Lights Out clip, followed by the approach of Mars by Holst.
If, as claimed by humanism, man were born only to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to death, his task on earth evidently must be more spiritual: not a total engrossment in everyday life, not the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then their carefree consumption. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one’s life journey may become above all an experience of moral growth: to leave life a better human being than one started it.
This is from Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in his infamous Harvard address of 1978, a speech that shocked the bejeebers out of Western cultural elites. How dare Solzhenitsyn mention truth, veritas! How could he imply that we were not marching forward, but falling backwards into spiritual sickness! Spiritual health more important than materialistic wealth? Madness! (Links to speech: pdf, video.)
As rich as that speech is, we take here only one element from it, the truth that man is partly a spiritual being.
One day there was on this earth a creature that was not here the day before. Man. Everyone, from pagan to Christian to scidolator agrees with this. Man was different than any other life form. Man was a rational being.
Now what it means to be rational is this: to exercise will and intellect. Those parts of us that have this power are not material, which is to say, they are not made of stuff, material or energy. They are incorporeal, immaterial. This means that evolution, by whatever physical mechanism it is said to work, could not have produced these powers. Why? Because there was no stuff upon which to make purchase, and therefore no environmental “pressure” could manipulate or create these higher functions. This is also proof, incidentally, that we are not a “simulation” inside some giant computer, which has implications we’ll see and which is necessarily physical (even quantum objects—forces, fields and particles—are physical).
Will and intellect exist, as proved by your eyes scanning these words and understanding or comprehending their meaning, by seizing the concepts behind them rationally. Since these powers exist, they are actual, and therefore they must have been made actual by something—but not something physical.
Well, the “where from” answer is obvious. They came from God (see this series for proof). That fact has consequences which we obliged to understand. We’ll not be able to do that here, except by gross hints.
BBC Radio clip.
That’s point one. Point two is that the physical stuff that does exist also had to come from somewhere. It could not have come from nothing, which is defined as the complete and utter absence of anything. Again, the explanation, without proof given, is God. Another fact, more consequences.
Scientists take the material existence as given, and biologists take the stuff of which we are made as given, and both attempt, with greater and lesser success, to understand how this stuff works. These scientists are powerless to explain the Big Question of Why, however; they are forever silent on the nature, the essence, of the non-material, which, as I said, comprises the most important parts of us and the universe. Only philosophy and theology can answer Why.
That being so, if we’re to grasp where we came from and where we are going, we need to develop a philosophy or theology of history. The science of history is taken care of by physicists (and biologists). Scientists start with what is, posit working rules, and then guess what might happen. They are not always right, but, and this point is incidental, their confidence in their ability is never shaken by failure. Scientists have egos larger than actors. In any case, the theorems and predictions of science help on the peripheries our of philosophy of history, but they cannot provide everything.
What else have we going for us, to inform our new philosophy? History itself. We have a long record of what has happened, more or less complete and more and less biased. Does it appear from this record that things just happen, that history is one damned thing after another? Or is there a direction to events? If there is a direction, why? And pointing to what?
History can’t even be written without reference to a theory, and theories imply direction. If you want to write history, what time scale do you pick? What to include, what to exclude? What scope? Why these events and not those? And always there is contrast with now and with where the author expects mankind to go.
Prove this to yourself. You want to write about World War II. What is that, exactly? When did it really start? Stalin ruled Russia. How far back do you go in explaining this? Marx? Well, would there have been a Marx—in what sense does that question make sense?—without a Kant and Hegel (the first progressive?)? If not, how far back before Kant do we go? And so on and on and on. Editorial, i.e. theoretical, decisions are inevitable. Removing anachronisms, i.e. theories, is all but impossible. And it should be by now obvious that writing history logically implies that human nature exists, which means it must be understood properly to write proper history.
It is propaganda of the so-called Enlightenment that only in the 17th century did we as a race realize that mankind was could progress. Yet it was then that progress took on its modern connotation of something desirable, or good. That we could progress towards an undesirable goal is now unthinkable. Did we not recently have a popular slogan “Change we can believe in”? Those touting it had no awareness that “change”, in their hands, could be negative. To progress is entirely positive.
BBC Radio 4 clip.
What are the large threads that run through history? There is no way to summarize everything that happened here, but what is at least plain to everybody? At one point there were very many fewer of us, indeed only one, and perforce located in only one spot, and now there are many of us and spread everywhere. That is progress in a positive sense, if you cherish people. It’s curious, and important, that it is not seen a progress by those who aren’t fond of people.
