Wisdom can lead us out of industrial capitalism

I find it difficult to imagine how anyone with an ounce of intelligence could not see what a dark place our human civilization has reached.

Although there are hundreds of ways in which we could describe this darkness in ecological or human terms, behind it all lies a philosophical or metaphysical issue.

It is a certain way of thinking that has led us this far along a dangerous road which was, evidently, the wrong one; a certain philosophy that has guided us to the very edge of the planetary precipice.

More specifically, it is the absence of a certain way of thinking, the absence of a certain philosophy that has led us astray.

This philosophy is not only absent from the contemporary mainstream. It is also a way of thinking that can barely be understood by our society.

Its absence is the result of a deliberate exclusion.

The further we progress along the current path, the more we find ourselves in a mental fog which hides from us the existence of an alternative and authentic philosophy challenging its murky monopoly.

Even the possibility of its existence cannot be admitted by a cultural vanity that insists that its truths are the only ones. The idea that there might be a root philosophy, a deep Wisdom, which long predates modern thinking and greatly surpasses it in depth and insight, is simply unthinkable for a society which regards itself as the pinnacle of not just technological, but also intellectual, advancement.

Our understanding is so distorted by this fog that when we do manage to catch a glimpse of part of this Wisdom looming up out of the grey confusion, it takes on a strange and misleading shape and is often mistaken for something grotesque which is to be avoided at all costs.

This shouldn’t surprise us. How could the non-philosophy that dominates today’s world hold on to its position of intellectual power without having constructed a closed system of thought which not only justifies its own assumptions and perspectives, but which denies all possible legitimacy to any way of thinking that lies outside that system?

It has to protect itself, and it does so by means of a very tightly-constructed framework of authorised ways of thinking. To anyone conditioned to those ways of thinking, anything outside of that framework seems absurd, laughable, even insane.

Challenging that monopoly and trying to replace it with the authentic Wisdom which it denies us is therefore the crucial task of our times.

This is more or less what I have been trying to communicate with my writing over the last few years, to the best of my limited ability.

Needless to say, I am in no way claiming to have invented this ancient Wisdom! Indeed the whole point of much of what I have written is to show how it has always existed as an underground heresy beneath the surface of dominant society and emerges again and again in renewed forms throughout history.

Because it is a complex and multi-dimensional way of thinking, it is not easy to summarise in a linear fashion and I know I won’t be able to do it justice in an article of this length.

But…

The Wisdom starts from the assumption that something exists, that there is a reality.

Note that this is not the “I think therefore I am” of Descartes, but a less individualistic statement that there is something, including the perspective that I call “me”.

This root assumption includes the recognition that the “me” in question is part of the overall reality being identified. This seems obvious, but is significant for what comes later.

There are a number of secondary conclusions that follow on from this beginning.

First of all, if I term myself “alive” (which I do!) and I am part of a much bigger reality, then that bigger reality is itself “alive” rather than inert or dead.

The Wisdom therefore considers the whole of reality (the Universe if you like, but also including the past and future as well as the present) to be a living entity, part of which consists of human beings such as me.

This will remain true, regardless of whether or not individual human beings are aware of it. But the Wisdom insists that consciousness of this universal living entity, and of the fact that we are part of it, is highly desirable both for individuals and for society.

It is important, therefore, to expose and reject philosophies and religions which deny this reality – such as by viewing individual human beings as separate from each other and the rest of the cosmos, or by replacing the idea of a living Universe which includes humanity with the (monstrous) construct of a separate God who created the universe and humanity and rules over us, demanding our unquestioning obedience to His self-proclaimed spokespersons on Earth.

A second thread of thought is that human beings, because they are living parts of a universal organism, are imbued with the same patterns and structures as the rest of the Universe and, of course, as the rest of the natural world on this planet.

Significantly, this includes our mental processes. Human thinking, including our philosophies, is a continuation of the complex patterns of the cosmos and of nature and not something outside of them. Just as our existence is part of the existence of the Universe, so is our thinking part of the thinking of the Universe. Our thinking is the Universe’s thinking and our thinking is nature’s thinking – both interpreted through the filter of our particular human existence.

The structures of the Universe and of nature are contained deep within us and are reflected in the physical reality of our bodies and in the abstract realities of the thinking generated by our physical bodies.

Again, this would continue to be the case even if every single human being alive today denied that it was so. But the Wisdom maintains that an awareness of this innate structure is essential to an understanding of who we are and how we should live.

So what is the point of individuals, with our own distinct individual perspective and free will, if our thinking is in fact an extension of the Universe as a whole?

Individuals are all manifestations of the Universe. This Universe needs there to be physical forms of reality so that it can actually exist as a physical entity, rather than as an abstract idea; it needs there to be living physical beings so that it can also be alive and it needs there to be actual physical thinking happening so that it can, itself, think.

