The Society of HumanKind
The absolute uncertainty of human knowledge is one of the more uncomfortable ideas in the first founding book of the Society of HumanKind, "Foundations". The Society and its adherents, and the beliefs that unite them, are not exempt from its disconcerting effects. Axiomatic uncertainty extends to every field of human enquiry. It must therefore apply to the founding ideas of the Society of HumanKind, requiring every member of the Society to accept and truly profess uncertainty about the validity of its Axioms, Dogma and Aim.
Reaction to that bald statement is predictable. In demanding that its believers accept and allow that its foundations may be false, the Society of HumanKind must surely be unique among all those systems of belief claiming to give meaning and purpose to human existence. This awkward difficulty for the Society was touched on at the beginning of the Treatise on Tolerance in “Foundations”, but that was neither the time nor the place to explore its full complexities. They will no longer be avoided.
The problem faced by the Society arises from the concept that encapsulates the Axioms; that we are alone. A major consequence of that chance view of our origins is the uncertainty of all human knowledge set out in the Treatise with that title. That absolute degree of uncertainty must leave open the possibility that the Axioms themselves are in error and that we may be, in fact, the product of some creative force or entity in the universe of which we are presently unaware due to the inadequacies of our attributes. The mere existence of that possibility, which is itself also a direct outcome of the premise on which the Society is built, is enough to throw doubt on the whole of the thinking of the founding books of the Society.
The difficulty can be expressed in the form of a paradox. The publication of the founding books of the Society can only be justified if the existence of a God who is responsible for our creation is rejected. Yet the ideas presented in them cannot be defended unless just such a possibility is allowed.
Logically, the necessity for adherents of the Society to profess a simultaneous belief in both the validity and the uncertainty of the foundation ideas of the Society arises because individuals can only make the decision to choose the Objective of the Dogma if they accept the Axioms. The latter must precede the former, for without a commitment to the Axioms the choice of the Dogma is not available. But the uncertainty of the Axioms is universal, and hence must apply to the possibility of achieving the Objective of the Dogma. Axiomatic uncertainty is therefore the price adherents of the Society must pay to gain the freedom to choose the Objective of the Dogma, and consequently the Aim of the Society, as the purpose of their lives.
The preceding discussion appears to leave the Society and its adherents unable to dispute or counter any of the many claims that have been made that there is a creative force or entity in the universe responsible for our existence and providing an afterlife for our species. Certainly, there is no basis in the Axioms on which such a possibility can be denied or disproved. By its own Principles, the Society will find great difficulty in even debating the issue with non-members since to do so would almost inevitably lead to a breach of the proscription against evangelism set out in the Treatise on Tolerance; a restriction on the behaviour of the Society which is also directly derived from its founding Axioms. In general therefore, the Society and its adherents should, as far as possible, avoid dispute or confrontation with non-members on such questions.
The more difficult and less avoidable problem to be faced by the Society in this respect will be internal. It can be directly put. Given the power of this counter argument, and its secure foundation on the Axioms, how can the Society convince its adherents and candidates that an acceptance of the Axioms and a consequent choice of the Objective of the Dogma and of its Aim, is preferable to, or in any way different from, a belief in a creative force or entity providing an inherent or predestined after-life for our species?
This is a multi-faceted, complex problem, lodged in the heart of the thinking which underpins the Society of HumanKind. Its solution for the Society begins by returning to the well of uncertainty discovered in the Treatise on Knowledge, and already heavily drawn upon in this Essay. That source allows the Society to deal with at least one aspect of this internal problem. In its internal debates on this issue the Society will commonly find that advocates or apologists for a belief in some form of a creator with a pre-destined or inherent afterlife for humanity will commit the error of certainty by rejecting the possibility that our lives might be meaninglessness and our death presently a finality. To the extent therefore, that those who hold or express such beliefs are guilty of certainty the Society will have grounds on which it can properly defend itself, particularly where the error is compounded with efforts to convince others of the truth of the view being put forward.
The usefulness of uncertainty in providing at least a partial method of dealing with these questions points the general way forward for the Society. It shows that the Society will find itself in difficulty on this issue only if it duplicates that error, and makes any sort of claim that it has discovered the ultimate truth of human existence, or seeks in any way to convince others, including its own members, to accept its beliefs. It has already been concluded that the Society must never be tempted into the error of advocacy or evangelism in its dealings with those outside the Society. That principle must also be applied to any internal discussion.
Any attempt to keep doubters or waverers within the fold of the Society by convincing them of the truth or validity of its founding beliefs will breach the principle of uncertainty. The Society will thereby fall into the very faults it should condemn in others. Those who wish to defend the Society may freely admit their belief in the Axioms and Dogma, and their commitment to the Aim, Duty and Responsibility of the Society. But they never can, nor ever should, claim that either they or the Society possess either truth or certainty in these matters. In sum, the Society will only get into the difficulties described at the beginning of this Essay if it allows itself to be drawn into an attempt to convince anyone, including its own adherents, of the truth of its ideas.
