ESSAYS
on
The Society of HumanKind

  SCHISM

SUMMARY
An examination is made of the uses of history from the point of view of the Axioms. Using that perspective the possibility of schism within the Society is identified. How the Society can properly avoid, and if necessary resolve, that potentially catastrophic development is then discussed.

The concept that we are alone in the universe summarises the Axioms. They assert that there is no power or entity in the universe with any responsibility for or authority over humanity, or interest in our survival or progress. An important implication of that view is set out in the Treatise on Peace. There it is concluded that human history is a unique series of events with no inherent meaning or purpose. Consequently the Society of HumanKind will attach very little weight to the study of history as a guide to our future or as an authoritive source of solutions to our present problems. This is an outcome of an adoption of the Axioms that will cause predictable outrage in some quarters. Traditional academics may regard it as proof-positive of the sterility of the thinking on which the Society is based

Much of that reaction will however, be based on a misunderstanding of the position of the Society on this question. The Society does not say that there is nothing to be gained by the study of history. A re-reading of the Treatise on Culture will lay that myth. What it says, with the clarity and confidence of the Second and Third Axioms, is that an analysis of our past cannot lead to reliable long-term predictions about our future. The Society will be reinforced in that view by the observation that such an approach is not only mistaken, but has proven actually noxious. It has certainly underpinned some of our more pernicious social movements and theories.

What the Society will look for, and find, in the study of our past is not a guide to the future of ourselves or our universe, but a record of our past errors and mistakes. Its purpose in revisiting our histroy will be to try to work out how those mistakes were made in order to give ourselves an opportunity to avoid repeating them in the future. The view of the Society on the utility of history is then, that it can be a useful reservoir of experience from which we might distil wisdom to help us to deal with commonly occurring difficulties in our social life, or aid us to avoid them. We might for instance, reasonably hope to identify recurring problems that have arisen in our past, and then perhaps trace the courses of action that led us into those difficulties, or that were found to be useless in resolving them. In that negative sense the Society will regard the study of history as potentially very productive.

When that proper approach to the study of human history is applied to the development of human institutions similar to the Society of HumanKind it will identify a problem that has afflicted them all. Of schism. Of the tendency for the original single body of believers to break up into competing groups each claiming truly to represent the founding ideas. The chronicle of every great human ideology or religion seems to display that tendency, as well as giving horrifying descriptions of the sadistic cruelty that can result from it. The Society of HumanKind cannot realistically hope to be always totally free of the risk of an outbreak of that common human affliction.

It is even possible, by use of the device of an extreme example, to speculate on how schism may occur in the Society. We may imagine for example, that at some future date an event or development takes place that is so profound in its implications for our survival, or so widespread in its effects on the stability of our society, that it requires a response by the whole of humanity. The Treatise on the Philosophy of the Society of HumanKind and the Essay on the Authority of the World Council of Elders, both conclude that the Society has no means to impose a particular course of action on the Councils and Committees of the Society in these circumstances. Those bodies must be fully and properly consulted, and be allowed to develop and express their own view on the issue, before the supreme Council of Elders comes to pronounce authoritatively on it. The Essay goes on to argue that such pronouncements ought then to be regarded as binding and infallible by every member of the Society. However, no ultimate power to enforce such a decision is given to the supreme Council. To do so would be to contradict fundamentally the premise of uncertainty on which the Society must base both its teachings and its conduct.

In any event, by a consideration of the Principles 2.2 and 3.1 we may take it that any attempt to reach such a decision will be preceded by a wide-ranging debate involving the whole of the Society of HumanKind. Wisdom dictates that such a process should always be gone through, if time permits. All the abilities of our species and the whole of the power and potential of humanity can then be applied to the search for the best solution to the problem.

At the end of that process a decision by the supreme Council will have to be made. We may imagine for the sake of this example that it is not one with which all sections of the Society agree. If the question is one on which the survival of our species depends, and if those who disagree with the decision made on it are a significant number or are well organised and determined, it is not difficult to predict the outcome. A movement may arise within the Society composed of people who are sincerely convinced that their Duty requires them to overturn a decision that they see as a threat to the achievement of its Aim. In the age of absolute uncertainty inaugurated by the Society of HumanKind no external authority is available to adjudicate between the parties to the dispute. The outcome could well be a schism and a civil war within the Society in which each faction will see itself as the only true hope for humanity.

