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The Spiritual Progressive agenda of creating a caring society presupposes that our human species will actually continue to exist. Yet, by our own actions, our human species is endangered. During the past century we managed to kill over 100 million of our fellow-human beings. We produced genocides and ever-more sophisticated forms of warfare, including nuclear weapons that may yet put an end to human life on this earth. We attempted to put a stop to social horrors by creating the League of Nations after the First World War and the United Nations after the Second World War. Those attempts did not stop the endangerment of our species. Neither did the efforts of the psychological and social sciences (my own background) produce a viable end to our social impotence.

From Henry Margenau, a highly respected theoretical physicist of the past century, we have the lesson that the most basic tools of science are Constructs. What are constructs? The Periodic Table is a construct in chemistry. Gravitation is a construct in physics. DNA is a construct in genetics. What do all of these have in common? Each takes something that exists in nature and adds the Mental Leap to make sense of it! The resulting constructs can become mainstays of a very real and practical science.

For the past decade I have operated from the conviction that we need better science about the Social Space in which we humans operate. Only then can we achieve better control over our actions and, with it, work toward a more secure and humane social existence. We can do so by developing, and seeing the power of four constructs: Links, Transcendence, Closed Moral Worlds, and The Second Path. I am going to give you a brief taste of each of these below.

Links

We humans expect.

We humans remember.

We humans think.

We humans believe.

What do these mental processes have in common? They manipulate our personal social space. They bring into that space things from the past, things from the future, and things from adjacent and distant places. They establish Links and, through them, create our immediate reality for us.

Links can demonstrate our capacity for obtuseness as well as our capacity for wonder and generosity. For instance, we may (and often do) expect that our Western version of Democracy is the most wonderful gift we can give to other nations and other peoples. We may remember our struggle to reach where we are now, thinking that other people surely have the same mind-set and have gone through the same experiences and struggles. This leads us to believe that our gift will surely be accepted with gratitude since we are offering them a purified version of human aspiration. We are shocked and appalled when this does not happen – that our calculation might be so wrong.

We can also invert this whole scenario of links to produce and practice wonder and generosity instead–where we acknowledge the humanity of others, with their own set of Links, based on their own experiences and location in the universe we humans call home.

Links are ways of connecting, and from it, become aware of the awe and wonder of our human condition. This, you will see, applies to all four constructs.

Transcendence

This is the very basis of spiritual life – connecting the individual to something beyond oneself. In our daily lives we humans have a need to reach beyond ourselves and somehow touch the Ultimate, thereby bringing that external, Ultimate reality into the here and now of our everyday life.

Here is one, rather extreme, example: Viktor Frankl, himself a Holocaust survivor, wrote the powerful book, Man’s Search for Meaning. In it he describes a young woman who, very close to death in the Auschwitz concentration camp, reaches out to a reality beyond herself and through it discovers profound and glorious enrichment for her life. She declares, “I have never been happier.”

Yet beyond extreme examples of Transcendence, we have the far more mundane variants – the veneration of the national flag that makes the individual citizen experience a personal connection to one’s nation, and the act of prayer, alone or in a religious community, that brings the individual’s spiritual life into play. These more everyday aspects of Transcendence show that it is part of our human makeup. Transcendence is already ingrained in our daily life.

Closed Moral Worlds

Sociologist Emile Durkheim taught us that human societies are essentially moral compacts – that shared moralities are what hold societies together. On the personal level, individuals live under moral umbrellas provided by their society. It gives individuals their sense of meaning in their life. Yet what Durkheim does not develop is that moral systems cannot only justify decent, noble activities, they can also “morally justify” real horrors.

Let me be specific. We are taught that we shouldn’t cheat, steal, and most emphatically, kill. Yet when you serve in your country’s army, you are taught that it is not only necessary to kill, it is your Moral Duty to kill.

Morality can be terrifyingly flexible. The SS men in Hitler’s Germany felt morally justified carrying out mass murder, and so do the perpetrators of other genocides.

The nature of moralities – what I call “Closed Moral Worlds” – is something we need to and can understand quite dispassionately. I try to do so in my studies and, thereby, gain awareness when moral systems turn from the benign to the malignant.

The Closed Moral World scenario applies to much of our current Western social order as described very persuasively by Naomi Klein in her book, This Changes Everything. Her theme is that we are currently subjected to an “economic model” of unfettered capitalism that threatens our very existence, which “is waging war against life on earth.” For example, some twenty years ago there was beginning to be serious attention to climate change, but curiously this has greatly changed in recent years. We now find large-sale denial of climate change and the science that clearly demonstrates its dangerous reality in our country. Klein attributes this to the success of the economic model that has become so pervasive over much of our social existence. I would add that this phenomenon demonstrates a distinctive Closed Moral World, which is impervious to science and to the concerns of people who are in the lower economic sectors. It provides great material rewards to those in the very upper economic sector, and persuasively spreads its message so that even those damaged by it, go along with its supposed “moral” message of how life is.

The Second Path

In our personal life we tend to have a public side – how we display ourselves to others – and a side that is private and personal, which can contain the Unmentionables – our uncertainties, fears, anger and, even, inappropriate honesty. Our Unmentionables are usually hidden from public view, but sometimes erupt in unexpected ways. I call it the nature of The Second Path.

We see the workings of a Second Path in our society as well, such as with anti-Black racism in America today.

Long after passage of Civil Rights legislation guaranteeing Blacks equal access to schools and after the election of a Black president, we saw unprecedented hostility directed at President Obama and a congressional election in which rage against him was a major rallying point for the winning party. As this most recent election suggests, racism is by no means dead or eliminated from the country’s Unmentionables that can manifest themselves in subtle ways.

I have given “a taste” of four constructs. I develop these more fully in my most recent book, Our Quest for Effective Living: How We Cope in Social Space / A Window to a New Science. Two of my previous books – Ordinary People and Extraordinary Evil and Confronting Evil: Two Journeys – lead up to it. I see my work as a bare beginning to which others should contribute and improve on my vision of a viable science about our life in Social Space.

I am eighty-seven years old, with a sense of urgency of what needs to be done – I don’t have much more time, and neither may our human species. I am also a Holocaust survivor (via the Kindertransport) whose parents and older brother were murdered; and I am a former sociology professor who taught at several universities.


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