Recorded in 1995, this is a general dialogue about Hlatky’s philosophy, between Per Andersson, Åse Skeppholm, Stefan Hlatky and Jimmy Renstrom. The discussion is in Swedish with English subtitles.
Month: January 2019
What is the significance of language?
Given on 17th March 1993, this is the second of two talks by Stefan Hlatky at the ABF Huset, an adult education centre, in Stockholm, Sweden. The talk is in Swedish with English subtitles.
God and science: Are they reconcilable?
Given on 10th March 1993, this is the first of two talks by Stefan Hlatky at the ABF Huset, an adult education centre, in Stockholm, Sweden. The talk is in Swedish with English subtitles.
1. Do we really need, logically, to believe in a God?
This is the first of six posts published on the opening of this blog. The first four are essentially theoretical in nature and set the ground for all our future posts. They are intended to be read sequentially. Familiarity with them and the page ‘Summary of Hlatky’s view’ will be assumed in posts thereafter.
The fifth post is a short unpublished article by Hlatky. The sixth, which relates to politics, is essentially a footnote to the fifth. Though written two years ago, it has particular relevance to Britain at the moment, and is an example of the practical kinds of issues, situations and events that we intend to cover in the future. Our next post – on climate change – will appear shortly, followed by a post on how one might answer children’s ‘why?’ questions about the big questions of life.
But now to Post 1:
- Hlatky contends that we need, logically, the idea of God to solve the question that has preoccupied humanity over the centuries, namely, the question of the original cause: who or what has brought the universe about (and why, see Post 2). The concept of God combines two ideas: that there is indeed an original – that is, a non-created – cause, and that it is a conscious being.
- What are the alternatives?
- One alternative is that there is no original cause. This is the stance of pantheism. It maintains that all that exists is the ongoing activity represented by the universe. The problem with this view is that it requires us to accept that activity can exist without a cause – and this is never our experience.
- Another alternative is that the original cause is something like the super-dense atom of the Big Bang. The problem with this view is that it requires us to accept that something non-conscious can be an original cause of activity – and, again, this is never our experience.
- Finally, it could be maintained that the whole question is an unanswerable mystery and that we should not bother our heads with it. It is possible to take this stance, but it is a difficult stance to take. Firstly, it requires us to resign ourselves to living our life with a mystery, and with the anxiety attendant on mystery. More crucially, however, it requires us to ignore the fact that our experience of life seems constantly to raise the question of where everything comes from [UR p.84] – as human beings’ interest in the question over the centuries suggests and, indeed, as each new generation of children also demonstrates through its questions to adults on the subject. So it appears that the language-equipped human species has a need to understand the whole reality. [UR Chapter 1]
- What follows here is based on the assumption that the question is answerable.
- The difficulty many people nowadays have with the idea of a conscious original cause – that is, God – as the answer to the question has to do, in Hlatky’s view, with the fact that historically only illogical notions of God and of his purpose have ever been proposed. And because they were illogical, they could only be asserted in an authoritarian manner. They were also, therefore, only capable of being believed blindly.
- Our introduction to the blog outlines how Hlatky’s view of God differs from these other views of God. Most crucially, his view is capable of reasoned belief.
- Specifically, he argues on the basis of the self-evident truth or axiom [UR p.6] that only a conscious being can be an original cause of activity. Since the universe itself is only activity – there is nothing permanent in it – it follows that its original cause must be a conscious being. As argued (see para. 4), to suggest that something non-conscious is at the origin of the universe contradicts this self-evidence. (A stone, for example, can’t move of its own accord.)
- A word of explanation: A self-evidence is a truth that cannot be, and doesn’t need to be, objectively proven or argued for . We all use self-evidences extensively in our everyday lives. Hlatky’s approach is to include self-evidences in our efforts to understand the philosophical question of the original cause.
- What it means in practice is that Hlatky assumes that the original cause (and meaning, see Post 2) must be understandable on the basis of our total everyday experience. By ‘total’, he means both our (subjective) experience of ourselves and our (objective) experience of the world around us. In including subjective experience – such as the experience of being conscious, the experience of love, as well as the experience of needs as a whole – he differs from modern science. On the other hand, Hlatky’s view mirrors science in being reality-based because it is based on our total everyday experience. (Science, ancient or modern, is based on reality – but in the restricted way suggested).
- The fact that Hlatky’s view is reality-based means that it can be checked by anyone against their own total experience. No one has to rely on the authority of another human being.
- Hlatky argues that God is inevitably still something we can only believe in, for the reason that we can’t experience God directly. (Remember, in Hlatky’s view of God, God is the whole and we are parts of that whole. Because we are inside the whole that is God, we self-evidently cannot experience the whole itself. [UR p.17])
- But although God remains a matter of belief, there are reasons – based on the self-evident – that can be given for that belief. So belief in God is no longer a matter of blind belief. (Unfortunately, blind belief has come to be seen as the major alternative to the empirical knowledge of science. As such, belief itself has come to be seen as inferior and to be avoided.)
- A final point. The question is often asked: ‘Yes, but who created God?’ This is a challenge to the idea that there could be any such thing as an original cause. By ‘original’ here is meant, of course, ‘non-created’. But God represents the idea of something non-created, even in the minds of atheists. This is because nothing can be understood if we don’t have a concrete starting-point for our thinking . So, with regard to reality as a whole, either we assume that a concrete starting-point exists, or we assume that reality is a mystery (then we are back to paragraphs 5 and 6 above).
