In a previous post, I discussed the concept of particulars. Perhaps then, a reader might have wondered what this has to do with Christian issues and values, and certainly what does it have to do with a certain hypothesis I repeated from Man and God – Part One:
“Try to consider the possibility that God created and continues to create only good things. And try to imagine that no good thing can stray from being a good thing; for to see such happen would render God as less than good himself. Now consider, therefore, that mankind is thus good and has not strayed from the course that God set forth for mankind when created.”
“Mankind is evolving; this we must acknowledge, for man has changed in all ways physically and intellectually since recorded, historical evidence began, and therefore, this evolution is and must be of God’s will. Now, here comes the hard part for many. Now imagine that where man is today and where man will be tomorrow is also in God’s plan and of God’s will.”
Time for the next step in this hypothesis. Sorry, if this whole thing is lengthy. I sense that to simply state the premises and conclusions, one after the next, would invite insurmountable doubts and innumerable references to my sanity. And anyways, I’m working this out as I go.
We have written libraries of speculation and information about the coexistence of humanity in its environment. Even more libraries on the subject of humanity’s physical and psychological nature. Where did the most intelligent (by our own estimate) creature come from? What are the metaphysics of this creature? How did it evolve, and certainly how has its environment affected its nature on all levels? Fascinating stuff, unless, of course, you’re a fundamentalist Christian.
The course of this post is going to follow the path of how our environment has affected us as human beings. Central to this post will be the term: scarcity. Scarcity, for this post, will be defined as a noun referring to an environmental condition in which existing species – in this case humanity – face limited resources, of relevant, usable particulars that are crucial for the accomplishment of its daily survival and continued existence. In other words, things are rough; things are in short supply, there’s insufficient provisions by which a human being might experience life as one more of supply than demand. As a result, one must contend in an environment that lacks ample resources, and forces an individual to engage in a high level of competition for those resources.
Scarcity has been the central factor of our environment since before there was anything that might be related to as hominid. All animate creatures of this planet must seek, gather, and consume in order to exist. This is the normalcy of being alive. We take it for granted. We wish it to go away, but it’s not going to any time soon.
Scarcity has defined and shaped the very physiological and psychological characteristics of each and every individual human and its social structure. It seems there has always been a tension – an imbalance – between what evolves from what is and from what is was. We are no exception. We are who and what we are as a species precisely because of this tension within scarcity. No other factor of our environment has had such a great effect on our being.
The scarcity of those material, sensory and applicable particulars in our environment hold primacy to the very metaphysical core of what and who homo sapiens is as a creature. Our security, health, and well-being is completely dependent upon this condition. Scarcity directs our thoughts, our words, and our everyday actions, and we engage this condition in the never-ending effort to assuage our needs for those things that enable our continued existence. It is the parent we never knew we had. It is the teacher, the politician, the administrator, the soldier, the mortician, and the Lord of our being. The very Darwinian phrase “the survival of the fittest” is a direct reference to this most intimate tension between humanity and the environment about us.
Our time and our space is first and foremost defined by our needs, and those particulars that we all need are scarce. Scarcity is literally an existent, platonic form of our world; perhaps the only platonic form that one can say actually exists in our sensory realm. It is so obvious that we have essentially looked past its truly comprehensive, long-term effects on us as we concentrate more upon our immediate desires.
As a result, we have dedicated all of our capabilities as an intelligible, rational creature to the cause of ameliorating this condition. It is the singular effort we make as a species. There is nothing else we do.
Anthropologists have been able to document the evolutionary rise of hominid species to its current perch as homo sapiens, and their findings illustrate that we consider scarcity as our number one raison d’être. The Greeks wrote odes describing the challenges heroic men and women gave to their nemesis Scarcity. Menelaus waged war on the Trojans. Odysseus faced his odyssey. The Roman emperors sought their empires. Robin Hood sought his forest. Descartes found his being. McCormick, his reaper. Benz, his mechanical horse, and Turing, the universal computing machine. The list of accomplishments and sacrifices made by humanity, in its quest to push away the weight of scarcity, has consumed our species on all levels. Everything we do is a response to scarcity’s grip on the vital neck of humanity. And so, with this in mind, it seems equally vital to quickly review what has come about for this unique animal, homo sapiens, after all of this effort.
As all of what humanity does is in response to scarcity, so to, all that is of humanity is the result of scarcity. We have developed a sophisticated network of humanisms that is so complex at this point that we require philosophers and psychologists to plumb its depths in order to prevent us all from going quite insane. Let me note a few of the most important examples of this network. How about government, economics, and social structures? Let’s break these down a bit. There are the governmental varieties and blends: autocracies (dictatorships), aristocracies (family dictatorships), and democracies (elitist dictatorships). There’s no shortage of economics systems by which a society operates: capitalism, communism, distributism, feudalism, socialism, statism, and the welfare state.
Then, of course, there are the social structures that invariably entail strict, power-based hierarchies: divinity, royalty, ecclesiastical, administrative, political, and military. There’s also the inevitable pecking order of humanity within any one social group: caste systems of India, white privilege in Europe and America, the feudal families of Japan, and patriarchal domination throughout the world.
