The Society of HumanKind
In the uncertain world of the Axioms it may seem that the age-old distinction between vice and virtue cannot be maintained. The Principles 1.3 and 2.2 require the Society of HumanKind to regard every aspect of the human character and all its qualities as equally valuable. How then can it make any distinction between those activities, pursuits or pleasures that are 'right' and those that are 'wrong'?
Elsewhere in the founding books of the Society the achievement of its Aim is used as a measure of human conduct. However, the Treatise on the Individual concludes that, prior to our reunification following our escape from death, the Society cannot definitely say which actions or attributes of humanity contribute to the achievement of the Aim of the Society, and which detract from it. Such judgements can only properly be made after, and not at any moment before the apocalypse of our translation into immortals.
Which seems to leave the Society with no means or measure to pass judgement on the actions or behaviour of any of its living adherents and followers. Specifically, the problem facing the Society is that the Principle 2.2 appears to preclude it, during its mortal era, from the condemnation or suppression of any form of behaviour by any individual, either among its own adherents or humanity in general.
Predecessors of the Society had the advantage of an external source of authority in dealing with this problem, if only the laws of history or some other form of predestination for humanity. They were able to draw upon that authority to justify their categorisation of human behaviour into either vice or virtue. No such unearthly measure is available to the Society.
The Society cannot avoid or ignore this difficulty. If it is to pursue its Aim it must make day-to-day decisions about which aspects of human behaviour it will encourage and which it will condemn. The preceding discussion has established that it must do so without the hindsight that the achievement of its Aim will provide. Such judgements will also be subject to the Axiomatic uncertainty about the infinite consequences of any of our moral, or indeed other, decisions set out in the Treatise on Knowledge. How is it possible for the Society to maintain any distinction between virtue and vice?
Yet it is bound to find itself required to so. No-one can believe that vice and virtue will vanish from the world merely on the appearance of the Society. Nor will the need to make moral judgements disappear from the same cause. So, despite the apparent impossibility of doing so, the Society must find some way to make and apply such judgements both to its adherents and to others.
A search for a solution to this vexatious difficulty starts from a recognition that the problems faced by the Society arise because the Axioms remove all moral authority from the universe. They then prevent the Society from putting itself in place of that lost authority, by removing all certainty from human judgement. But those same Axioms also present the Society with an opportunity.
Because the Society can justly claim that the Axioms leave it free of any obligation to fill the role of a moral authority, and prevent it from pretending that it, or any other human institution, has the right or the power to prescribe the moral conduct of individuals. Unlike its predecessors therefore, the Society is left free by its founding ideas to reject any suggestion that it should be the maker and enforcer of moral rules. With that liberty it can then plunge headlong into the relativism so feared by moral philosophers and others. With the freedom granted by the Axioms the Society is able to choose not to follow the practice of its predecessors, and refuse to put itself in the position of rule-maker or model in moral matters. Rather it can be, and is, the judge or arbitrator of the moral decisions made by its individual adherents and others.
In that new role the Society of HumanKind aims to avoid, wherever possible, any general pronouncement on the proper moral conduct of individuals. Instead it requires those who advocate any particular action or pattern of behaviour to show that it contributes to the achievement of the Objective of the Dogma and/or its Aim. If no such prime facie defence can be established, then the Society begins with the presumption that the behaviour should be condemned. Not because it has reached any judgement on what damage might be caused to the achievement of its Aim, since, as has already been concluded in this Essay and elsewhere, the Axioms remove all means finally to assess that issue. But because from its base in the Axioms it is able to say that a claim to a virtuous life can only be made where an individual devotes the whole of his time, and all of his skill and knowledge to a faithful attempt to pursue of the Objective of the Dogma and the Aim of the Society.
In the era of the Society of HumanKind, virtue is therefore found in a sincere, whole-hearted and full time devotion and commitment to the Objective of the Dogma and its Aim. To the extent that any conduct or pattern of life deviates or detracts from that total devotion to the welfare of the human species, the Society can properly judge it to be vice, and treat it as such.
Clearly, in an imperfect and uncertain world such judgements should be tempered with both caution and compassion. Debate and discussion on the propriety or otherwise of any proposed or actual behaviour might lead to the conclusion that any damage caused to the Conditions of the Dogma is likely to be marginal, and is more than compensated by other beneficial effects; for example, in the maintenance of our social order, in the growth of our skills and knowledge, or elsewhere in our social or intellectual life. There is a great benefit in allowing an element of fluidity on issues of vice and virtue in the era of the Society. It opens up the possibility, to put it no higher, that indulgences in some pleasures which fall short of its strict measure of virtue, may nevertheless meet with the tacit approval of the Society.
However, any approval given to any of our pursuits or pleasures by the Society must depend upon good evidence that, in sum, any harm they do is judged to be more than compensated by the contribution they make. As a final note, it will be rare that any such generally applicable judgements will be reached. If so, they should be the subject of a Credenda issued by the World Council of Elders.
The strands of the somewhat complex discussion of this Essay can now be drawn together into a general rule for the practice of the Society in these matters. The Society will not seek to establish itself as an authority on questions of vice and virtue. Nor will it impose a rigid conformity on its followers in these matters. In the era of the Society individuals will take responsibility for their own standards of conduct.
They will however, have to convince their neighbours, through open debate and discussion within the normal framework of decision-making within the Society, that their behaviour is compatible with the Aim, Duty and Responsibility of the Society. If they fail to do so, they may properly be judged to be vicious. That stance of the Society on these issues has a further benefit. Every aspect of human behaviour, including those claiming to be the most obviously virtuous, will be open to this process of continuous scrutiny and justification.
The Axioms and the Dogma transform questions of vice and virtue. In the era of the Society each and every individual will assume personal responsibility for their own moral actions and decisions. The Treatise on Morality makes that inescapable burden clear. The role of the Society will not be to decide questions of individual morality. Its task will be to consider whether or not it should, as a body, accept or reject justifications of a particular moral decision, or pattern of behaviour, put forward by its proponents. The result may be a Credenda on the subject where the World Council of Elders judges, and whole Society concurs, that that action is necessary for the better preservation of the Conditions of the Dogma and the pursuit of its Aim.
Membership of the Society will impose a harsh and unrewarding self-discipline in these matters. Even after the full establishment of the Society, and the creation of formal structures to aid in these decisions, that burden will be onerous. Every individual adherent of the Society in each generation will be left with the task of choosing which standards of conduct they are to adopt, and of justifying that choice. They will also be called upon to judge the present conduct of their fellows against the criteria of the maintenance of the Conditions of the Dogma and the achievement of the Aim of the Society in the uncertain world of the Axioms. As is repeatedly said, here in these Essays and elsewhere, the Axioms and Dogma are no panacea for the social and moral problems of humanity. They only provide a base on which we can build a new meaning and purpose for our existence.
Despite all the complexities and uncertainties set out this Essay, vice can be distinguished from virtue by an application of the Axioms, Dogma and Principles. The fundamental method used is one familiar in earlier ideologies. It is to identify the purpose and motivation of any action or decision, and then to judge what its effect is likely to be. Neither an acceptance of the Axioms nor the choice of the Dogma, nor even the emergence of the Society of HumanKind will remove good and evil from the world. The meaning of those words will change, but humanity will still need to find ways to make the distinction.
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