The Universe also needs individual human beings to act on their thinking, so that it too can, through them, act on its (decentralised) thinking. How else can the Universe, the sum of all reality, be present in its own self-forming other than through the actions of its constituent parts?

This leads me on to a brief mention of time. Time is another dimension of space. We, as human beings with our limited perspective, are normally trapped within time to the extent that we cannot take an overview of it. We operate along the dimension of time.

Seen from the outside, the passing of time would look like the stretching-out, the unfurling, the self-shaping and becoming of the Universe – a movement which forms part of its permanent identity.

The way in which it shapes itself is through the actions of the little areas of life into which it has temporarily divided itself. Some of these are human beings, who together constitute the unfolding of a certain small corner of overall reality.

From a theoretical vantage point outside of the linear time dimension, everything has “already happened”, since the processes we see as “time” are just the structuring of the Universe in its complete condition.

This leads naturally to the idea of “fate” or “destiny”, which some interpret as meaning that we have no choice in our lives and our actions, that everything is “pre-determined” and that therefore there is no need to do anything – the perfect excuse for apathy!

But this is a vast misunderstanding! Nothing is “pre-determined” because the timescale which gives us the idea of “pre-” and “post-“, “before” and “after”, is an illusion created by our particular perspective from within the tunnel of linear time.

Our actions, our lives, are the Universe in the act of self-creation. Our doing something is the Universe establishing its own shape, through us. Nothing we do has already happened, or already been planned. As we do it, it becomes real.

A third thread concerns our notion of reality. Contemporary non-philosophy locates reality very much in the immediate experience of the individual; in a physical world wiped hygienically clean of all the “constructs” of meaning that we have supposedly projected on to it.

An overall understanding based on underlying principles is discarded in favour of specific knowledge built up from empirical evidence.

So, for example, any idea of “justice” or “freedom” is rejected as naïve idealism.

And yet, it is undeniable that there is an underlying structure to the Universe, regardless of whether or not we are able to fully grasp it. The basic realities of this physical realm in which we live – the existence of light and darkness, for instance, or of heat and cold; the possibility of something occupying a certain space, of having a certain mass or energy – all of these amount to underlying principles, however complex they might be.

But why would we imagine that those principles stop there, at that level? As we have seen, the structures of the Universe necessarily extend into the human body, the human mind and thus into human thinking.

These underlying principles are there before any of us born, they are a pre-condition of our existence as a human being, as a part of the Universe. You might say that they are the canvas on which we each paint the unique and colourful story of our own individual lives.

Because human beings like thinking about stuff, these underlying principles exist on more than one level in human thought and culture. Yes, they are there as the basic physical reality within which we live out our lives. But they are also present as an awareness of that physical reality, as an awareness of the importance of that physical reality and, going further, as an awareness of the importance of our awareness of the existence of these principles!

This is where human ethics and values come from. They are all about doing the right thing, living in the way that we should live.

These concepts are not imposed on us, as the modern non-philosophy likes to claim, but exist within us.

Sometimes, of course, ideas of right and wrong are handed to us on a plate by some organisation, such as a religion, that claims to know best and it is right for us to challenge these. But how do we make a judgement on whether they are valid or not? We look into our own minds, our own hearts, and assess whether they make sense to us or not. We access our own innate sense of right or wrong, our human interpretation of the principles underlying the structure of the Universe, which are necessarily also the principles underlying the natural world around us and inside us.

For someone whose thinking has been nurtured entirely within the modern non-philosophy, the point I have just made will seem ridiculous, barely worthy of consideration.

The word “innate”, for instance, often triggers very negative reactions. This seems to be because people associate it with racist or sexist ideas which identify some people as being “innately” better or worse than others, or “innately” suited to some kind of role in society.

But innate simply means “existing from birth” and doesn’t mean placing people in any kind of category. When I use the word “innate” I am using it in a sense that unites rather than divides. I am talking about the universal humanity that is innate to every human being and about the structures and principles of nature and the cosmos which are also innate to each of us and which form and guide our existence.

A non-philosophy which excludes all possibility of innateness also denies all possibility of belonging, of an organic reality to human society and to the living planet. It confines us to the lonely prison cell of a purely individual existence in which we have no possibility of ever understanding who and what we really are, what there is inside us and how we can escape from our unnecessary psychological isolation.

It is so difficult to explain this while crossing the minefield of contemporary misunderstanding of the crucial terms involved! “Universal”, which I used above, is an example. It is a word often rejected by contemporary non-philosophy, for which it can only be a construct imposed from the outside in an attempt to control and dominate.

It is true, of course, that this can sometimes be the case. Western colonialists might well use the word “universal” to describe their own specific social norms, which they insist the conquered people should also adopt. But that’s an abuse of the word “universal” and does not disqualify the validity of “universal” as a concept.

