As a word, "transcendence" means a lot to me. It speaks of going beyond what we accept as our fate, to become the person we would hope to be, to transcend our limitations, to find our free and true self. It is about a being who evolved from an amoral universe, transcending the limitations of its evolutionary nature to become wise and compassionate guardians of our world.
The human spirit has a confusing duality, which we see and struggle with within our own self. The human spirit can be soaringly beautiful and give meaning to our lives, but it can also be despairingly ugly and force us to question existence. Both sides of the human spirit and the varying shades between represent possible selves and possible worlds, not only for us but for everything around us that human actions affect.
Human society is largely arbitrary, it reflects the aspirations of its peoples. The mass of human society that people often see as unable to change consists of individuals like ourselves. Each of us in our lives has constant choices between different paths, the sum of these individual choices becomes our world. If we can change for the better, we represent the evidence that the world can also change for the better.
Philosophy is often derided as being useless, most people claim not to have or be interested in a philosophy. However, we are intelligent creatures that cannot help but have some connecting ideas behind our actions. In the many options presented to us by everyday life, what outlook generally guides us between one choice or another? It is our idea of what the good life is, our attitude towards life and what we think it is about that ultimately chooses our path, in other words, it is our philosophy that guides us. Once we accept that we have a philosophy, we need to analyse what it is so we can act with the understanding of how we are helping to create the world as it is. If we don't think about the ramifications of our actions in life, we are just as likely to contribute to a negative possible world as a positive one.
Non-human animals may not be concerned with overarching ideas of the good life. They may simply be pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain. Perhaps that is all we humans are doing as well, indeed if one looks at overconsumption, overpopulation, a case could be made that this is true. However, humans I believe have the ability to transcend this instinctive state, to be rational, philosophical beings. We have the ability to not only perceive right and wrong but to act to change the world in line with our principles. Most people I know believe in a fairer more ethical world, that this evolved from an evolutionary system is almost magical.
If we seek to live in a more ethical world, we need to make the search for an ethical life part of our being.
Humanity has struggled to evolve morally, and I believe part of this stems from the difficulty in finding a philosophy that unites us in the search for a better world. Part of the reason for this is because meaning has been hijacked by religions and other people seeking control, seeking to create a meaning that serves their purposes instead of the world around them. If after all, whether you are a priest, a marketing executive, a politician, a guru, if you can convince someone to follow your meaning, it is a source of personal status and power.
I don't believe meaning is such a complex thing that anyone needs to blindly follow someone else's ideas, that people can and should understand meaning for themselves. I see a forest destroyed and poisoned for a dollar, a child crying because it is cold and doesn't have enough to eat, a seal covered in oil, a sea bird choked by a piece of thrown away plastic, and I see meaning. It is based on evolution, pleasure and pain, but it extends out into sophisticated ideas that touch on the edges of our consciousness and I think can only be expressed by noumenal phrases like beauty is truth.
Faith is another concept that has been hijacked to mean blind obedience. I have faith, not in what someone else wishes me to believe, but based on what I know of myself as a member of the human species. I believe that we will be something better, that we won't continue to let people starve, and other voiceless species die, whilst we pursue our own desires forever. I believe there are signs that we are on a path to a better world, that the selfish people who infest our world are but an evolutionary mistake, that kindness, compassion, imagination, beauty and truth, are the way forward to a more happy, creative, productive, meaningful species.
We need to work on how we feel about ourselves as people because it is the reflections of our relationship with ourselves that mirrors itself in the world. As we become more affluent, we can become more inward-looking, selfish, depressed, isolated, defensive of what we think we have. That more possessions above the level of comfort do not lead to more happiness is well known, but we are coming to realise that they may indeed lead the other way.
The reigning ideology of the developed world is that external things are the meaning of existence, we are obsessed with growth rates, currency values, exports, imports, shares, stocks, bonds, cars, huge houses, new things. If it is true that an emphasis on affluence can lead to unhappiness, then the global system we have created is a machine for the devouring of the human spirit whilst it devours the natural world.
It is the relationships with the world around us, what we do for each other, that offers a better chance of happiness, yet our culture is headed in the opposite direction. We need to restructure our philosophies, the interpersonal relationships between us, how we feel and think about ourselves as members of a community. We need less judgement, but when we do inevitably compare ourselves with one another it should not be by wealth or power, but by positive things like kindness and compassion.
Many people feel alone and emotionally isolated, especially the unemployed, people with disabilities, children and the elderly. They remain on the fringes of a culture that doesn't know how to fit them into its central logic of power and affluence, no money can be made out of curing their isolation. They like so many people who our society considers useless, have creative talents and abilities that they could contribute to us all, what are we losing from our current attitudes?
Generally, we don't structure human effort productively, because we don't have a positive philosophical system which our actions are contributing to sustaining. We waste the energies of people working in factories producing endless plastic crap to be thrown away, whilst there is so much positive action that goes undone.
It seems obvious that there is something wrong with the ethical foundations on which our society rests, and for those not misled by dogma, it is clear that the place to start is that we need more compassion in our world.
The first step to a better world is realising that society consists of individuals, like me, like you, we choose our own thoughts, we choose our part of this world, we can change it one mind at a time.
We have the technological and intellectual ability to create a different world, we lack only the wisdom to make it be.