The question of the meaning of the activity that we all experience as the universe will be addressed in the next Post.
1. For a full discussion of the self-evident, see Dialogue 4↩
2. For a lengthy discussion of the term ‘concrete’ and the point being made here, see Dialogue 1; or see UR pp.126-7.↩
2. Does life have an inherent meaning?
- …or does it only have the meaning or meanings that we ascribe to it?
- If life in general and our life in particular do have an inherent meaning, we would have to assume that that meaning was created or made possible by a conscious being. Put another way: the universe, and the Earth within it, and our life on the Earth can only have an inherent meaning if there is a conscious being who is its original cause and is responsible for bringing it all about for a particular purpose, thereby imbuing it with a particular meaning.
- That is because of the self-evidence that only something conscious can have a meaning to its activity. Something non-conscious – a stone, for example – cannot have its own meaning or purpose: it cannot act by itself. We can say of a man-made object such as a table that it has a purpose – to be sat at, eaten on etc. – but then we are referring to the purpose ascribed to it by the conscious being who made it. But a table doesn’t itself have its own meaning or purpose; it is not conscious and so can’t act of its own accord.
- So the question of why the universe and our life have come about has to be put aside by those who do not believe in a conscious creator of the universe, a conscious original cause. For them there can be no given reason why the universe, including their own life, exists. For them, neither can have inherent meaning. The question can only be reasonably contemplated by those who believe in a conscious original cause. (We follow tradition and give it the name ‘God’.)
- The problem then is that historically no logical purpose has been proposed by any of the traditions that believe in a conscious original cause. This is because no tradition puts forward the idea that God has a need, a need that could give rise to a logical purpose [UR p.23]. (See also UR p.133). On the basis of the self-evidence that every conscious being has the need for love – relationship, company, the experience of mutuality – Hlatky suggests that God must have this same need. In God’s case, it is a need that, self-evidently, can only be satisfied in relation to his parts.
- Further, the universe – which, if we agree that the original cause must be a conscious being, can be called ‘creation’ – has to be perfect for God’s purpose of making himself known, albeit indirectly, to the parts [UR p.26]. And since he is bound by his need – as the natural need of every conscious being is binding – God is compelled to give out creation if he is to meet his need [UR p.24] (See also UR pp.53-4, or UR p.31). At the same time, God’s creation allows us – the parts – to meet the same need for love that we share with God.
- So in Hlatky’s view there is a given meaning to the activity that the universe or creation represents. It is a meaning to which we should relate – in the same way as we need to relate to the meaning of any other conscious being. With regard to other conscious beings, their meanings are obvious to us through their behaviour (since we have, in principle, the same needs that they have) and, in the case of humans, also through their words. In the case of God, that ‘behaviour’, that ‘language’, is the universe as we experience it, the meaning of which we have to decipher.
- At this point the question might be asked: Why doesn’t God make his existence clearer, even incontrovertibly so? The reply is a question: How could God do this? The obvious ploy of incarnating as a part would not achieve it. History has shown this, most importantly in relation to Jesus: the Christian claim to Jesus’s divinity is not universally accepted. Hlatky argues that creation is perfect for God’s purpose, however, since our experience of reality can lead us logically to a recognition of God’s existence if we base our thinking solely on that experience. (Basing their thinking solely on their experience is what children do as they build up their understanding of themselves and the world around them – until, that is, they may become confused by non-reality-based ideas offered to them by grown-ups.) (See UR pp.137-8; also UR pp.135-6.)
- An important aside: If we understand God’s meaning, then we understand why God creates. But we can never understand how God creates, because of our position inside God [UR p.65]. But to understand why God creates is to understand God. We don’t need to know the how. Note that young children always ask ‘Why?’, not ‘How?’ (until the grown-ups, unclear about the ‘Why?’, push them towards the ‘How?’), and are always satisfied by a logical answer to the question ‘Why?’ [UR pp.112-3].
- That life might be about the need for love – the experience of mutuality – is not a new idea; it is alluded to in many worldviews. What seems to us to be lacking is a philosophy that gives this central importance while underpinning it in a reality-based way, that is, in a way that can be equally convincing to all.
- Without a given, reality-based meaning that we need to relate to, we will seek to create our own meanings. Indeed, we must, since we cannot live without meaning. This gives rise to the problem of how to coordinate all the disparate, frequently competing, individual meanings that humans come up with – a thankless task that generally falls to politicians. Imagine how different it would be if everyone took the view that the meaning of their own life is given, and is the same as the meaning of everyone else’s life, and if this informed the way we went about the business of meeting our reality-based needs. (For expansion of this point, see UR p.42 ; or UR p.70; or UR p.103).
1. For the importance of the use of language in this question, see UR p.110.
2. For the clear contrast between Hlatky’s view and that of modern (atheistic) science on this theme, see UR p.37; and as this theme relates to differing concepts of consciousness, see UR pp.96-8.
3. ‘Who am I?’
- This is the question that in Western psychologically-orientated societies we often ask ourselves. What is not generally appreciated, however, is that the question usually presupposes a view that every human being is basically different from every other human being. Who I am, on this view, is unique .
