And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Life is a walking shadow, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing – Macbeth
Lately I’ve been very busy. I’ve been looking for yesterday. Yesterday? A lot of yesterdays, all of them! We all know that they visited us here; the question is: where are they now? Did they disappear into thin air? Are they hanging above us like Damocles sword, threatening to take revenge over the way they were treated by us? You could say that yesterday is only a concept, a point on the line of time that goes only forward, that it’s an artificial concept, a convention, but I know that it was here. I even left in it a big package of unfulfilled chores that now clamor to materialize.
The wife of the biblical Lot looked backward to where she was yesterday (Sodom) and turned into a pillar of salt. The wife of the Scottish philosopher, David Hume, was wiser. She looked for the tomorrow. When she became concerned about her husband’s anxiety regarding the fate of the morrow she called Uncle Kant in Konigsberg, in spite of the fact that it was midnight. She knew that he was very peculiar in his daily routine, so much so, that, according to the German Poet, Heinrich Heine, the denizens of the city adjusted their clocks in accord with his regular habits. Nevertheless, she called and told him that David could not fall sleep because he wasn’t sure that the sun would shine tomorrow. Indeed, she told David that everybody knows that when the cock crows the sun shall rise, but David, being Scottish and a philosopher, doubted whether tomorrow there would still be cocks around, they all might be drowned in whisky, after all one can never tell what a drunken rooster will do. So, she begged Uncle’s Emmanuel to excuse her for waking him up but, being a good wife she also became anxious, and being a woman, calling people in the middle of the night was her prerogative. “Go back to sleep,” said Uncle Kant, “the sun will rise tomorrow.” “How do you know?” she asked. “Because I said so,” was his answer. Now, we all know that Kant’s world consisted of what we know and see, while according to him, the world of things as they are by themselves is beyond our grasp. Also, Kant was a very wise person and his philosophy was beyond the ability of most people to comprehend. Now we are more modern — we know that the sun will be there because it will come to life and be realized when we look and recognize it. Luckily, there is always somebody looking at it, if not in the northern hemisphere then in the southern one, so the sun will be there forever, whatever forever means.
However, that also is too confusing as we are used to thinking that each act follows the other: first the sun should rise and then we see it, not the other topsy-turvy way around. Besides, in order to understand such concepts we need mathematics, and because the schools are today as they are, how many of us know enough mathematics to understand such problems and concepts? Hardly anybody. Eventually we all become anxious and have a problem falling asleep. That’s why we elect politicians, to guide us in this upside-down world. How do they know the way? That’s easy, because they stick to yesterday and never let go
They all are aware that if they take the morrow into account they might find themselves living outside their sheltered abodes. Just think of it: where will they be and what shall they do if in order to contain the morrow they will have to build new edifices with new openings that might let in gusts of unexpected and uncontrolled winds. The new lodgers might even throw away the redundant politicians. What role will they play then, if at all? No longer will people, and organizations masquerading as people, continue paying them millions just for staying where they are and forbidding any change in their backyards. They might become jobless, even homeless! In order to ward off any constitutional change they formed therefore a global association, vowing and signing a pledge not to shake the boat. In return they were allowed to enter a magical world. While the rest of the globe expands, they shrivel. Their personality becomes vacuous but their voices get thunderous. Holding hands together they ardently dance around the bonfire of nationalism and the illusionary privilege of being the custodians of sovereign states. Only, bonding with the mischievous spirits of jingoism conceals a masked peril – the tipping points of destruction.
While we were playing with such concepts like democracy (presumably the best form of government), representative systems, free markets and capitalism (presumably the best economic system), we failed to notice that the global sphere kept stretching and extending. So much so that the tension between any point on yesterday’s orb and the new one can be the tilting point caused by the incongruity between a world that is acting as a global entity and the existence of sovereign states that operate as feudal estates. Banks, for instance, acted globally as a universal network, shared the same bubble and together drove much of the world into an economic crisis. While umpteen people became homeless and lost their jobs, the same banks filled their coffers and the pockets of their CEOs with boundless sums of public money. The trick in the magic world of democratic sovereign states ruled by representative systems is ingenious – fill the pockets of the representatives with millions and get billions in return. In the current wonder world you make money by playing on the global playground but pay your taxes according to the different rules in any of the feudal estates. My sick kidney affects all my body but if the doctor treats it as if it’s a separate limb, maybe even put it in a separate container for observation, I wouldn’t last long. Neither will the sovereign states who in order to provide special treatment to banks, corporations and politicians, act as if they are independent entities, separate from the global body. The mere existence of separate sovereign states enables the mega corporations to deprive the global population from the benefits of tax money, including basic benefits such as health, welfare and, above all, education.
