Man and God – Part Four – Our Social Construct

Humanity has been obsessed with the ‘Why’ of things since before homo sapiens ever emerged from its previous ancestors.  And as you might have gleaned in my last post, God & Man – Part Three – Scarcity, I am asserting that we have had little choice in the matter as to what type of animal we would become.  Much of our future was predestined by the nature of ourselves within the environment about us.  You may think we’ve had some options, and you’d be wrong; the point being that humanity can never exist, nor evolve in a manner that does not fit within the universe’s natural mechanics.  Something not there cannot be a causal agent. 

Humans are made from the stuff of the universe.  Nothing more and nothing less.  As such, we are subjected to, defined by, and held to the specific natures of this ‘stuff’.  Whatever we might evolve towards will always and must always be an evolution that is but an order of actions that constitute the properties and capabilities of this elemental stuff. But, within the limited conditions of this natural environment, we do have a range of choices which can be symbolized by imaging a cylinder that extends through time.  Let’s refer to this shape and boundary as a cylinder of variance.  This cylinder has a diameter, with a length that is as long as our species will exist in time.  It is within this cylinder of variance in which we reside.

All of humanity’s actions can be plotted within this cylinder according to an action’s nature.  Thus, points would refer to a boy throwing a ball, the blink of an eye, the murder of an ex-lover, and each keystroke of this post.  By the nature of the action I mean their intent and accident, their reason and emotional values, their reflections of good and evil, and their virtues and vices; in all of their degrees.  Everything that the human is and does in a single action is represented; plotted within the cylinder as a point.  This would mean, as all actions are quite complex in their nature, that there would be multiple points, in different positions for any action taken.

As we move through time, should one take measure, it would be much like a CT scan.  In slicing through the cylinder at any moment in time, we would observe an arrangement of points that would represent the actions of every individual of the human species.  All these actions, of course, fall within the cylinder, because what the diameter of the cylinder represents is the limit of actions our species can engage.  If multiple scans were to be taken over a long period of time, one would observe that the points would tend to gather with greatest frequency towards the center of the circle that would be represented in the scan slice, with the number of points decreasing as one moves their eyes towards the boundary of the circular slice from the cylinder. 

Somewhere, somewhat like the nature of the Aristotelian virtues, in the center region of the circle lies what we refer to as normal or prime action.  These actions are, to a large degree, similar in nature and with a high frequency.  If you’ve ever observed a flock of small birds gathering along a seashore you would watch an interesting display much like observing a short clip of the movement of the human species through time in this cylinder of variance.  There’s never a primary point of congregation, but rather a fluctuating, rhythmic pattern that would evolve as the individuals within the flock jostled for position and purpose.  It the natural ballet of all social animals; in our case a ballet based more upon the social characteristics than physiological ones.

What evolves is a matter of statistical probability that scientists like sociologists, anthropologists, mathematicians, and philosophers spend a great deal of time trying to decode and understand.  Everything within the cylinder is possible.  Down the center – most probable.  Along the perimeter’s surface – most improbable, but possible.  We cannot act or react outside of this cylinder of variance.  There is a measure of free will involved, but it is not limitless.

So, I can choose to lift my arm or blow my nose, as such actions are part of the properties and capabilities of my species.  I can be pounced upon and eaten by a lion during a moonlight walk with my best girl because my hearing and sense of smell just isn’t that great, and I can withstand five G’s of force against my body while blasting off into an orbit, but not twelve G’s.  The choices we do have comes first, by what we are, and then second only by way of our cognition and reason of things, our imagination, and, of course, by our power.  While it might appear to you that you have free will, you don’t.  You cannot sprout wings to flee from the approaching rampage of the hungry lion, nor vanish into thin air as he’s about to rip your throat out.  (If I’m sounding misguided – we all know we have free will – allow me an opportunity in a later post to argue my assertion.)

Within this limited realm of possible action, we have had a couple of million years to construct a reality for ourselves that is decidedly in line with our actuality.  For this post, let’s regard reality as what we perceive and utilize to our use, and the term actuality as what a thing, a particular, is by its nature; whether we understand it or not.  Our constructed reality is a composition of cognitions that undergo inquiry through a methodology we refer to as reason.  As you know, it is a most complex inquiry; one that constantly reexamines any and all conclusions, or seemingly settled cognitions, throughout time and through the filter of our social inclinations; a long way of saying all knowledge is malleable.