- By contrast, in Hlatky’s hypothesis we are all basically alike. His answer to the question is: ‘I am a conscious original part of the conscious original whole with the need for relationship (love, the experience of mutuality), who has connected to a body in creation in order to meet that need’. From this perspective, my own identity is the same as everyone else’s. The question ‘Who am I?’ thus becomes ‘What is a human being?’ In other words, the issue is no longer a particular, psychological one, but a general, philosophical one.
- How Hlatky arrives at his view is laid out in Understanding Reality. The main aspect – if one agrees that the original cause must be a conscious being (see Post 1) – is what the relation of human beings to God is.
- The monotheisms hold that God creates human beings in their entirety, that is, both their consciousness (the ability to experience) and their body.
- The pantheist view is different. One (Hindu) version of it is that the original Being or Brahman splits himself into separate beings [UR p.202]. So that view might hold, for example, that there is a ‘divine spark’ in every human being.
- Hlatky’s hypothesis is that God creates only the human bodies. The conscious parts can then make a connection to these human bodies. Before they make that connection, the parts exist in the same way God exists in the original reality (the original reality being what is constituted by the whole (God) and the parts). Of course, in that original situation, before a connection has been made to a human body in creation, one can’t refer to the parts as ‘human beings’ – hence the rather neutral-sounding term ‘part’.
- So in Hlatky’s hypothesis, the parts are as ‘eternal’, as original, as God. The parts retain their position in the original reality even while they connect to a human body in creation.
- Once the particular body ‘wears out’, the part can disconnect from it and subsequently connect to a new body.
- But since in Haltky’s view the part is original, it cannot develop. It is unchangeable. So there is no development of any basic kind (eg of some hypothesised ‘soul’, or towards enlightenment), either within a single life or from life to life.
- Since Hlatky hypothesises that God has a need for relationship, love, company, Hlatky’s main argument for his view of the parts – that they are original, non-created – is that it is not possible to see how God’s need could be met in relation to beings he himself creates in their entirety. This would be the equivalent of having a relationship with an animated toy [UR p.32. But see also The ABC of philosophy (UR p.173ff.) for other arguments].
- Nor is it possible to see how a creator’s need could be met in relation to parts it has split itself into. This would be tantamount to having a relationship with itself. Self-evidently, it is not possible to have a relationship with oneself: a relationship requires two conscious beings.
- If we can agree with the self-evidence-based logic of Hlatky’s hypothesis, then it is interesting to consider the huge difference that such a view of who we are entails.
- ‘Identity’ comes from the Latin idem, meaning ‘the same’ and has to do with what remains the same about something. In the case of human beings, Hlatky is suggesting that what remains essentially the same is our ability to experience (our consciousness). This never changes throughout our life [UR pp.50-1], in spite of all the changes that occur in our physical body. This accounts for the feeling nearly everyone reports at some point in their life of not really feeling older (perhaps brought home by suddenly catching themselves in a mirror or seeing an old photo and being surprised by how much their body has aged).
- And what also remains the same is our need for the experience of mutuality (love), which is associated with our ability to experience (our consciousness). The need for love is unlike our bodily needs. The latter are periodic: we may not need to eat or drink for a time. But we never ‘have enough’ of love: we never want not to be loved.
- If such is our identity, then we are all basically alike – 100%. At the same time, it is obvious that we are 100% unlike on the surface.
- If we don’t recognize our basic likeness, then we regard ourselves as basically unlike. Then we will identify ourselves with one element or several elements of our surface unlikenesses.
- Obvious choices for surface-‘identities’ include our gender, our thinking and beliefs, our nationality, our race, our sexual orientation, our skills, our social role, our past, and so on. But from Hlatky’s standpoint these surface characteristics of human beings would dissolve as points of tension between groups if it could be generally agreed that none of them represents our real identity. Against the background of the real identity that he argues we all share, these other ‘identities’ are no longer experienced as divisive or alienating, and so not as disturbing.
- Thus philosophical clarity about our real identity is, it is argued, the prerequisite for a conflict-free mental life not bedevilled by anguished searching about ‘Who am I?’, or by unending efforts to create, refine and maintain who I am, with the subsequent need to present that ‘I’ [UR pp.43-4] to others and have it be accepted by them [Hear Hlatky talking about this].
- This idea of a basic likeness is, as we have already suggested, an idea that we have in early childhood. The problem is that it is not then represented in language sufficiently in any culture. It is referred to often, but not with philosophical clarity .
- Unless the idea is spelt out with philosophical clarity, it will not be possible to reach a genuine and convincing agreement about it. It will then be swamped by the modern emphasis on basic difference, uniqueness and specialness – which opens the door to development, hierarchy and alienation between humans. Furthermore, this latter idea fails to solve the ethical problem between human beings. By contrast, if we agree that we are all basically alike in the way Hlatky is proposing, then we understand one another and so know how to behave towards one another .
1. For a discussion about how this view is passed on to children and for a discussion of the whole theme of this Post, see UR Dialogue 2.↩
2. The Bible, for example, talks of us as being made after God’s likeness: Genesis 1, v.26 ‘And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’ But there are no specifics.
In the secular sphere there is, for example, the poem Human Family by Maya Angelou, containing the refrain ‘We are more alike, my friend, than unalike’ – but again without specifics about the ways we are alike.