We all from time to time use the adage “God knows,” admitting that because of our restricted vantage point we never understand anything fully. God, in this sense is synonym to the ability to see things as if from above, to grasp all that exists and to be able to identify and discern everything that affects, as well as being affected by, all specific phenomena. At least according the Bible, man was created in the image of God, a hint that we have the potential. Only, in order to reach this image and to be like God, we should have access to all the available information, to everything which is available in-form. In order to build up our potential and amplify our image we should remove all boundaries, everything that blocks our potential ability to comprehend and to grow. Like God we also would have excess to all the components in our world. Regretfully, we are not gods and don‘t resemble any god, not yet. Our world is still molded by the Newtonian mechanical concept in which each component is defined by its boundaries rather than by its place in a field of all encompassing waves. We are prisoners of our superannuated worldview and a product shaped by a simulated environment. Our world is build of a conglomerate of presumably separate units. Not only politicians but also many so called “experts” act like technicians who fix and maintain these isolated units. However, today the tension between the confines separating those who have much-too-much from those who have much-too-little is bound to explode and lead to the total collapse not only of the boundaries but also of the whole social order. The tendency towards this direction was evident in the “Occupy Wall Street” and has been evident in similar movements in many other states. The tilting point can be a person who sets himself on fire, riots against rulers who were elected democratically but do not rule accordingly, or by an embittered and exasperated person who starts shooting at people in the street, claiming that all people are culpable for his condition because they are part of a system that votes for and allows the existence of such societal poles. It is comfortable to assume that the person burned himself because he was poor and miserable, that the shooter is a criminal or crazy person and that the rioting mobs are just that, rioting mobs. We assume that our society has the means to deal with them, such means like courts of laws, police, welfare organization, mental hospitals and of course, electing better representatives. Trouble is that those are means that were created for the old system, the inner circle that is composed of separate states but hardly fit in the cyber network that constitutes the outer global orb.
“States are more vulnerable than people think. They can collapse in an instant—when consent is withdrawn.”[i] So said Étienne de La Boétie (1530–1563) in a stunning book that examines the mystery of why people do not withdraw their consent, given what is obvious to him that everyone would be better off without the state. “Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break in pieces.” As Murray Rothbard noticed in his introduction to the translated book, “La Boetie’s Discourse has a vital importance for the modern reader as in it the author anticipated Jefferson, Arendt and Gandhi. The question La Boetie asks is very simple: why do people give up their freedom with such ease? His answer is also simple, people are so used to abiding by orders that they forget how to be free and even lose the will and aspiration to be free. In the 19th century Tocqueville talked on “the habits of the heart” as potential risk for the freedom of the people in democracies. The contemporary sociologist, Eva Illouz, pointed out[ii] that the question that La Boetie asked is most relevant in the modern democracies as they excel in covering up their autocratic tendencies and in manipulating the citizens conduct and beliefs. In 1938, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, another fascinated character, wrote in a remarkable book[iii] that “a unified society with a multiplicity of tribal characters and national types will be the ‘leit-motif’ of the centuries before us…the European ‘nation‘ is one variety, conscious of its relations to the other varieties”. Rosenstock-Huessy believed that the unity will be reached through economy and it was clear to him that at least some “tribal characters” will violently resist the unification. Also, in 1969 Hannah Arendt wrote that “Europe’s declining power was preceded and accompanied by political bankruptcy of the nation-state and its concept of sovereignty.”[iv] In 1971 Lewis Thomas, another remarkable person, wrote: “what is earth like, what is it most like? It came to me: it is most like a single cell.”[v] (I’m sure that a score of other scholars reached the same conclusion, but after 20 years retirement and no on going exchange of ideas with other academics, I‘m in no position to follow them all). The center that has been held by national sovereign states is getting too loaded’ too heavy too hold the global content. It is bound to plunge. De facto it has already tumbled.
We are fast approaching a new stage in human evolution. Homo Sapiens has entered a sapient world and he will never be the same. Most likely he will even need a new adjective to classify those who entered the gate of the new world of cyber space, a world which is growing and shifting almost by the day. A world which, in order to be functional, is already clamoring for another social and political form of organization.