This is generally a problem with modern (or postmodern) thinking. Because it rejects all ideas of underlying meaning, structure or coherence, it can only interpret words which describe these ideas as being part of a language of domination, seeking to impose order on what is randomness and individuality.

It thus frightens people away from all ideas of order (or harmony, to use a less loaded term), with its assumption that this order is something which would necessarily have to be applied from the outside.

It strikes a double blow against the ideas I am trying to expound. First of all, it denies the innate existence of underlying principles and values in human thought. Secondly, it interprets the language which seeks to describe those principles as a language of domination.

In so doing, the contemporary non-philosophy paints itself as being not only more “modern” than the age-old Wisdom, which is obviously true, but also somehow as more “radical”.

We often seen a deliberate confusion between the ideas of the passing of time and of some kind of improvement – witness the whole concept of Progress. But it is important to be aware that just because one way of thinking is more modern than another, this does not mean it is better or more enlightened.

In fact, the opposite could well be true. When you consider that for the last three or four hundred years we have moved deeper and deeper into an economically capitalist world, you might reflect that this may have had some kind of influence on the philosophy which has come to predominate today.

Far from being “radical”, modern non-philosophy is ideally suited to the demands of capitalism. And the Wisdom, which it likes to condemn as dangerously retrograde, in fact represents an ideological threat to the dominant contemporary system.

Obscuring this fact, and suggesting that the opposite is true, is all part of the means by which the non-philosophy imposes its worldview and stifles resistance.

Again and again, the thinking of our alternative Wisdom leads us to challenge the givens of capitalist modernity. Because it understands the individual as belonging to a greater whole, it can present an empowering vision of the individual’s role and purpose which goes beyond the sterile and alienating individualism of the capitalist world.

As individuals, we can reject the shallow and selfish individualism of consumer society by activating a different kind of individuality – the kind of individuality which refuses to conform to the expectations of the system, refuses to buy its sense of self from the supermarket shelves and instead chooses to source it from deep within itself and from its relationships with other people, other beings.

Our understanding that we are all small parts of the Universe frees us to reject all claims of authority over us and is also the basis for an unshakeable belief in an equality of all humans and indeed all living creatures – equality not in the sense of sameness but of equal worth.

The elements of the world outside our ego – whether this means other people, other animals or other parts of nature – cease to be seen as objects fit to be exploited and are welcomed instead as fellow subjects in a shared existence.

The fear of nature (including human nature) which leads people to accept that it must be reined in, controlled and governed, is replaced by an understanding that there is an organic rhythm and flow to the Universe, a deep-seated and natural self-regulation that applies also to human societies on the appropriate scale.

The Wisdom as it appears today goes beyond this, extending the scope of its thinking to reflect contemporary reality. It looks at this understanding of the organic Universe and judges that this is something which is important. It looks at the misunderstanding promoted by the modern mindset and judges that this must be challenged.

The Wisdom includes and embraces its own self-awareness of its relevance and its role in addressing the problems it identifies. It extends its concept of human responsibility to take in the responsibility to engage on the philosophical level of combat.

It is holistic and remains open to expansion, constantly incorporating each new layer of philosophical self-awareness into the Wisdom itself.

But it also remains open to including and embracing more specific, less abstract, viewpoints which are compatible with its vision.

It is, as I have tried to show elsewhere, the perfect philosophical complement to the political viewpoint of anarchism, with which it merges seamlessly.

The Wisdom’s sense of individual freedom combined with responsibility is reflected in anarchist ideology. Not only do we demand the personal freedom to define who we are and chose how we live, but we also insist that with that freedom comes a responsibility to serve the best interests of wider collective entities –community, humanity and the living planet.

Anarchists (real anarchists anyway) further insist that human society is naturally organic, based on self-regulation and mutual aid – in other words that human society represents a continuation of the structures and patterns of the Universe and is damaged, rather than improved, by attempts to impose artificial layers of “authority”.

Anarchists interpret the world not according to invented “laws” but in the light of what they know themselves is right and wrong, in the light of the values or ethics which form part of human thinking, in the light of the natural belonging which underlies our existence.

A philosophy combining contemporary anarchist insights with the age-old Wisdom I have been outlining is a powerful one, which is why it is deemed so unacceptable, so unthinkable, by modern capitalist-friendly thinking.

It represents, for me, our best chance of finding the collective mental strength and courage to walk out of this dark industrial capitalist nightmare towards a bright and free future.

Sophia, or Wisdom, can lead us out of the capitalist Babylon
About Paul Cudenec 130 Articles
Paul Cudenec is the author of The Anarchist Revelation; Antibodies, Anarchangels & Other Essays; The Stifled Soul of Humankind; Forms of Freedom; The Fakir of Florence and Nature, Essence and Anarchy and The Green One. All of these have been published by Winter Oak Press - www.winteroak.org.uk. He is also a member of Shoal Collective, a cooperative of independent writers and researchers, writing for social justice and a world beyond capitalism.

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