Equally suggestive – but not spelt out – is what Kwame Anthony Appiah says in his 2016 BBC Reith Lectures (‘Mistaken Identities’). Having cast doubt on the solidity of common identities such as creed, country, colour and culture, Appiah quotes at the end of his final talk the Roman playwright Terence: ‘Homo sum. Humani nihil a me alienum puto.’ Appiah translates this as: ‘I am human. I think nothing human alien to me’, and concludes with the comment: ‘Now there is an identity worth holding onto’.↩
3. For elaboration of this last point and the connection of the question of identity with the question of meaning (Post 2), see UR pp.48-50.↩
4. On what basis should the life of human beings together be organised?
- The ‘social’ life of animals is determined by Nature. Consider ants, bees, birds etc. Animals themselves merely follow the programmes for living together that Nature prescribes for their particular species.
- Humans by contrast are free to devise their own forms of organisation. At the same time, it shouldn’t be forgotten that humans are forced – again by Nature – to do this devising. This is because they cannot not live together. A child has a long dependency on its parents, for a start. And then any task that two humans undertake together requires them to adopt roles in relation to one another and to agree on how those roles are allotted.
- Every social group aims to devise a way of living together that is peaceful and, more than that, loving. This is the emphasis, at least in principle, of all religions and every atheistic view. It is inconceivable to us that any group should aim for the opposite. Even those who contemplate or actually seek to carry out revolution – perhaps even going so far as to pursue violent world domination – seek the establishment of a ‘good’ society of this kind as their ultimate goal.
- There is no universal agreement, however, about the basis on which such a society could be established. It is Hlatky’s contention that for there to be such a universal agreement, what is required is a logical, reality-based hypothesis about the original cause and meaning. In other words, we require a logical, reality-based understanding of the whole reality (which includes ourselves and the world around us), an understanding that is convincing to every single person so that it need not be imposed in an authoritarian way.
- The problem is that none of the world religions and no atheistic view (Post 2) have presented such a logical, reality-based hypothesis. (This is argued throughout Understanding Reality.)
- There are many historical as well as current examples of societies where religious worldviews influence or dominate. More recent historically are societies where atheistic science plays the same role. Of these, the social form considered the best in western societies is democracy, which is a genuine attempt to avoid authoritarianism of any kind.
- Democracy, besides seeking to restrict the power of individuals, attempts positively to take account of the views of individuals. The problem is that this latter can only occur in a limited way, given the infrequency of local and general elections and also referenda. More importantly, in the absence of an underlying agreed worldview informing the participants in the various levels of social organisation, democracy in practice cannot be more than a matter of compromise and tolerance between the various conflicting views held by individuals or groups. Although compromise and tolerance are enormously preferable to rigidity and intolerance, they still leave the society open to constant tensions and clashes – witness the problems that occur in all democratic societies, not to mention between democratic nations internationally. The focus in such societies remains on competition and/or the acquisition and exercise of power of one kind or another – which is the opposite of the loving society that everyone seeks. (See also UR, p.13)
- As argued earlier, for a worldview to be agreed upon by all, it must be logical and reality-based, and thus not authoritarian. Hlatky’s hypothesis of the original cause is an attempt to offer such a worldview – however preposterous and utopian such an attempt is regarded as nowadays. And, of course, this blog has the aim of engaging a wide audience in a debate of that hypothesis. 
- Politicians and political commentators often refer to a need to belong and sometimes use the mantra ‘We are all in it together’. But they don’t specify what the ‘it’ is that we are all in, nor on what basis we are in it. They seek to take advantage of the definite emotional appeal that the statement has. Its appeal harks back to the sense that every child has, in its very early days, of having been born into a world where its need for relationship can be satisfied in relation to the other human beings that it finds itself in immediate contact with – human beings whom it regards, in a spontaneous, preverbal way, as basically like itself. This is what the infant’s first smile is about.
- The appeal also draws on the feeling that arises spontaneously among us all – in a more or less distant echo of that childhood feeling – at times of natural disaster: suddenly we see everyone else as human beings basically like us. Such situations demonstrate that the feeling of ‘being in it together’ lies dormant in us all.
- So it is right to say that ‘we are all in it together’. But this is a trivial statement, unless specified. Hlatky specifies the ‘it’ as firstly the original reality, in which we are parts of the whole (God); and then creation, where we each connect to a body. This is in order to meet God’s need to be understood and thereby loved, as well as to meet our own identical need – through our recognition that all of us, God included, are basically alike in having this need. So we are bound by a common meaning (Post 2) which should guide us in our behaviour towards one another, as well as towards the physical world around us. (For elaboration of the philosophical background, see UR, pp.55-6.)
- A note of caution: Hlatky is not saying that his view is the definitive uniting view that society requires. In other words, he is not saying that he has ‘the truth’ (see UR p.72). Rather it is a hypothesis that is in need of constant scrutiny as to its basis, and at the same time constant testing against reality . His aim was simply that his view should be discussed, compared and tested alongside the other worldviews – of religion and of atheistic science. (This, again, is what has been done throughout Understanding Reality.)