The truth of the matter is that we live in a realty conceived, debated much, made legitimate, and conserved by our own imaginations.  I’m not saying that the universe doesn’t exist except in our minds.  That’s a solipsistic argument I’ll not try, nor believe in.  Rather, I am saying that what we observe as the realty of things – our sensibility of the universe – is the result of our own egoistic filter; our own bodily distinctiveness and our self-conscious, reasoning intellect.  This biased methodology of being, or existing, is responsible for our extraordinary rise as a species amongst many competitors, of enriching our lives in countless ways, and ensuring humanity’s domination of its planetary home.  In other words, our social construct is one whose primary purpose is to benefit ourselves.

I want to emphasize that the reality we experience is a virtual construct.  When we use the word ‘giraffe’, we are referring to a russet and cream-colored quadruped with both an extremely long neck and legs. It might be standing right in front of us, or as a picture in the pages of a magazine, or just in our minds, but what it isn’t doing is actually being the word.  The word is separate from the actuality; it’s a symbol, a representation of the real form, and as such, it is mutable.  In conjuring up the giraffe in our minds we cannot be the giraffe; we can only contemplate it.  Extend this thinking to all particulars of our universe and one can quickly come to the conclusion that language is symbolic.  It’s pointing towards something, but is not that thing itself.

You might say that the word ‘giraffe’ will always refer to the giraffe, and I’d like to agree with you in principle.  Though, the truth of the matter is that we have a natural inclination to evolve the meanings of words.  We do it routinely in order to manipulate societal thinking; all resulting in a directed attempt to control societal purpose, intent, and action towards a state that benefits our social construct, and therefore ourselves. The fact that the word giraffe currently defines that quadruped I described earlier is advantageous to us now; that’s history, certainly the present, but not necessarily the future.  Simply put, it’s all about power. 

Orwell notes wryly in his book, 1984, “‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’”

I had described our methodology for assessing and cataloging our perceptions and conclusions as being “biased”.  That may sound senseless in the depths of our sea of perceptions.  After all, Aristotle thought of us as a rational animal.  But my assertion flows from what I just noted.  Our words construct our reality, and our reality is malleable to power.  Our ability to reason is finite, and as such it is limited.  As such, it is but one way to understand the actuality of the material stuff within and around us.  With this in mind, to what degree do we actually understand reality; especially since it appears to be relative in nature?  But, who cares?  We’re doing just fine in this constructed world.  How could we possibly do better?

If our reality is malleable to power, just what does that imply?  Is the relative superior to the absolute?  And what does it mean to be superior?  In this constructed realm, it means that we can measure the efficacy of a thing in its benefit or detriment to our social construct.  What it does not mean is that this construct is better than all other constructs by which humanity might be able to assemble itself as a being.  Perhaps here, I should broaden our classification of things.  Perhaps, I should remove the word “a” before the word “being” in my last sentence and rephrase it as, “by which humanity might be able to assemble itself as being”, and not as “a being”.  The word “a” appears to be limiting us as an object and not a subject, and which of the two conditions do humans prefer to be: an object or a subject?  Right now, a human is a being; a very successful one, but still just a being.

Our current social construct is the only road our intellect can take us down.  Our intellect has no other choice, even though it sees itself as the proud improvisor of a myth we refer to as free will.  It’s the safest road our intellect can drive as it relies upon the natural paranoia of our species, and that is still the best tool we have for staying alive.  The human species has a naturally-imbedded paranoia because we happen to be mortal and the only way to convince ourselves we are not mortal is to survive.  Our number one reason for living is simply to live, and as long as possible.  It’s called survival, and it’s the primary impetus of the human being.  When we manifest this metaphysical desire, it becomes a force in the physical realm.  We call this force power.  Power has no other purpose than to sustain the life of the one wielding power.

And speaking of power; as long as the presence and domination of scarcity continues to exist in humanity, no instrumental device of scarcity – politics, economics, social ideologies, etc. – will overcome the inequities that result from the competition for resources.  In other words, in the ideological, political, and economic regulation of human, social efforts in which to impose a reasoned form of justice, say equality, there will rise individuals and groups who will unequally be compensated for their efforts.  This is power, and as a result this is a corruption and defeat of the original goal; equality.  Those receiving a greater share of the goods of equality – that being a secured measure of survival – routinely claim it but a temporal phase that any system must pass through to reach its goal.  The communists made this argument in the Soviet Union for some eighty years. The elites in America’s liberal democracy are currently doing the same; insisting that mere legislation will bring about a genetic transformation.  In truth, they just haven’t got the courage to tell us that it might take a few hundred generations to achieve that mark.  In the meantime, they’ll be eating caviar and you won’t.