Can the Society avoid this disaster? How can a movement so dedicated to individual liberty and lack of central authority hope to cope with such a crisis? The reader may think that the answer lies in the Principle of Progress. It enjoins all members of the Society to avoid any action which would be disruptive of our social order. But disputes within the Society itself can be distinguished from the ambit of that Principle. All the parties can properly turn to the Principle 3.3 and claim that their action does not breach its rule that ' any form of social order that is consistent with the maintenance of the Conditions of the Dogma is permissible '. The negative form of that Principle, so important in other areas of our lives, nullifies any value it might have in dealing with this problem. It is to be hoped that, by custom and practice, the Principle will also be applied to the internal order of the Society. However, the Society will find it extremely difficult to extract from the Axioms and Dogma an explicit defence of that proposition compatible with its other teachings.

If the Principles provide no reliable solution, how can the Society hope to cope with the dangers of schism? Where is a preventative to be found? The key to the answer lies in the uncertainty that permeates the whole of the thinking of the 'Foundations'. Shine that light on our example and what do we see. We recognise the old enemy 'certainty' in the schismatics; the certainty that they are right and their opponents wrong. That they, and they alone, have reached the right conclusion, and that there can be no value or merit in the opposite view. If once the possibility of error enters their position the justification for their action collapses, and with it their schism.

A schism however, is a division with two sides, and both need to be certain if the split is to persist. It is true that schismatics need to commit the error of certainty. But so too do their opponents in the Society, including the members of its Councils and Committees and not excepting the Elders of the supreme Council if they are parties to the dispute, which they surely must be if the civil war described in this Essay is to break out. In the era of the Society of HumanKind two rights will make a wrong. It is as much incumbent on the Elders and Executives of the Society to display and profess uncertainty as it is on those who may disagree with their decisions. Indeed, by virtue of their privileged positions of power and influence, those who have responsibility in the Society are under a greater obligation than others to remain true to the Axioms under stresses that may confuse less well-informed and experienced folk.

It is not suggested however, that the defenders of the Society should simply capitulate to schismatics. To do their Duty they must confront them, but they must do so solely on the grounds of the universality of uncertainty. They should never rely on either the strength of their own beliefs, or on the authority of their position. To translate that prescription into practice, the only sure preventive of schism within the Society of HumanKind is for all parties to any profound or fundamental dispute within the Society to adopt the posture recommended in the Essay on Evangelism. All those involved in the disagreement should adopt the stance of the seeker after enlightenment hoping to be persuaded to the opposite view. No-one honestly entering a dispute with that attitude can emerge determined to destroy their opponent simply because a consensus has not yet been reached.

Which leaves one final problem to be resolved. How are we to ensure that schismatics, or potential schismatics, are drawn into a debate with the rest of the Society in the first place? The impulse to schism is surely compounded of powerfully held beliefs, together with a sincere conviction that the other side are so mistaken in their thinking that they cannot be convinced. Schismatics need to believe that others are incapable of understanding or accepting the argument being put forward.

It was for this, as well as for other reasons, that the Ordinances of the Society contain a specific provision to limit the power of higher Councils to direct or control the decisions of lower level bodies. That may seem at first blush to be a permanent invitation to schism. The actual effect however, should be that no decision on any major or important issue is reached without an exhaustive attempt having been made by every Council and Committee to come to a common agreement. That effort will create the opportunity for the prescriptions of this Essay to take effect.

In view of the importance of those provisions of the Ordinances, this is the right place to add that it will be wise for the Society to reinforce the formal procedures laid out in the Ordinances by the adoption of an invariable rule of practice. Every decision taken by the Society, no matter how apparently minor or mundane, should be subject to an attempt to create a consensus amongst those affected whenever time permits. The custom should also be that every contribution to any such discussion in the Councils and Committees of the Society is couched in the language of uncertainty, and prefaced by an acknowledgement of the authority of the supreme Council to determine finally, by the issue of a Credenda if necessary, any issue that cannot otherwise be resolved by compromise and a consensus.

In sum, only by the development of a lifelong preference for listening rather than for preaching; by a constant humble recognition of the unalterable fallibility of our species; and by an acceptance by all adherents of our inevitable uncertainty, will it be possible for the Society of HumanKind to avoid the traps and chasms of schism to which all its predecessors seem so prone.

 
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©Lawrence Thornton Roach
2000-2002 AD