- Politics places a huge emphasis on power: the power to push through or defend a point of view and a course of action – on the part of an individual, a group or a whole society. This over-concern and over-involvement with power is unavoidable where there is no fundamental reality-based agreement philosophically – no matter how committed people are to discussion or ‘creating a consensus’. But, as argued, a society based on power is the opposite of a loving society. A loving society can only be achieved, in Hlatky’s view, by philosophical agreement – and, again, by this he means specifically a reality-based agreement about the original cause and meaning
1. For an analysis of the difficulty of this endeavour in the current philosophical context, see Post 5.↩
2. A current example is the writing of George Monbiot who talks of the need for a ‘politics of belonging’ (see, for example, his latest book: Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis).↩
3. For consideration of this complex but crucial question, see section ‘Checking Hlatky’s hypothesis’ (UR pp.128ff).↩
4. For an application of some of the general ideas contained in this Post, see Post 6.↩
5. God or Mammon?
Reflections on the rise of the so-called market economy.
Hlatky wrote this piece in 1995, shortly after the fall of the Iron Curtain when ‘the market economy’ became global, no longer opposed, as it were, by an alternative view. The piece begins with a reference to the name that Hlatky and those interested in his view gave to their activities. But it moves on quickly to discuss economics and its inability to solve the world’s problems, as well as the difficulty nowadays of reaching an agreement – which Hlatky considered essential – to the philosophical question of the original cause and meaning.
Wikipedia definition and entry on the word Mammon.
Broaden the Dialogue! is an initiative or proposal in living language, that is, in dialogue with one another and with our children, to reinstate the original contradiction-free meaning of the word God, that is, a meaning that is reconcilable with reason. Nowadays we have a historically unique opportunity for doing this because of the development of modern science and the associated development of technology and the mass media. These have transformed what have hitherto been geographically splintered and isolated attempts to solve the problem of life and how we live together into a unitary, global matter, one that is ever more urgently in need of a common solution.
You don’t think then that the idea of the market economy, which has been accepted almost globally since the fall of the Iron Curtain, can solve the problem of how we live together?
Market economy is a new term which is misleading, because it gives no hint of the ideology that lies behind it. Part of that ideology is the idea of free enterprise limited only by competition. It is generally interpreted as a new attempt to come to grips with the economic problem, and is seen as the opposite of another term, planned economy. But the latter term is equally misleading, because economics without planning is as unthinkable as economics without a market.
That the two terms have become so generally accepted – with the hope that the first will yield a more satisfactory solution than the second – has to do with the fact that modern humanity, as blinded as it is fascinated by growing industrialism and its associated growing money market, seems to have completely forgotten that the word economy means household management (referring originally to the apparatus of production and consumption, arising from Nature, that is represented by life on the Earth’s surface).
The economic situation we now face began developing long before the split marked by the Iron Curtain first arose. The only effect of the fall of the Iron Curtain and the switch to the new terminology is that it is now being faced in a less divided way. But it is still being faced in a way that is just as unconscious of the whole problem as it was before.
The economic situation has since grown uninterruptedly, and it seems to be accelerating unstoppably and be completely overshadowing the original economy. This has all arisen as an unforeseen consequence (unforeseen because there has never been an example of it historically) of the fact that modern technology, with its energy-driven, increasingly automated production-, transport- and information-apparatus, has ended up transforming the problem of husbandry into a global affair. It has now become an inescapable reality full of unpredictability. And, because of the same fascination and blindness, it will continue to grow, in an equally overshadowing way, independently of whatever economic ideology will be used.
The fascination and blindness persists unchanged for two reasons.
The first is that the whole modern undertaking from its very beginning – that is, since the invention of the microscope and telescope in the early 1600s – has been a historical first. So it has been a journey of discovery that has been completely blind and unforeseeable as to its consequences – and for that reason has been maximally fascinating, exciting and engaging.
From the start it was focussed theoretically on Democritus’ atomic theory and the mechanistic cosmology he based on his theory. The aim was to find what Democritus conceived of as reality’s smallest, indivisible, and so unchangeably existent, ultimate building-blocks. But in practice all that the search revealed was a never previously observed richness of detail in the visible reality, detail which later proved to be inexhaustible. But no discovery was made of indivisible, ultimately unchangeably existent building-blocks. What was shown was that what people hoped from Democritus’ theory – that they would develop some original control over reality and become original constructors of it – cannot be achieved. On the contrary, the undertaking came basically to the same ancient insight that humanity has always had: that all that exist are endless possibilities for intervening in and changing the outward image of visible reality, that is, the manifold. What modern science has done is merely to uncover previously historically unknown, albeit highly effective, physical powers and ways of doing this.
This created the second reason for the same blind fascination. It has to do with modern science’s focus on uncovering the hidden, invisible reality and with automation. (Automation began to be introduced using energy that was hidden, and so it was regarded in the beginning as mystical. Generally knowable energies such as water-power and wind-power had already been used technically.) Together modern science and automation came to be judged – without the slightest reflection – as being able to rescue or free humanity. This judgement has since taken firm root historically and has been taught to each new generation.
According to this learnt judgement, science is regarded as rescuing us, freeing us from all historical superstitions, that is, irrational beliefs. It had in particular mind the ‘dark Middle Ages’, to which science succeeded, bit by bit, in putting a definitive end. Because the new science came into being after scientists had begun to make a categorical distinction between the question of cause and the question of meaning and had begun to limit their discipline of thought to solely the first question, this evaluation of science’s role then gave rise to the misleading designations of objective science and, seen as its opposite, subjective science. This corrupted the original meaning of the words: subject relates to the invisibly active consciousness – it means thrown under, lying under; object relates to the visibly active body – it means thrown in front of, lying in front of. The same evaluation later gave rise to the term The Age of Enlightenment, which alluded to the old inward-orientated science’s interpretation of so-called transcendental or mystical experiences, which were incomprehensible to ordinary people.
