The Society of HumanKind
The first founding book of the Society, 'Foundations', makes frequent reference to the uncertainty of our knowledge. Any new reader of that book quickly learns that a choice of the Axioms removes the basis for the common, and previously largely unquestioned, belief that there is some necessary connection between the five senses of our species, our mental capacity to make use of those senses, and the structure and nature of our universe. That view forms no part of the thinking of the Society.
The position of the Society of HumanKind on such issues rests on the universal uncertainty created by the Axioms, as it is set out in the Treatise on Knowledge. The Society holds that an acceptance of the Axioms leaves our species with no certain basis for any of our beliefs or understandings, either about ourselves or any aspect of our environment. That is a conclusion which must, perforce, apply to any views we may have on the truth, nature or extent of any aspect of human knowledge, or its connection, if any, with the universe we inhabit.
The introductory part of this Essay can now be concluded by adding that the view of the Society on these issues does not rely solely on the arguments set out here, or elsewhere in these founding writings. We may find confirmation of these conclusions in the record of our past, where there is a mass of additional support for the general proposition that there is no necessary connection between our universe and our capacity to understand it. The history of science, for example, is littered with a vast debris of nonsense that, in its time, claimed the status of revealed and unalterable truth. Indeed, the progress of scientific knowledge can be (and has been) described as a continual process of demolishing existing orthodoxy in order to replace it with another, in a never-ending stream of discredited certainties. In the light of that record, how can we regard any of our present understanding of any aspect of our universe as being in any sense certain or unchangeable?
We are now able to broach the main theme of this Essay. The preceding argument; the conclusion of Treatise on Knowledge; and a recognition of our past errors, all lead to the conclusion that we can never be certain that we have finally reached any ultimately reliable understanding of any aspect of ourselves or our universe. The problem with that conclusion, which will now be discussed, is that the Society of HumanKind is not exempt from it. It also has, and can have, no indubitable basis for its views and conclusions about the natural and social processes of our universe on which, by its own Principles, its decisions about what ought to be done to ensure the infinite survival and progress of humanity depend.
Yet if it is to pursue its Aim the Society of HumanKind must, from time to time, make just such decisions. In particular, it must occasionally find itself having to decide what now needs to be done to maintain the Conditions of the Dogma. In the conditions of absolute uncertainty created by the Axioms, how is the Society to make a choice between the differing solutions likely to be offered to the complex problems it will then face? The preceding discussion seems to leave the Society with no authoritative means to settle such disagreements should they arise within its ranks, yet we can all readily predict that these kinds of dispute are bound to occur, and that they are likely to be heated. This is clearly a complex, formidable and continuing problem for the Society.
The first part of the answer to this difficulty may be found in the Treatises on Justice; in the Constitution of the Society of HumanKind; and, in the Discourse of the first founding book. In all those places the point is made that certainty is not a necessary condition for human decision. The fallibility of our species, recognised in the Treatise on Knowledge, is such that there must, and must always be, room for the possibility of error in all our judgements, even the most confident.
The first and perhaps most fundamental change brought about by the Axioms therefore, is to remove from the minds of those seeking to solve our major social and moral problems any anxiety they may feel that they are required to achieve certainty in their decision making. On the other hand it should also be remembered that the first founding book contains another equally strongly argued point. Our uncertainty is also the very best reason for our taking the greatest pains to ensure that our decisions, especially those which are important to us, are as sound as we can make them.
Where therefore, consensus and agreement needs to be reached on how the Society is to solve the problems of our survival and progress, and so preserve the possibility of our achieving the Objective of the Dogma, the Society's first and most important step must be to ensure that the best abilities of the whole living generation are applied to the task. Then we can at least be sure in an uncertain universe, that we have given ourselves the best possible chance of choosing the right road. That process must be applied with special diligence where such decisions need to be unanimous; where, for instance, concerted action (or forbearance) by the whole of humanity is necessary for success. This is an idea encapsulated in the Principle 3.1. Regrettably however, this is not the end of the difficulties faced by the Society when it needs to bring about a consensus in our social and moral life.
The reason is that the Society is also under an obligation never to prevent or suppress disagreement within its ranks. Any such action would contravene the Principle 2.2, which requires the Society to encourage and promote diversity of opinion and belief where it exists among its adherents. In addition, for very good reasons also arising from the Axiomatic uncertainty of our knowledge, the second Ordinance precludes any higher body of the Society from imposing a requirement to take action on a lower level committee or council.