We see this corruption in the many forms of social justice activism.  Today, the preferred method of activism is name-calling, social media castigations, efforts to ostracize people from society, ruin reputations, trashing public spaces, and depriving people of their very ability to survive; all in the name of equality, peace, good-will, freedom, and liberty. Sounds very sophisticated and academic.  And what’s particularly interesting is that society takes some measure of appetite, as Thomas Hobbes would name it, in such actions; to the point that society condones, gives temporal license to, and then permits without legal consequences such actions just for corruption’s own sake.  We use power to destroy power.  Things change but always remains the same.  One elite for the next.  And so, we have Mr. Hobbes noting the result of such a corruption:

“And for the other instance of attaining sovereignty by rebellion; it is manifest, that though the event follow, yet because it cannot reasonably be expected, but rather the contrary; and because by gaining it so, others are taught to gain the same in like manner, the attempt thereof is against reason.”[1]

Human’s naturally suspect power; because it’s genetically built into our systems by the domination of scarcity in our existence, and all actions of power secure survival for one at the expense of the survival of another.  Scarcity ensures power, which then secures the failure of humanity’s loftiest goals for itself.

All these shenanigans are plotted within that cylinder of variance that I described earlier.  They are part of human nature.  They have happened in the past, they are happening today, and they will continue should there be no fundamental change in how we assemble and administrate our social construct. 

The problem with this purported success story of humanity is not so much with what we are letting in the front door of our minds, but rather what we are leaving out.  You see, all constructs have boundaries beyond which one does neither see, nor travel.  Whatever the finite nature of the universe is, we see no more of it than our position behind the walls of our constructed reality; our dogmatic precepts.  We’re secure within this virtual construct because we have no choice in the matter, or at least we think.  And due to this natural phenomenon of human paranoia we fear and run from the obscured truth; namely that what we aspire to is a closed system.  The manmade construct in which we exist is not the only one that exists for our use, but we cannot manage to fully conceive any alternative because our construct has boundaries by which we cannot travel.  And so, we imagine, we mythologize, we have religions, we create realities in our minds that are but the virtual interpretations of what we think we see beyond the walls of our own real boundaries.  We’re caught in a variant of a catch-22; a contradictory situation in which what informs is also what conceals.  Think of it as the prisoner, confident of his view from the back of his cell, sees not the key that rests in the lock.

The upshot of all of this is my attempt to offer an explanation on why humanity has always sensed there is something more in our universe of existence.  The word ‘why’ was fashioned to describe that sense of something more that permeates ever atom of our bodies, but this mysterious question of human thinking has always existed within the minds and actions of man.  It was there a million years ago when a member of the genus, Homo, looked up into the night sky and saw the glitter of a hundred billion galaxies; each one with a hundred-billion stars.  It was there when lightening ignited the grasses of an East African veldt, driving herds of animals, as well as my friend and ancestor, Homo, upwind and northward. 

What was in the head of our ancestors as they attempted to take what they experienced and give it some sensibility?  And what quality of communications would the members of that group possess?  Language as we know it today was certainly non-existent then.  Verbal communications would have been a marginal linguistic kiddie-pool of a few sounds comprised of but a few unknown letters.  More than likely, it would have been the terse, verbal accents and volumes that would have had more meaning than the actual sounds themselves.

Everything that is on this planet right now, was on this planet then; except for a few meteorites and asteroids.  Yet, in the mind of modern man, the globe then was a barren wasteland of knowledge.  For our ancients, the vista of human existence was as broad in their lifetime as it is today in ours; simply because that’s all there was then.  One hundred percent is always one-hundred percent.  Thomas Aquinas would have been depressed living in those days and Allan Quatermain would have been thrilled.  But for these ancient ancestors, reality was considerably different than that of their more current progeny.  It was reality, though; as real and actual as we perceive today. 

My point is that the entire spectrum of existence is always complete to the one living out one’s existence.  A person can have their glass – their personal assessment – as a quarter-full, half-full, or full to the brim, but at any moment of measure, it is one-hundred percent because that’s all there is.  This reminds me of quantum physics and an interesting characteristic of particles.  They seem to exhibit two states of being, and they do so at the same time; one as a wave, and the other as a particle.  Pay no attention, and particles act like waves; emanating everywhere they are destined to flow.  But make an observation of the wave at any one moment, and what one finds is a singular particle in a singular position.  Outside of man’s venue, the particle seems to exist everywhere as a wave.  Within man’s venue, the particle is in a finite position.  What’s this telling us?