With the later arrival of automation associated with the use of energy, the same evaluation was applied to mean rescuing and freeing people from all the old labour and slavery, that is, from bondage to the earth and bondage to land-owners, the so-called feudal lords. In the longer view, this meant rescuing and freeing people from all economic bondage: everyone will become free and rich; machines will do the work so that humanity can devote itself to more worthy matters than simply toiling for its bread and butter.
This interpretation of the modern undertaking, with the new so-called objective science at its head and the new automated technology in its tow, resulted in two revolts. One was against psychological oppression by the Church. This had taken the form of witch-trials, following the earlier splintering of the Church by the Reformation. The other was against the old practical oppression by the authorities based on the ownership of land.
Towards the end of the 1700s, these two revolts led ideologically to modern atheism – that is, to a total break with the old philosophical cultural heritage. And in practical terms they led to the French revolution.
Then came the emergence of the new dependence on industries, the discontent with the rootlessness of town life, and the new poverty of the migrated industrial workers, the so-called proletariat, which Marx and Engels so graphically describe in The Communist Manifesto. The struggle for general freedom and wealth continued thereafter through Marxist revolutions, in which capitalism and socialism were misleadingly regarded as opposites of one another. The actual opposition is between so-called liberal- (understood private-) capitalism and state-capitalism. It gave rise after the second world war to the Iron Curtain, the formal division between two opposed ‘philosophies’ – although before that these had already been divided into the left and the right, on the basis of the way delegates were physically placed in parliaments, with mixes in the middle.
This interpretation of the modern undertaking as history’s first and practically feasible path to an unimaginable, unprecedented economic future, under the emblem of freedom and wealth, now has 400 year old roots. It is regarded as offering a future life together that would be equally satisfying for all human beings – either on the Earth’s surface, or, if we manage to make that uninhabitable, after emigration to cities in space. In fact, it is the same dream that humans have always had: previously it was closely associated with other basic theoretical conceptions such as paradise (imagined as on the Earth’s surface), or different conceptions of heaven (following emigration from the Earth).
Today’s generally accepted version of the dream of a life together that is equally satisfying for all is as well-meant as it is irrational. This means in practice that modern humanity has no wish to hear any challenge to its chosen path. It is unwilling to begin to see, notice, reflect on, freely discuss and realise what with time has become clearer and clearer and what it is practically impossible to overlook as things stand today:
- that automation – including all existing and future generations of computers, as well as the related research into the future, as blind as it is fascinating – does not give what everyone wants to believe it gives, that is, a steadily increasing, effective grip on the economic problem;
- that the accelerating growth in size of the economic problem is due solely to this fascination, which is absolutely well-meant but which is blinkered and blind to its negative consequences; and that this is the case completely independently of whichever economic philosophy is applied;
- that now that the automated economy has grown into an inescapable globally connected problem reduced purely to the mathematics of money, our calculations, as they affect both the psychological and the physical areas of our living together, can at any moment slip from our hands, with chaos as the result. (In other words, we could revert to the chaos that future-research – according to the standpoint of modern science – tacitly considers existed in the beginning, before the whole universe and conditions on the Earth’s surface became – as they see it – by chance an inadequately functioning order requiring improvement.)
The first step towards a reality-anchored solution must then be that we globally agree – before the global calculations slip out of the economists’ hands and chaos ensues – that the problem of humans living together is impossible to solve as an economic problem, either in its smallest scope, which is the family, or in its largest form, which is intercontinental. That the problem is impossible to solve economically relates to the fact that the life of humans together is not solely a problem of practical survival – which is how life would seem to be for the other species (on a spontaneous view of their situation from the outside).
The second step – which is crucial and follows from this insight – must then be that we learn from our 400-year experience of our historically unique undertaking and, quite independently of the difficult and threatening economic problems, we globally reflect and take stock, until we can reach agreement about the problem that constantly presents itself afresh to every new-born human being (and which is therefore typically human and ancient): we must ask, and agree about, the question:
What is the problem of living that is so refractory and which quite clearly all humans experience and which equally clearly no other species has?
If we reflect thoroughly, it is the question of the original cause. To have complete clarity about this question is a characteristically human need. It is something the other species cannot be interested in, because interest in it requires the capacity for wholeness-covering speech [UR, Appendix A].
My idea with the initiative to Broaden the Dialogue! is that we must do something about the lack of agreement that has existed throughout all the centuries of which we know the cultural history. For it has hindered dialogue (in the sense of discussion that presupposes we are talking about the same subject).
Surely we can’t drop the deeply contentious and complicated economic problem and the associated future-calculations that we have become completely dependent on and start devoting ourselves to a problem that is even more – if that were possible – contentious and complicated? Moreover, from what I can see, this human need and the economic problems are inseparably connected.