It would appear then, that this Essay has now reached a point in the development of its theme where it has been discovered that if the Society is unable to reach a consensus in a particular case when concerted action is necessary in order to preserve its chance of achieving the Objective of the Dogma, it seems to have no means or authority to impose a decision on its membership. Yet just such a power is indispensable if the Society is to have any hope of achieving its Aim.
Clearly, if the Society it is to discharge its Duty and Responsibility both to its adherents and all humankind it must find a way out of this impasse, without contravening its founding ideas. From the preceding discussion it is apparent that where all efforts at consensus fail, the Society must have, somewhere within its structure, a final residual method of producing authoritative pronouncements on issues that vitally affect the achievement of its Aim.
The search for a solution to the problems revealed and examined in this Essay therefore turns to the structure of the Society as it is set out in its Ordinances. In that connection the significance of the second Ordinance becomes immediately apparent. Its restriction on the power of higher levels to impose their will on subordinate bodies within the Society means that if any generally applicable pronouncements or decisions are to be made by the Society they cannot simply be imposed by fiat from above. They must be matched by a willing acceptance in every part of the membership, including all disputants, to subordinate personal views and opinions, no matter how strongly held, to an obligation to abide by such decisions.
But where, within the structure of the Society, ought such impasse-breaking pronouncements or decisions originate? Given the conclusions reached in this Essay and the broad philosophy of the Society, there can be no better candidate for that difficult role of final arbitrator of critical disputes than the highest Council of Elders, particularly since the Ordinances make no provision for any form of appeal against its pronouncements and decisions.
If therefore, the Society and its adherents are to be true to its Aim, Duty and Responsibility, a pronouncement by the supreme Council of Elders on what it approves as being universally necessary to the maintenance of the Conditions of the Dogma in the circumstances then obtaining should be accepted as binding and authoritative on the subject by every adherent of the Society. That will be so despite the effect which an acceptance of the Axioms and choice of the Dogma has on adherents. All will know that the supreme Council of the Society, like each and every member, can be in error or be wrong. If however, the word infallible is to have any application to merely human judgement in the uncertain world of the Axioms such pronouncements by the highest Council of Elders are the only ones which can properly claim that status. Not because they are so, but because our need for unity on which our survival and progress may depend makes them so.
The reasoning deployed in this Essay is the foundation for the one provision in the Ordinances of the Society of HumanKind that confers authority on any part of its structure. Our unavoidable need to reach consensus even where irreconcilable differences within the Society persist, is the reason for the provision set out in the third Ordinance. The supreme Council of Elders is there given sole authority to approve and issue texts setting out the Duty and Responsibility of the Society and its adherents in circumstances where the proper course of action is unclear; is in dispute; or cannot otherwise be decided.
That power should not be used to specify or interpret the Aim of the Society, for that statement of purpose is merely an expression of the Dogma as it is extended to provide for an individual and personal salvation. But the supreme Council should have the final say in the continuing process of defining how adherents of the Society should conduct themselves when action or forbearance by the mass of human kind is required in order to maintain the Conditions of the Dogma.
As might be expected in the uncertain world created by the Axioms, the power given to the supreme Council by the third Ordinance should not be exercised lightly, nor applied more generally than absolutely necessary. The Ordinance requires that any decision to issue a Credenda should follow from a formal request from a Council of Elders; relate to specific circumstances; and be subject to consultation with every Council of the Society. That ought to prevent any World Council from improperly using the issue of Credenda as a means to impose its will on the Society, by purporting to set universal or binding precedents for future generations.
It is the duty therefore, of each generation of the supreme Council to publish, distribute and then constantly review and re-examine the authorised Credenda of the Society. It should always ensure that they remain appropriate to the circumstances of their time, and cover all those issues currently in need of a consensus of all humanity. It is equally important however, that every Member and Elder should contribute to this activity. The World Council should therefore, seek to create conditions in which every adherent of the Society is able to submit proposals or texts on the proper response of the Society to the issues of the day, through their local Council of Elders.
But for all the good reasons set out here, approval and promulgation of any necessary changes in either the body or content of the authorised texts which constitute the Credenda of the Society, can only rest with the supreme Council. All adherents should recognise, and faithfully acknowledge, an overriding obligation to assist the supreme Council in reaching such a consensus, coupled with a willing acceptance of whatever decision is reached.
The wonder is that anyone would be prepared to take any part in making such momentous judgements. That is why every member of all the Councils and Committees of the Society, and particularly those who have emerged from its many levels of election to membership of its highest Council, and to the awesome responsibilities of that body, deserve and should always enjoy, our respect, our deference and our loyalty.
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