Let these first words act as fair warning. This book, like its companion volume of Essays, will not be easily read or comprehended. Neither is so intended. Those who are determined to venture further should brace themselves accordingly.
The origins of this book lie in my youthful loss of faith in the God of my childhood. Its genesis however, came in midlife, with the realisation that all my early dreams and ambitions have been achieved, abandoned, or had otherwise faded into impossibility. It was a moment of awakening that exposed the consequences of my lack of any faith. I felt a growing unease at the prospect of entering the last part of my life without any satisfactory understanding of its purpose or meaning. At first that condition was tolerable since it was endemic among my contemporaries. In time however, it had an unwonted impact, bringing about a total collapse in the vague and rough hewn amorality that had served well enough to carry me through a busy and successful life. And so I found myself in midlife in a quandary about the meaning and purpose of my life and with no firm base for any of my moral decisions.
The struggle with those problems eventually brought me to realise that the source of my difficulties lay in my failure to replace the God with whom I had been raised. Without Him or his substitutes I was left alone and unaided to face a growing number of increasingly sharp, disturbing and hitherto ignored perplexities and insecurities. How could I praise good and condemn evil? On what basis could I order my own behaviour or judge that of others? Worst of all, how could I face and accept the certainty and finality of death, an issue that increased in importance as I grew older. My inability to accept divine providence, or for that matter any other form of human predestination, left me at what should have been the prime of my self-confidence with a tangle of unsettling questions and doubts. I could not ignore them, and they would not go away.
Many individuals and organisations offered to lead me out of my troubles. In the main I was urged to put myself and my doubts in the hands of others, and accept their particular explanation for the existence and purpose of humanity and its environment. The problem with all those prophets and self-proclaimed saviours of humankind was that they used the same arguments to support different, incompatible, and indeed occasionally mutually hostile, solutions to the problems of the human condition. They were also too quick to see my puzzlement and distress as a weakness to be exploited, and as an illness that only their particular gods or theories could cure.
In the end, it was the very vehemence of the claims made by the proponents of those belief systems to sole possession of the truth, and their consequent open antagonism toward other explanations of the meaning and purpose of human existence, that finally pointed me in the right direction. Their often bitter rivalries drove me through and away from faith in any existing religion or system of belief. In my consequent wanderings I came to recognise that the passion and militancy of many of these beliefs, sects and movements was at the root of those very features of my world which had first sapped my faith in my God; the violence, hatred, intolerance, selfishness and confusion I saw around me.
In those same travels however, I also discovered that, in their many differing ways, all those competing belief systems offered much more than simply an answer to the kind of question which so troubled my mid-life. I realised that they played a vital role in meeting a deep yet immediate need in the human species, and one that I recognised in myself. I mean a need to belong. I found within me, and came to recognise in others, a deep ache to be an accepted part of a stable, protective and continuing human community in which the purpose of our lives and the rules and standards of moral and social conduct are known and predictable, and in which each of us can find a secure and welcoming place.
The power of that hunger for the safe company of other members of humankind, that almost irresistible communal impulse of our species, came as unexpected jolt. I had begun my search for a replacement for the God of my childhood by rejecting the community in which I had been raised. But by separating myself from it I discovered the depth and strength of my dependence on the society of others of my kind. From that grain of wisdom grew a realisation that only as a social being can any individual hope to reach beyond the compass of their own life. I came to see that the only way we can transcend our mortality is to contribute to the society to which we belong. By shaping, informing and improving that community of our fellows, the effect of who we are and what we do survives us. Along this path I also found a better understanding of the importance of the complex interdependence between individuals and societies. Individuals may invent, amend, develop and proclaim the ideologies on which societies can be constructed. By such ideas humankind can even gain influence beyond death. But while individuals may create, command and even dominate the community in which they are embedded, their only hope of immortality is to subordinate their individuality to the infinite survival of the social institutions they create and maintain.
These steps led me to an intimidating conclusion. If I were escape from the quandary that afflicted my middle age, I had to develop an all-encompassing view of the universe from which I could derive a meaning and purpose for human existence, and on which I could construct my moral and social life. Without a sure answer to such questions, without God or his competitors, there seemed to me to be no solid foundation for human society. There was certainly nothing to hold it together in a form that would meet my (and others) needs for a stable and protective community in which I could live my life, and give me an opportunity to have any form of existence beyond my death.
My difficulties therefore resolved themselves into the awesome task of finding an answer to all those familiar yet fundamental questions about the nature and purpose of life that have perennially vexed our kind. An answer, moreover, that would not only provide a satisfactory cement for human society and so create a base on which I could reconstruct the collapsing framework of my life, but one that would also avoid the absurdities that had caused me to reject my earlier beliefs.
The sole purpose of this book is to set out my solution to that seemingly intractable problem. In it I present a set of ideas that I have the temerity to try to share with others. The long period of thought that preceded its writing centred on the very real difficulty I had in finding an acceptable alternative source for all the benefit and support that belief in divine providence or predestination provides for the human species. Its publication has been much delayed by my reluctance to expose the simplicity of my eventual answer.
I have no wish or reason to conceal the self-doubt I suffered before finally deciding to publish my thoughts. Much of that hesitation arose from a distinct feeling that only a vastly inflated ego could imagine that so profound and troubling a set of problems could be answered by any individual, let alone so briefly. All I can say is that I have now exhausted my powers of self criticism; that I no longer have the energy to sustain my vacillation and hesitation; and that my solution works for me. My readers must now judge for themselves.