The fact that it is only possible purely theoretically to distinguish the problem with the human need from economics, which deals with practical life, means that the treatment of the economic problem has for the most part been hopelessly contentious throughout history. But this is because of the lack of agreement and the consequent lack of clarity about the question of the original cause. The crucial difference compared with today is only that the historical dispute about the original cause did not create such far-reaching negative consequences for the environment and the atmosphere as the modern enterprise of trying to solve the problem in a technical way has. It is these consequences which indirectly force us, if we are to avoid chaos, to solve the original dispute with the help of the original, so-called philosophical procedure of dialogue – which means discussion from the starting-point of our basically common consciousness of the whole [UR, p. 72].
The problem today is that at the beginning of the development of modern, so-called objective, science, the historical dispute about the question of the original cause was summarily ‘swept under the carpet’. And that is where the lack of agreement still lies, well buried in the so-called unconscious, the hope being that the scientists will gradually solve the problem through technology.
And it was with the rise of modern science that humanity, first in Europe and gradually in every country, went in for the dream that remains largely unchanged nowadays: namely, that through greater and greater enlightenment – that is, knowledge of cause and effect – and through more and more highly automated technology, humans will acquire everything that they need in order to satisfy, rapidly and effectively, their Nature-determined, inescapable, so-called animal needs. In this way all humans – and not just, as hitherto, those belonging to the upper class – will become happy, because all humans will then acquire the time and the practical possibility of realising, and devoting themselves to, the same ‘life worthy of human beings’ that the propertied upper class has demonstrated throughout the centuries at the expense of those below it.
In this way irrational conceptions – of freedom from dependence on Nature, on the one hand, of freedom from the whole cultural heritage, on the other, as well as a new dream of an unforeseeable wealth and capacity to control – have totally locked humanity into the perspective of an alluring, predictable future of economic independence. Thus the ancient way of seeking to demonstrate practical independence from Nature (economically through wealth), now enhanced by constantly increasing modern possibilities, has become practically the sole measure of a life worthy of humans.
All existing economic ideologies agree about this generally accepted future view of life and existence. It is only the question ‘How?’ – that is, what is the most effective way to arrive at this goal – which differentiates the conceptions, and that into two theoretical extremes. The first wants the development to be in the spirit of equality; the second wants it to be in the spirit of contest, the desire to win, competition.
It is only theoretically, however, that the two courses of action can figure as opposites, because both are in practice impossible to realise. The impossibility relates to the fact that the mistake lies not in the two mutually exclusive theories or in how compromise is made between the two, but in their common goal. We must all see that the meaning of life cannot possibly be that humans should, without any perspective (that is, as an end in itself) and without any agreement (that is, without any common meaning or purpose), become richer day by day. That all humans, like the other species, must have everything that they need in order to be able to manage existence, is self-evident and a problem that can be solved. It is impossible, however, to satisfy freely, arbitrarily chosen, varied and unlimitable so-called human needs without coming into increasing conflict with the housekeeping of Nature.
If we leave out of account for the moment the ways modern technology allows us to come into conflict with the order of Nature, then the two modern economic ideologies – the one concentrating on the spirit of equality, brotherhood, the other on the spirit of the desire to win, differentiation, inequality – are in no way modern, but are as old as humanity. And the fact that it is impossible to make either work has meant that humanity’s economic thinking and the application of that thinking have always been fraught and controversial – and always because of the prevailing lack of clarity about the question of the original cause.
Because the new, modern path towards increased knowledge and wealth is just as unpredictable nowadays as it was in its beginning, the idea of how its final realised form will look does not even arise. The slightest idea of arriving at or aiming towards an end-goal for scientific, technological and economic development, is equally repugnant to all involved, for it goes completely against the generally accepted ideology of knowledge growing as an end in itself, without perspective. This means in fact growth in power and know-how, which constitutes the double meaning of the word wealth – in Punic or Aramaic mamon. With the designation mammon in the New Testament (St. Matthew 6:24), this goal is presented as one possible form of belief, in an exclusive relationship to its opposite, which is belief in God.
On the new, 400-year-old, path, all that exists nowadays is the objective, scientific, future-oriented interest in further detailed causality (more knowledge) with a view to its technical applicability (more power). Interest in the ancient philosophical dispute about the question of the original cause is completely absent in the modern cultural landscape. It does not even arise in discussions in philosophical faculties, nor within or between the old religious and so-called spiritual traditions. And yet both are places where one might expect consciousness of the fundamental dispute that has remained unchanged throughout history to survive.
1. This piece was extracted from Hlatky’s papers and printed as a lone-standing article by Per Andersson in 2008 under the title ‘Vad betyder verksamhetsbeteckningen ‘Vidga Samtalet!’?’ (‘What does the activity ‘Broaden the Dialogue!’ mean?’). It has been translated by Philip Booth. Vidga Samtalet! (Broaden the Dialogue!) was the way that Hlatky and those interested in his hypothesis described their activity for public occasions (see, for example, chapters 3 and 4 of Understanding Reality and Post 8.) The group had no enduring structure outside those public occasions. The term related to the suggestion that Hlatky’s hypothesis should be considered, in a public dialogue, alongside the other main theories of the original cause prevalent in modern culture, thus ‘broadening the dialogue’ in this respect. The structure of the book Understanding Reality is dictated by the same wish to place Hlatky’s views in such a broadened dialogue.↩
2. ‘No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.’↩
6. Capitalism or socialism? The only choice?
This piece was written two years ago and comments on the political situation in the United Kingdom at the time, but also on more general political questions. We have included the piece essentially as a footnote to Post 5. There Hlatky writes that capitalism and socialism are misleadingly regarded as opposites of one another. Here the argument is put in slightly different terms from the more fundamental viewpoint that Hlatky argues from in Post 5. The emphasis here is on the absence, in either view, of any notion of basic likeness between human beings.
