For those readers who are familiar with Making Sense of Us, and perhaps even for some of you who have dipped only occasionally into this blog, it will come as no surprise that my overall purpose has consistently been to show how the manner in which we make our different kinds of sense itself affects the kind of sense we are able to make. What may be less apparent, though, is that I also believe (and want to convince you also) that it is possible to bring about a better world than the one we have so far participated in creating if we can better understand why we make the sense we do.
The world we all inhabit is one where each of us actively participates in "bringing something about," and yet at the same time is subject to what simply seems to "come about" independently of our actions or our wishes. It is not surprising, then, that in our experiencing of these two often countervailing processes, we often feel disempowered or helpless. I have also shown, I hope (!), that we have come to compensate for that sense of helplessness by creating surrogate satisfactions which, because they are surrogates, are both transitory and ineffective. It is, indeed, because they are ineffective and transitory that they so pervasively permeate our motives. Even further, some of those surrogate endeavours threaten not only our survival, but contribute to our victimization of one another.
Is there a better way of coming to terms with the ambivalencies, polarizations, incongruities, and indeed conflicts that seem to constitute the inevitable circumstances and character of our lives?
As many of you will know, I had no intention of opening up metaphysical concerns in my book. You will also know that I was led inexorably to the necessity of confronting them in my last chapter; inexorably, because awareness of those concerns emerged logically from my own arguments. If I was to accept the validity of my own arguments, my only choice was whether to confront the metaphysics, or to back off.
I should perhaps have been better prepared for that confrontation, since dealing with conflicts of belief in interpersonal relationships had constituted the focus of my professional activities for many years. Those activities were primarily of a pragmatic nature, as befitted the responsibilities of my various professional positions, but it was because of the insufficiencies of a purely pragmatic attitude towards the resolution of conflicts in both direct social work practice and in teaching that I eventually undertook the long commitment to write a book that would enable me to explore further the unacknowledged assumptions of my profession, and, indeed, of my species. Readers of the earlier "An Anniversary Moment" will have some idea of why I was so motivated.
Perhaps some of you will also remember that my moment of epiphany described in that post is best described as an encounter with the realization that humankind itself may be considered a "work in process", and thus requires a consideration of ourselves that does not easily accept the differentiation of our attitudes and activities into what we might call Darwinian competitive elements relevant to our survival, but sees them rather as mistaken polarities of attitude and belief, due to our failure to accord ourselves as a species a significant role in the evolution of the universe itself. In this view, all divisive religions, political systems, nationalities, ethnicities, occupations (in short, any identity-organising belief that denies the subjective logic of any other) have the potential to endanger not only our survival, but also our fulfillment as participants in a continuously evolving cosmos.
Whew! I don't know if you managed to survive those overly long sentences unscathed, but I'll save any fiddling with them until later. What I want to do right now is simply to emphasize that the sense we make by embracing antagonistic identities, and distracting ourselves from our ability to be potential resources to one another is indeed a fundamentally metaphysical concern. That is, it is not simply a utilitarian concern about survival, but rather a philosophical concern about purpose, meaning and value. Elsewhere I have commented on particular circumstances and events that have distracted us from that concern. All I want to say here (once more!) is that WE ALL MATTER. And we matter because we all produce effects.
In closing, I'd simply like to share a recent discovery. I have, because of some very useful recent conversations with a friend, returned to a more thorough consideration of the ideas of the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, who himself arrived at a preoccupation with matters metaphysical by a somewhat different route than I've described for myself above. Whitehead is for me the most significant metaphysical thinker of the past century. The whole field of enquiry of which Whitehead was himself arguably the prime modern initiator is the subject of the excellent article on "Process Philosophy" by Johanna Seibt in the on-line Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. That article, in my view, effectively establishes the context for all the ruminations I allowed myself to entertain in the above text. Dr. Seibt brilliantly analyzes the evolution of Process Philosophy from the era of Epictetus to that of our current scientific and "emergence"-preoccupied cosmological theories. I have rarely read a more lucid and compelling summary. It documents the importance of what may well come to be seen as the very revolution in our human awareness that enabled us to commit to the eternal greatness of which Whitehead spoke. Process philosophy makes better sense because it pays attention both to the manner in which the universe is bringing itself about and to the specifics of our own involvement in that process.
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