Then there’s the interesting theory of the universe in regard to what humanity cannot currently account for by visual observation.  It seems we’re seeing maybe five percent of the matter and energy that most likely exists.  At our best, our glass isn’t a quarter-full, it’s five percent full.  You’d think we’d all be a little humbler as a species, but due to the odd practice of measuring things, we believe ourselves to be at one-hundred percent.  We see ourselves as a success.  

Whatever gracious remarks humanity makes about the desire to learn, to grow, to advance, and to commune with not only our neighbors, but with the whole of the universe, the bottom line is that whatever our measure of ourselves might be, it is virtual, not real, and it is malleable.  Humanity is driven by the ‘why’ of existence, and in its measure, we are left in a stunningly vulnerable position; so much so that our internal, psychological defenses take over, our egos reign, and our minds shut down.

Everything is there.  We just don’t see it.  I’m not saying we can’t see it, I’m saying we don’t see it.  The actuality of the universe is much greater than the reality of humanity.  Our reality is a portion of actuality when it is in line with – a correct understanding of – how things in the universe act and react to internal and external forces and stimuli.  And with each passing decade, we gain the knowledge of the universe.  That’s good.  We’re getting somewhere.  However, I contend that as long as we construct a reality of our separateness from the universe about us, we will never have access to the alternative existence that awaits.

I had referred to the early nature of language amongst our ancestors.

Jack D. Eller, in his book, Introducing Anthropology in Religion, noted, “Symbols, in the very simplest construction, are things—objects, images, sounds, actions, gestures, utterances, and almost any other medium—that “mean” something, that “have a meaning.”” 

Language is a series of symbols strung together to transmit information, and all information has meaning.  As such, any reality it expresses is only understood from its platonic form; that being a perfection of whatever it is that is being symbolized in language.  No real giraffe is perfect, but the form of the giraffe certainly is, no matter its condition; alive, ill, or dead, each state is perfect.

Unfortunately, our language is a throttle upon actuality because it is inadequate in unlocking full human potential, except within the lower levels of humanity’s imagination; namely in mathematics and the sciences.  Seems absurd that I would classify two such venerable, trustworthy, practical, and utilitarian instruments of man’s intellect as of a lower level of imagination.  I would respond by noting that these two endeavors only recite what is already there within the boundaries of our construct.  They work within, and nothing more.  I cannot help but contemplate of a better situation.  Like language, these two triumphs of humanity are a throttle on any alternative potentiality.

Further, regarding language, Aldous Huxley saw it as a formulation “developed for the purpose of dealing with phenomena in time.”  Language, as symbol, attempts to reflect the position, in time, of what it is symbolizing.  Again, we have a measurement.  Just as any actual object cannot assume its form in perfection, neither can any symbol.  One cannot decode a symbol without using other symbols to do so.  It seems an endless turning in on oneself to attempt such a feat.  Symbols are virtual, not actual, and therefore, it seems sensible to speculate that what we are really doing all the time – in time – is pointing towards something more; something that is not symbol, something that simply is; without representation and perhaps outside of time itself.

All of language, as well as all other expressions, verbalizations, and actions are symbolic of something more central and foundational of humanity.  We are pointing towards something more when we communicate with language or explore the world of mathematics and the sciences.  We are certainly and directly pointing at something more when we write poetry, a novel of some moral intent, or step foot on the moon.  Even the very foundation of purpose for human action, survival, is symbolic of the actuality of pointing towards something more.  We are trying to reach out to a thing that is more than temporal; it is absolute.

And so, this all literally begs the question, “What other ways could humanity possibly construct itself as human; one in which we can create a competitive or superior existence to how we currently exist?

That’s a longer story, to be taken up later.  What I wanted to get set in place for now is this idea of the cylinder of variance, how all that happens within it is purely natural of the human species, that it reflects what we see in other descriptions of natural systems, and most important, that it points in a direction.  I also wanted to emphasize my assertion that our social construct is fundamentally limited by the primacy of our existence; survival, and as such, our social construct was forged at a very early time in our evolution.  It was forged to protect our species the way we were in the most critical era of our physiological and psychological evolution.  As a result, our social construct is embedded deeply within us and cannot be shrugged off blithely. 

The concern here is whether we will experience an evolution into the future that permits our social construct to evolve and change as we evolve and change in our three aspects of body, intellect, and spirit.  There are things in our social construct that once had a vital importance to our survival.  Today, we’re already feeling the strain of confining ourselves to a social construct whose major principles are becoming increasingly anachronistic.  I’ve already touched on the principle of power.  Power used as an instrument within a social construct comes by the way of authority.  That might be a good place to go next.

God Bless – Reese

[1] Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes; Part I, Chapter 15.

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