Man was, when fewer in number, much more tribal than now (for obvious reasons of geology and technology, if nothing else). People never got along, but now we have acquired ways of killing each other with extraordinary efficiency. The beliefs we held have changed. When there were fewer of us (at any one time; so far there have been about 100 billion of us), a greater majority believed in the non-material aspects of ourselves and of the universe. These beliefs varied more, too, but then we were, as said, more tribal.
Now that there are many of us, the belief in ultimate Reality (immateriality) is fading. This is strange because we have also, over the last 100 years or so, developed better and more efficient capabilities to learn. Despite these tools, we are becoming more ignorant. Six, seven thousand years ago a man would watch the course of the sun through the sky and suppose a god had carried it. We have “progressed” to the point where we scoff at this man, and say only “blind” physics is needed to account for the movement. But this ancient man had it over us, because he was at least aware, as today’s man is not, that physics is no explanation at all for the Why of the thing. The ancient man at least tried to answer that most important question of spirituality. Modern man says the question isn’t even legitimate. How odd it is!
Here’s another point of change. Long ago, man viewed mankind itself as a given. That is, he took men as he found them. He explained the reason for man and his nature on the caprices of gods, whose designs were unfathomable and quixotic, to say the least. These answers, good or bad, recognized the existence of a fixed human nature and were at least aimed in the right direction. Our ancestors knew there had to be ultimate spiritual answers.
The melancholy view of man’s purpose was modified by people of The Book (we won’t argue here the entry requirements for these people), who, like pagans, took human nature for granted. With pagans, Book people recognized man’s corrupt and unfixable state. The advance was that Book people understood God, and not the gods, was the answer to the Big Questions. More than any before, these people looked forward to the time after this physical existence, and ordered their lives accordingly—though not, given our faults, altogether successfully.
Finally we reach the “present”, which is that which happened “yesterday.” A large portion of us believe that perfection is possible, that, as said, directed progress (by the enlightened) is always good, that the answer to all questions ultimately is Man himself. Perfection can be reached, and will! But only after those that cling to the older beliefs are, to put it as bluntly as is felt in the hearts of modern man, eliminated. Those that can’t be educated in the new way must be shunned. These living artifacts—they are cursed as “medieval”—are holding back man’s true potential that bridles to be set free.
If you are a modern, you see history as one steady uphill struggle, starting from the muck, slogging upwards through a moral thicket, shedding prejudice after prejudice. It’s a guess, but I’d say most moderns imagine they can see the peak just ahead, perhaps not reachable in their lifetime, but soon, soon. Moderns have a sense mankind is evolving into a superior being. In science fiction, this being is portrayed as an entity composed of “pure” energy, or the like (energy is material, however). This advanced being is a creature that does not suffer our bodily woes and has advanced beyond our cares and hates.
What makes this weird is that the modern, when he watches or reads these myths, feels he is taking part in a grand scheme, that he will and now shares in this future being’s greatness. Interestingly, in these stories what happens after the grand transformation is never spoken of. This isn’t necessarily a failing. How can an imperfect man describe perfection except imperfectly? Beings of pure energy needn’t be free form. Another form of the myth imagines “we” will be “uploaded” into some computer (who fixes it when it breaks?). The same theme of bodily limitations left behind is found, and the same notion of eternal life embraced.
National Lampoon clip.
If you are one of the remnant (i.e., people of The Book) that believes in Reality, you see history as a sort of large foothill, progressing from despair and hopelessness to an intermediate pinnacle of recognizing our true selves, our True Nature, and then comes a falling off into a deep valley of the grandest hubris that can be imagined. You see that not only can mankind not be perfected, but that all attempts to make him so will be destructive and lead to an apocalypse.
After the valley, history stops. Yet beyond this valley is a far off peak from which no descent will be possible. At that apex is found some of the same benefits Perfectionists envision. Surcease of sorrow, elimination of bodily limitation and illness, eternal life. And a realization of life with the central blot of man’s nature removed; a new heaven and a new earth populated by not new men, but men restored.
You see, then, that everybody has a philosophy and theology of history. Theodicy and eschatology are not only for the religious. Nobody really believes, at least for very long, that events “just happen.” Both groups, Perfectionists and Realists, look forward towards a great future. It’s that amazing! Yet the Perfectionists would reach their goal by turning inward and ignoring Reality, which is why they won’t make it. Reality is intrusive and insistent. Incorporeal intellect, for instance, cannot be uploaded into a machine—how could it? Our blighted nature can only truly be corrected by forces beyond, or rather outside, man’s control and outside material things.
Perfectionists and Realists envision an end. Timing? I haven’t the slightest idea. Both sides have advocates who try and rush The End, and both groups are in turn overly optimistic and overly pessimistic. The goal is said always to be in sight. Predictions fail, like with scientists, but it never stops anybody from making new ones. Whichever way you pick, history will come to an end.