets of validated conventions. And, using these validated conventions, we either approve or disapprove a specific reality we perceive. Realizing the collective dream, our expression of our longing for wholeness.

But how are we, to dissolve these assumptions, yet at the same time, be able to figure out what is true for ourselves, and what is not?

Put in other words, is optimism allowed? And is it possible, against this feeling of “out-of-controlness”?

At the current speed of population growth, spread of epidemic disease, depletion of resources, and destruction of the atmosphere, it seems to me impossible to conceive of another thousand years of human history. Some said History is a kind of gestation process, a kind of metamorphosis, and nothing but an episode in the life of a species. Nevertheless  that doesn’t necessarily mean we had to accept the pre-requisites for this very metamorphosis. Kafka himself said:

From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached.

Were we expected to cross the Rubicon, and keep faith in the process; this process of dynamic changes taking place in our ideologies?

Deconstructing God the way we did seems to have left what I call a crisis of consciousness, and at this moment, it wasn’t more than the disintegration of structured maps that were preventing introspection from taking place, deeper metaphysical questions from evolving. And this very same disintegration which is, for our internal compass, an empty apparatus we strive to fill. Interestingly enough, no matter how many atoms we will split, and no matter how many proteins nano-robots assemble, nothing constitutes in definitive a replaceable solution, for what we distilled a couple of decades ago. What is this crisis of consciousness exactly, how does it manifest itself; and how do we know for sure it’s there?

Reality is accelerating towards an unconceivable singularity, as we are the inheritors of an immense moral tragedy in our social systems, as well as socio-psychological approach to the world; and it is an interesting phenomenon, that generates exciting questions, such as where did we come from? Does that end the debate of free will?, or Do values need a higher system to exist?

If we no longer need monadic divinities, a demiurge, or an all-encompassing deity; what kind of world shall we conceive of?

Psychological models, and socio-philosophical models  are not sufficient anymore. And this is this day that we decided to let go of this burden, that we became somehow blind, and deaf; deaf to all our horizons. But also deaf to the other. The remaining question is: how do we operate the switch, towards something new, something functional?

As in every transition, we must accept to have some of our notions shaking, and being questioned at their core. This gestational process is a call for patience, and forgiveness. Not that we don’t have to be held accountable for the world we left, or the value systems we created; the ones that aggrandized the possession of things, the tearing up of the Earth, competition, classism, racism, sexism…everything that led us to the brink of catastrophe. I’m not holding for responsible our own ever-evolving intellect (or lack of in this case), but our lack of deeper wisdom.

And for these questions to really be answered, all variables must be discussed.

Much of my old mythologies died a long time ago, so new question have arisen. I’m not talking about a blind faith to unseen forces, or rituals that share a fair amount of mysticism; I’m talking about our difficulty to work with questions, such as “Should I take responsibility for my own free will?”, or “Do the notions of “good” and “bad” still apply nowadays”? There is a difficulty, much of it being related to a lack of definitions, a lack of general frameworks that can be shared, and discussed. This is a double-edged sword, because if maps don’t overlap, we are condemned to only sail our oceans; on the other hand, having them interacting often lead to a general disagreement, as we avoid as much as we can conflicting thoughts; we then end up being alone: floating in our deep solitude…

I don’t have any answers to these complex questions, as they are directly related to the human moral landscape; as well as our evolutionary psychology; and both determine the patterns of thoughts and behaviors we should follow. This long and intricate process is a necessity, for our re-birth as a fully responsible civilization. We shouldn’t be waiting for messiahs to “save” us, but leaving the cradle isn’t something easy.

Would we be able to have a sense of anticipation, and tap into it, in order to facilitate our transition? The anticipation of new movements in the human mind, that we are fully cognizant of.

How are we, to eliminate the human unconscious, and our freudian archetypes; in order to emerge as fully enlightened humans? How is it possible to re-tool our belief systems, and shared values, in a way that can create a new reference for each of us?

If we are to come up with new value systems, or improve the ones we have, we ought to strive for universality; no one should be left behind.

In definitive, this enterprise is complex at various levels; because it is not only a quest that takes place at the individual level, it’s a quest which outcome shall be accepted by every one. And while we imagine something workable, just for the sake of the argument, this rises another question, the one about authority. Is it possible to delegate these questions to someone, and have them answered? In fact, it’s this very same thing we did for thousands of years; by transferring our emotions and internal images to external agents. Even more interesting, this then validates this notion of responsibility, for ourselves, as humans. Going back to the main argument, more than being able to hope, we have to.

We have to, because we are not going back, and the momentum we found ourselves in, turned us into co-creators of the human narrative. And this cannot be denied.

Where does this leave us?

On an intellectual level, this becomes the empowerment of questions-in-progress, that are receptive to our social environment. It gives us the power to think and suggest solutions for our common future.

On an emotional level, this becomes the creation of an integrative experience, where the mind is not a nemesis that should be avoided at all cost.

On a geographical level, this becomes a more intelligent quest for dimensionality. Think a global civilization, where our respective differences are accepted, and acknowledged.

I don’t think there is any rapid descent we can operate, or something that would justify our intellectual laziness. In fact, it appears to me that silence is a crime, irresponsibility its creator. This notion oh hope, though is really intriguing:

The mere fact that we think about these questions leaves me with a certain optimism, as History has proven that what we think of, we accomplish. It’s just a matter of time. May the price be paid, still, the day we will find ourselves laid on grass of justice and love; descending from the tree of our ignorance, to the ground of our ability to share a message. The leap of faith needs to be taken now, as for our young age to be taken into account, choosing the color to focus on is, as usual, a pure matter of perspective.

Hope belongs to the same matter, free will allows us to take this bet; because not having enough has proven to be a dangerous thing…

This leap of faith can be thought as our will to reclaim the primitive, the inner ancestor, that speaks through intuition. And this is when we start to embrace these questions, that we notice how they demand a great deal of attention. And this represents, to me the flesh of miracles we were waiting for. Perhaps God exists, in our ability to become the best version of ourselves, and work through the references of higher values: peace, justice, equity, and love. The maze out of the womb ends the day we deconstruct all notions that were injected, and the day we understand our circumstances. The day when we accept we don’t need the Myth, neither the Eschaton, nor Eros, for how they used to incarnate; but for their ability to convey our stories, their ability to trigger imagination, and the will to maintain this enterprise of understanding the human Project.

This human project is about inhabiting the far end of the positive side of the continuum of human psychology and human well-being, becoming someone having radical and clear insights into the nature of things, and the accuracy of perception and judgment.

And this is only by taking seriously this project that we could remove this veneer of resentment, condemnation, and despair. I like to entertain this notion that salvation doesn’t exist, and as long as we remain uncertain, nothing will change.

So, tell me…Do you dare to hope?

Morality must relate, at some level, to the well-being of conscious creatures. If there are more and less effective ways for us to seek happiness and to avoid misery in this world – and there clearly are – then there are right and wrong answers to questions of morality.

Sam Harris

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