Every social and political order or revolution starts with a definition of man in relation to his environment. The throwing out of Adam and Eve from the Garden gave rise to religious notions of guilt which identified human beings in that category and promoted a social order in which priests play a major role. The Abrahamic religions strive for redemption and salvation and accordingly strives for a social order and a way of life which might lead to it, to messianic times, that is. Buddhism speaks of redemption from suffering and recommends a different mode of conduct. The secular religions promise freedom from bondage and redemption by means of enlightened and rational policy. All are usually accompanying by a kind of a mythical “explanatory” narrative in accordance with the Platonic assumption about a need for such a story in order to justify a social order and a way of life. The story in the basis of the sapient world will probably be that of redemption from the fetters of yesterday by removing the artificial boundaries which set the condition in which one “national“ state can be composed of five or more different nationalities. The new interest in La Boétie might be indicating that the time is ripe for such a change. From the ancient Greeks we learned that democracy fits a limited area with a limited number of citizens who know each other. Accordingly, democracy might remain in small areas like cities or counties to answer certain definite needs but not on a global scale. Some people will lead and others will take orders, because it’s a human nature, but only in voluntary organizations and “co-ops.” In a “flat world” in which each can instantly communicate with everybody else there is no place for hierarchical pyramids of control and a central government. A tree grows up and braches out because its roots are in the ground and not because of orders from its top. The global condition is ripe for a social order in which people will naturally find their place in professions and organizations according to interest, ability and the natural tendency to volunteer when needed. In short, the leading principle will be more like that of a self regulating network according to swarm intelligence. It works nicely in adjusting the movement of people on the sidewalks in New York’s 5th avenue, the Internet, and for colonies such as ants and bees. People will still fall in love and out of love. Some will create, some will sell and others will buy, but most likely not within the framework of a capitalistic system and stock markets. It seems that we might be moving towards a society based more on consensus and mutual responsibility rather than on dictates from above. Not all sovereign states would join such a global order, clearly not at the same time. But those who would might become subjects of an evolutionary process driven by the ability to adapt to rapid and continuous changes. In a “flat world” in which everybody can communicate and be affected by the actions of everybody else, there could be no place not for secrecy nor for protected patents.
Anybody who ever watched a program about nature must be aware of the marvelous coordination between plants, plants and living beings, living beings among themselves and the environment in general. Such coordination couldn’t exist in a mechanically built world which is composed of a conjunction of individual parts. An assembly of parts can produce a wholeness but the character of the whole doesn’t bear a semblance to the sum of the characteristics of individual parts. Once a whole is being composed then it defines the character of its individual parts rather than the other way around and the definition of a human being in such environment would be different from that of a person in a mechanical world. National and nationalistic states will be replaced by national cultures. Sovereign national states are distinguish by mechanical concepts and boundaries while cultures have the quality of boundless waves and the fusion of waves is bound to create different, more complex and advanced, properties. Policies and decisions in national states are often made by biased, narrow minded politicians, frequently deficient in education and devoid of knowledge. However, in a global setting decisions would be made by the combined comprehensive wisdom of conglomerates of interested and knowledgeable people. A network of global cyber society would have institutions such as an army, police, and courts of law but most likely they will be shaped out of necessity rather than by a dictate. Same with institutions of health and educations.
From where we stand now we cannot conjecture what would be the shape and mode of function of such institutions. The faster we recognize that the current crisis in almost every area is a product of a society that follows yesterday‘s “no exit” political and social traffic signs, the better the chance to get out of the crises and secure the survival of humankind. The separation from the yesterday and entering the morrow is fraught with astounding inventions that will dictate new forms of thought, conduct and approach. We are facing the inevitable transition to an unknown and unplanned world, upsetting but also, and mainly ,exciting. It may well be the only way to secure our future.
[i] Etienne de La Boetie’s (1552–53) Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, Mises Intitute’s Free Life Editions, 1975, Translated by Harry Kurz, introduction by Murray Rothbard.
[ii] Haaretz, May 22, 2013
[iii] Eugen Rosenstock-Hussy, Out of Revolution, 1938, renewed 1966, Argo Books
[iv] Hannah Arendt, On Violence, 1969, Harcourt, Brace & World Inc.
[v] Lewis Thomas, The Lives of a Cell, Bantam Books, 5th edition, 1975