These are but institutional consequences of scarcity; the ones that can be clearly delineated through historical documentation. There are the everyday varieties that go unrecorded. We live a life of discrimination – the making of a distinction or difference between multiple subjects or objects – in the effort to move ourselves up the food chain; to position ourselves so as to reap, through labor or laziness, the resources that we need and desire. In itself, there is nothing wrong with discrimination, as it provides the foundation by which one secures their existence.
Scarcity is responsible for the majority of all violence that occurs in human societies; whether it be illegal acts between individuals and groups, or legal, military actions between social groups and countries. Scarcity is responsible for gang-wars, slavery, eugenics, and genocide. Tucked neatly within the principles of scarcity can be found racism, bigotry, elitism, and all of the other “isms”; even those whose claim is reparative, like feminism.
Scarcity is also responsible for every quality and act of love and compassion. It ennobles us to the arts, and raises us all with the rising tide of human accomplishment. Scarcity nestles itself between every act of goodness between individuals and between social groups. It is important to keep in mind, though, that these virtuous emotions, we so urgently feel when what is good finds real expression, are but the release of the frustrations of scarcity. We are so caught up in what appears to be the singular reality of scarcity that we can think not, or even imagine accurately, what it would be like for a humanity without scarcity. No science-fiction writer has ever properly illuminated such a place; preferring the more-common, grazing field of dystopia.
Because we must live with scarcity, we treat it essentially as normal, though we are always conscious of our efforts to rid ourselves from the chains of scarcity. After all, what else is there that we do? Politicians promise an era of justice and equality. Technocrats promise a future of leisure and pleasure. Corporatists promise a job for everyone, along with daycare, and those religious promise salvation and perfection.
It would appear that scarcity is much the guiding force by which humanity moves forward, and in all ways, it has been responsible for the evolution of the genus: Homo. It also appears that scarcity is responsible for one particular virtue or right – a condition by which humanity believes itself due from natural law – that, for the history of humanity, has been more a platonic form than a reality: Dignity.
Scarcity is the central issue in religious understanding and doctrine. In Christianity, I would suggest that historical scarcity is responsible for humanity as being viewed as evil, unworthy, and in need of some form of redemption, salvation, and perfection. If humanity were to have lived, or stayed, in the Garden of Eden – a world of absolute plenitude – since the beginning, just what would we be like in character?
This is where we find ourselves confronting the traditional narrative of the Garden of Eden in Judaistic and Christian theology. The garden was a place of certain plenitude. There was no ‘want’, no need for desire, government, authority, power, or free will. Just no need. I’m not saying that there wasn’t a recognition of the existence of such concepts in the human nature of the proverbial Adam and Eve, I’m just saying there was no need. It might seem obvious that such concepts existed by the simple fact that the narrative of the garden entails the willful disobedience of Eve, and ultimately Adam.
Did they choose scarcity or were they simply stupid? Was Eve’s claim of being deceived by the serpent truthful or disingenuous? Was scarcity willed upon them by God for their transgression? The story refers to that in chapter three of Genesis, verses 17-19:
“Cursed is the ground because of you! In toil you shall eat its yield all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles, it shall bear for you, and you shall eat the grass of the field. By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
I’m not here to judge the narrative of the Garden of Eden for either its content as being legitimately accurate and historical, nor for its assertion of God’s power to be able to will, in one moment of time, the material creation of homo sapiens from dust and rib. That conversation is for a better time than this. I am able to make note the fact that the words – their meaning – as found in Genesis 3. – words placed into writing by persons from more than three-thousand years ago – decidedly render the logical conclusion that Adam and Eve were about to experience scarcity as a confirmation of what we recognize today as humanity’s natural environment. Whether or not they ever lived in the plenitude of the garden is irrelevant. What is important to note is that the writers understood the difference between the two conditions and saw that distinction as central to humanity. They were able to comprehend the platonic form of human existence, and its central tenet, plenitude, and to be able to discriminate between the two.
As a Christian, I would venture to say that God gave humanity the right of dignity; so long as man and woman remained in the Garden of Eden: God’s provision of all things. We have chosen another path than the one God has provided, and so dignity can no longer abide within us. In our attempt to retrieve dignity to our bosom, we have substituted desire, and we thus indulge ourselves in our desires and vices; those actions that give one the sense that they have cheated the institutional caste system of scarcity provision and have found plenitude.
Human dignity is the net sum of all of humanity’s habituated will as it pursues its own survival. Unfortunately, our habituated will is deeply fragmented with each individual and social group seeking its own dominance through the institutional means of government, economics and social structure.
Dignity is essentially an unrealized, abstract form of an innate characteristic of human nature; something that is there within us, but essentially unobtainable as a unified reality for all human kind.
And so, in coming back to my central hypothesis as noted at the beginning of this post, I might simply ask the question:
What would it be like if humanity no longer faced the grim reality of scarcity? If my suggestions are factual – that scarcity is responsible for all that I have detailed in this post – then we have before us a species that will be quite different than what we have now; when all of our efforts pay off. I guess the real question is whether or not our efforts will succeed.
But, is this not what we are working for?
God Calls Us All Into His Service – Reese