- The state of British politics in September 2016 serves as a microcosm of the great global debate of the second half of the 20th century.
- Namely, capitalism versus socialism: Theresa May’s Conservative party on the one hand, with its belief in the innate wisdom of the financial markets; and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party on the other, with its belief in workers’ rights and equality for all.
- It may lack the intensity of the Cold War in the days before Mikhail Gorbachev changed the game, but it is a familiar story nonetheless – and one whose familiarity serves to remind us of its essential futility.
- On the face of it, Corbyn’s plea for a more just society, in which the wealth is more evenly spread, is hard to contest.
- The most recent set of figures published by the Office for National Statistics, in December 2015, revealed that the wealthiest 10% of UK households owned 45% of the total wealth. Their share of the spoils is growing.
- For the Conservatives, this is an inevitable function of light-touch governance, of allowing – in their view – social strata to find their natural place. For Labour, the inequality serves merely to highlight capitalism’s ruthlessness.
- If, as Hlatky proposes, we are all basically alike (see Post 4), then it is clear that the Corbyn model of socialism – which is based on the premise that society should not be about economic winners and losers – has more to commend it than the dog-eat-dog philosophy inherent in capitalism.
- The problem, however, in trying to equate socialism with Hlatky’s view is that many socialists, when pushed for their views, admit that they do not regard the free-marketeers of the capitalist world as basically like them at all.
- Corbyn, it seems clear from his public statements and demeanour in the House of Commons, does not see himself as being fundamentally like the Conservative MPs across the floor of the chamber.
- In a surface respect, of course, he is right not to: their thinking is very different; he and they hold opposing and irreconcilable political views. It is an argument that, over the past 50 years and more, has gone back and forth, with the capitalists tending to hold sway (Labour’s longest spell in power, from 1997 to 2010, came about because Tony Blair moved his party’s policies to the centre ground.)
- But without common ground of a more philosophical kind, without the basic belief that we really are basically alike – and not just deserving of being dealt a roughly similar economic hand – there is little chance of capitalists and socialists coming together in any meaningful way.
- The pendulum will swing one way, then the other . But we will be no closer to unearthing a truly harmonising political philosophy. And, if we did unearth such a philosophy, it would spell the death of conventional politics as the western world has come to know it.
- That philosophy, Hlatky suggests, posits the view that we are all basically alike. Capitalism, self-evidently, struggles to fit this mould, for it requires individuals to compete with one another. Socialism, equally self-evidently, comes closer.
- Yet without a logical belief in God – and history tells us that socialists, bound up in the class struggle, do not get on with any kind of God – and thus a common understanding of and agreement on the meaning of creation, socialism will forever identify itself merely as the antithesis of capitalism rather than as a world-view capable of uniting us all.
- The fact that Corbyn has ignited an ideological battle the equivalent of which has not been seen in British politics since the 1980s, suggests that the idea of a basic likeness between human beings – which is what more or less unconsciously accounts for the appeal of the notion of equality in the political sphere – is one that is still in some sense prevalent, even in a country weaned on the capitalism of Margaret Thatcher and, yes, Tony Blair.
- But we kid ourselves if we believe that Corbyn is capable of striking a more profound chord. This is not a comment on his skills as a politician, but a reflection of the fact that socialism lacks this genuine belief in the basic likeness of all.
- Moreover, if, as Hlatky argues, our fundamental need is to be recognized as basically like by other human beings, then our very purpose in life goes beyond material equality or wealth .
- As Hlatky argues in God or Mammon? (Post 5), the economic problem cannot be separated from the philosophical problem. This means that a revolt against today’s global capitalism in the absence of a consideration of the philosophical background will not improve the economic situation. Hlatky’s view is that society works: generally speaking, we get food and the other things we require to stay alive. But it works poorly. And the almost globally accepted idea of the ‘market economy’, based on the spirit of free competition and the desire to win, will only lead to deterioration of the situation. But it is not a switch to socialism, however attenuated a version we choose, that is required. What is required is that we develop a common interest in and agreement about the original cause and meaning of creation. Put simply: what life is about.
1. Hlatky referred to the rise of global capitalism, following the fall of the Iron Curtain, as the ‘last swing of the pendulum’, by which he meant it would be no longer possible for socialism to make a comeback. Many modern writers believe the opposite (take, for example, the writings of Naomi Klein). And perhaps the current revolt against global capitalism – evidenced by support for Corbyn in the UK and Bernie Sanders in the USA – represents the seeds of such a further swing. Either way, this does not affect our argument that neither capitalism nor socialism offers a solution to the political situation, to the question of how we manage our life together.↩
2. …the essence of Hlatky’s argument in Post 5, God or Mammon?.↩
‘Taking in’ vs. ‘giving out’
Extract from talk given by Stefan Hlatky on 17 March 1993 in Stockholm. The full talk can be viewed here. (This extract begins at 1:38:43 in that talk.)