That conclusion has a further important implication for the Society. It is that the Society and all its members must forever forswear any active role in the process by which individuals reach, and confirm, the decision fully and unreservedly to accept its Aim, Duty and Responsibility. The Society and all its adherents must accept without reservation that each and every step required to join, and remain within, its ranks must be a wholly independent decision. Equally, prospective Candidates, Members and Elders must come to the Society entirely of their own volition.
The discipline which the Society of HumanKind must follow and enforce is two-fold First, to insist that each and every applicant for entry to its communion must have completed a strictly personal and private process of acceptance of the Axioms and choice of the Dogma before any discussion of the prospect of an affirmation of the Aim, Duty and Responsibility of the Society can take place. Second, that in its internal discussions and debates the Society should follow the same rule and preface or qualify every argument, proposition or contribution to debate with an acceptance of human uncertainty and fallibility. Since the validity of the founding ideas of the Society can never be demonstrated or proclaimed before the Aim of the Society is achieved, no Member or Elder should make any attempt to do so before that event.
Having thus established a defensible position on the existence or otherwise of a creative power or entity in our universe, and having incidentally clarified the process by which adherence to the Society may be achieved, it is possible to move on from that base to consider a further question. That of the attitude confirmed adherents should take toward those who, for one reason or another, cannot follow the steps required for admission to the Society, or who, having joined the Society, subsequently lose their faith in its Aim. For the sake of completeness it is also necessary to be clear about the attitude of adherents toward those who, because of their profound belief, not only cannot join the Society but actually attack it, its membership and its faith in the Axioms and Dogma and in its Aim.
What first emerges on these subjects from the earlier discussion is that we cannot defend the Society by any rejection of the beliefs of others, either about the world or the truth of the teachings of the Society, for that would be to assert a certainty about our own ideas which the Axioms disallow. Equally, the Society cannot say it is certain that its detractors are wrong in doubting or attacking it or its beliefs or teachings, for that would be to contradict its own Axiomatic base. Which may seem at first sight to leave the Society with little or nothing of any significance to say to unbelievers, detractors or assailants, and again put it in the position of being unable either to confront its opponent's beliefs or to defend its own. However, even here the Society is not entirely defenceless.
That defence must be based upon, and never forget, the need for the greatest care in the way in which the Society deals with detractors or assailants. It must always retain the posture of uncertainty required by its acceptance of the implications of the Axioms. But that does not mean that those who support the Society and its programme need be totally supine under attack. That would be untenable. Pursuit of the Aim of the Society is best served by the application of every available quality and attribute of our species to that endeavour over its infinite time scale. The more numerous the followers of the Dogma therefore, the more likely is the Aim of the Society to be achieved.
Fortunately, none of the restrictions on the actions and behaviour of the Society set out earlier in this Essay prevent it from exploring others beliefs, nor do they stop it from playing the clear light of the Axioms on the inconsistencies or inaccuracy of any ideas it, or its adherents, may encounter. Neither of those actions amounts to an attempt to impose its views on others.
Equally, nothing in the foregoing discussion prevents the Society from promoting itself by adopting the policy described in the Foreword to the first founding book; that is, one of passive self-publicity. The foundation ideas of the Society present no obstacle to a policy of making its message readily accessible by all members of humanity at all times and in all circumstances, so that they may find it if they care to take the least effort to look. That stance has the strictly limited objective of making sure that the Aim of the Society is included in the range of ideas humanity has before it whenever, and if ever, it comes to make a choice of the meaning and purpose of human life. Beyond that, adherents of the Society can then only always be prepared to answer openly and honestly all and any questions about its teachings from whatever source they may arise.
Thankfully, adoption of that stance does not imply that the Society will be bound always to listen to attempts to persuade it to abandon it own ideas, or adopt those of others. Just as it will respect the freedom of every individual follow their own faiths and beliefs, so will it expect to be allowed to live by its Axioms, Dogma and Principles. But under no circumstances should exchanges on these issues degenerate into active attempts to persuade anyone either to abandon their present beliefs or to join or remain within the Society, nor should any individual be put under any pressure to do so. That may make the development and progress of the Society slower than it might otherwise have been, but so be it. Given the infinite time scale of the Conditions of the Dogma that is a matter of little consequence. It may even be a surer and safer approach to the pursuit to the Aim of the Society.
When others press their contrary views, defenders of the Society can only listen with the humility of the uncertain, which requires the hearer to hope and expect to be persuaded by the speaker. That may be a hard discipline to follow, but the Society may comfort itself with the hope that it might thereby finally teach humanity that the road to knowledge and salvation is not to be found in any strident evangelism, but only in a quiet, modest and tolerant search for wisdom and understanding.
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