cogito ergo sum


The Phenomenon of Existence (part4)

By Will Baker


Of Consciousness and Collective Existentialism

As I’ve said before, it seems to me that we separate and distinct existential units have a need, as Maslow put it, for "a sense of belonging" that compels us to organize ourselves into political units. I further believe history has shown that over time these units become larger and larger, for example, bands of hunter-gatherers organize themselves into clans, then into confederations of clans. Or more recently, colonies into United States, or individual sovereign states into a Union (the European Union). And of course there was the League of Nations that morphed into the United Nations. Is it possible that this progression, this march towards globalism demonstrates a conscious will of the Collective and if so, towards what end?

When I look at the history of humanity it seems to me that the enabling factor relative to our propensity towards organizing ourselves into larger and larger units might have its basis in the manner in which we develop and apply technology. For example, the Romans were perhaps the greatest road builders ever -some of their construction projects, now thousands of years old are still in use today. However, even though the main purpose of those roads was to facilitate military mobility and trade, their construction had an interesting unintended consequence, they facilitated the exchange of ideas over a wide geographic area. And I would argue that the free flow of these ideas transformed the societies of the day as much, if not more so than the benefits that accrued as a result of the primary purposes of their construction. Now, as I previously noted, I would argue that societal transformation that occurs as a result of motivations such as increasing military mobility or fostering trade would be considered Convenience Transformations, but what of the transformation that arose out of the free flow of ideas? Well, since the ideas that were exchanged were philosophical in nature, I would argue that any transformation that occurred as a result would be Morality Transformations (Christianity, Buddhism and Islam spread over those roads).

But let’s look to a more recent example of this dynamic. One could argue that the invention of the printing press played a direct role in making the so-called "Age of Enlightenment" possible. Although there is some debate regarding the long-term impact of this interesting period in history, no one can deny that it resulted in the global spread of some ideas. For example, prior to the Enlightenment, it was a commonly held belief that the individual was born into his or her "station" in life, and was compelled to reside there for the rest of his or her time on earth. But after the Enlightenment, the idea arose that no matter what one’s circumstance at birth, change was available. This idea has spread to the four-corners of the globe. Sure we still have despots that rule in some places, however they are now compelled to at least pay lip service to the idea that they rule for the common good. Another notion that came out of the Enlightenment was the idea of religious tolerance, an idea that again, is now widely held. Of course as with the example in the paragraph above, we could cite societal transformation relating to the Enlightenment that had its basis in convenience and morality (deficiency and growth needs) -- the main point is that these are both examples of societal transformation that had some global impact.

But as it relates to transformation, what is the distinction between a given society and the broader Collective? Let’s look to Maslow’s ideas for our answer. According to the philosophical system I am articulating, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can be related to society as well as the individual. Now as I previously explained, Maslow indicated that Deficiency Needs must be met, one after the other before Growth Needs can be resolved. And I indicated my belief that societal transformation that occurs as a result of Convenience is related to the satisfaction of what Maslow would refer to, as Deficiency Needs. It seems to me therefore, that when a given society has satisfied its "Deficiency Needs" and has experienced Transformation based on Convenience, just as with the individual, the next order of business is the resolution of Growth Needs. And as it relates to a given society, I would argue that when transformation occurs, as a result of the satisfaction of Growth Needs this could be characterized as Morality Based Transformation. Maslow’s penultimate Growth Need is actualization, second only to transcendence. I believe that when a society becomes actualized its transcendence may reside within the creation of a greater Collective.

Yet some might ask" but how do you explain the apparent lack of a global collective in our day?" This is a fair question and I believe that the answer is all around us. Never before in the history of mankind have the poor and politically disenfranchised been treated better (e.g. women, minorities and children). There are now so many writers and musicians among us they can not all be employed. And for the most part this is a global phenomenon. I will readily stipulate that humankind’s advancement has been a case of two steps forward and one step back, but advance we have. And I believe that due to our sometimes-limited perspectives, we fail to see the progress that surrounds us.

The retort to this might be "well then how would this collective not supercede religion, and culture?" To which I would reply, it does. It seems to me the examples I provided in the paragraphs above speak to it, but there are other examples that are readily available. For instance, in 1969 I and millions of my sisters and brothers around the globe watched live televised images of a human being walking on the lunar landscape. President Nixon spoke to Neil Armstrong and his crew while they were on the moon and he said, "for one shining moment the people of the Earth are united as one." He was right. When we say, we put a man on the moon, the "we" does not refer to America only, but to all the peoples of the world.

But back to the question I posed at the beginning of this Part regarding a conscious will of the Collective. It seems to me that just as the individual has a Need to become actualized and to transcend, so do societies, and the greater Collective might be the ultimate expression of societal transcendence. Therefore, it seems to me that it could be said that the Collective is born from societal transcendence --the development of the Essence of the Collective, with a sort of consciousness (read: group-think, or the attributes of the Collective) that develops thereafter.

Part 5: A Universal Collective (the door isn't closed)



 (Essay Collection)