With that introduction it may not come as too much of a surprise to find that many of the old, sound rules for a viable moral and social life that the long experience of our species have found to be best for us reappear in this book. But I want to make it absolutely clear that I started my journey of exploration in search of a new meaning and purpose for my life in the confident expectation that I would find myself on totally new territory. Now that this work is complete I am a wiser and much more modest man.
I have learned in my inner travels that it would be an exceptional genius indeed who could transcend the accumulated wisdom of the generations of humankind on these issues. And so it has proved. Despite long and often circuitous digressions the final outcome of my work is the rediscovery and reestablishment on a new basis of many of the well-proven principles that have formerly underpinned our society and governed our lives. That is not to say that there are no new concepts and inspirations to be discovered in my writings. But the fact is that my achievement, such as it is, is to have found a way to rebuild our moral and social life in a familiar and tested form without the encumbrance of a God or any other form of external predestination for our species.
Both the ideas and the structure of this book are therefore simple in essence and I have no more apologies to make for that fact. I begin with a statement of the three Axioms on which the whole of my thinking is based. These are propositions for which I offer no justification or proof. The reader must either accept them as a working hypothesis or abandon this book at that point. If they can be accepted, then they are the starting point for the construction of my view of ourselves and of our universe, and with it, of a radical restructure of our moral and social lives.
The only Dogma in the book follows, a short statement of a choice of purpose for our species made possible by an acceptance of the Axioms. The rest of my writing grows outward from these central points. First in a set of Principles derived directly from the Axioms and Dogma on which our moral and social decisions can be built. Then by the development of a series of Treatises in which I set out what seem to me to be the main implications of the Axioms, Dogma and Principles for the shape and conduct of our lives. No special significance should be attached to the order in which the Treatises are presented.
The book ends with a section which I have called a Discourse for want of a better name. It is no more than a collection of personal thoughts and comments on the themes and ideas presented earlier.
The image in my mind as I wrote was of ripples spreading outward from a small impact on still water or, perhaps more accurately, of the growth of crystals in a supersaturated solution from the point of seeding. But to touch upon a subject that I discuss more fully in my Discourse, let me make it clear that I do not claim that my Principles and Treatises deal with all the consequences of an acceptance of the Axioms and choice of the Dogma. I am here only concerned to introduce the reader to some of the more important moral and social implications of those decisions as I understand them. A full exegesis I am bound to leave to the future and perhaps to others.
This then is no novel, no book designed or intended to wile away an idle hour or so. Indeed I should perhaps repeat the warning with which I began this Foreword, and make it clear that I have not aimed to make this an entertaining, or even particularly readable, book. The reasoning behind that approach to the writing of this, my first work, can only be grasped when the whole of my thinking has been understood. It is perhaps enough for me to say at this stage that I want to take every possible precaution to ensure that only the most determined readers, only those who truly feel a compelling need to find a replacement for their present beliefs, are able to persevere through the thickets I have created.
In particular I suspect that most people will find the early sections of my book, and especially the Principles, a dry and dense diet. They are as stark and rigorous an exposition as I can manage of what seems to me to be the foundations on which our moral and social life should be built if the Objective of the Dogma is to be achieved. The more persistent readers, that is those who do not fall at my first hurdle, will probably find it better to pass on quickly after a preliminary brush with the earlier sections and begin in earnest at the Treatises. However, any serious reader should take careful note of the Axioms, Dogma and Principles since they are a constant reference in the later text, which is written on the assumption that those founding ideas have been absorbed.
I have allowed myself some relaxation in rigour in the later parts of my work, in an attempt to produce something like a readable text. Even there however, the reader should understand that I have largely sacrificed any potential for entertainment to the effort to preserve precision in what is said. In any event, I do not advise anyone to begin this book at its concluding Discourse. It is the section where I felt least inhibited in my writing style, but it is an integral part of my works and will not be easily understood without at least a passing knowledge of the rest.
Apart from a plea that the whole should be read before any judgement on any of its parts is made, I do not wish to recommend an approach to this book or even to suggest one to my reader. Each must explore the work in their own way, though I am sure most people will find themselves moving back and forth between its different sections rather than simply reading straight through from start to finish. That is how this book was created, by a constant process of rewriting and revision as later conclusions affected earlier views and vice versa.
I have purposely left the section on the structure and organisation of the Society of HumanKind itself to the end of my Foreword, although it appears in the book in its natural place immediately after the Principles. The choice that I propose for the human species, and set out in the Dogma, opens the possibility that humanity could, at last, take upon itself the responsibility for its own salvation. A necessary consequence of such a decision must be, I think, the proposal for the establishment of the Society of HumanKind. That therefore, is the real reason for the publication of this book, for neither I nor any other member of our species can hope to achieve the Aim of that Society alone.
I do not pretend that this slim volume contains the answers to all our problems. I am no god. Our lives are too complex and unpredictable for the wit of any one individual to resolve entirely, and no-one should seek to avoid the pains and burdens of life by reading any book, even this one. But if you accept my conclusions and proposals you will want to found or join a local branch of, or group within, the Society of HumanKind and set about the formidable task of achieving its Aim.
That would be, for me, sufficient reward for all my pains. I will be content if I am remembered as the Founder of the Society of HumanKind. Which, if its Aim should ever be achieved, will be as glorious a memorial as anyone could conceive.
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