Tuesday September 27, 2022

Towards a new ideology

May 29, 2021

Many of us would not believe that the Leviathan state still exists as a political reality in many parts of the world today.

The argument goes like this: the Hobbesian Leviathan state will continue to exist as long as our politics is governed by the collective fear of war of all against all. However, the beneficiaries of an ethical society – academics, politicos and champions of human supremacy, from left to right – will dismiss the Hobbesian fallacy of man being little, brutish and nasty as an aberration of his sadistic mind. Some of us would go even further to suggest that there is nothing known as human nature and that we all are nurtured by the material reality around us.

Everyone – from structuralists, functionalists and historicists to moralists – tend to agree that humans have evolved to become a superior race of all in the animal kingdom as the founder of civilization. There is no reversion to an earlier primordial existence but there is a linear journey towards a superior life. This Hegelian logic seems to work well even in our mundane discussion of making sense of human superiority over all other species on Earth. And if one happens to be a bit religious he/she would elevate humans to be the most exalted and elevated creations of all the universe.

This elevation of humans by humans to a cosmic spirit of superiority makes us all narcissists more than idealists. Humanity is the only species on earth which props up its own exaltation as the steward of the world with unlimited rights to subdue nature and all other creatures. The historical accident of evolution has catapulted us into the saddle of an unbridled horse that feels no qualms in trampling everything that impedes our journey to absolute grace. Thus the story of human civilization is not only about producing art, music, science but it is also the story of maiming and trampling species of other genera to exterminate them from the face of the earth.

The human story of civilization is a complex narration of a strong instinct for survival, narcissism, self-preservation, creativity and destruction at the same time. The journey of human evolution is not only a one dimensional story of civilizational excellence and creativity, but it is a story of invoking the inner fear of the extinction of competing DNAs. The genetically evolved predisposition of fear of extinction cannot be reduced to social conditioning and acquired behavior; it is much deeper and it predates the history of civilization.

Therefore, the debate of human agency as a primary actor of change cannot be reduced only to the trick of acquired consciousness to attain higher ideals of an ethical society. At the core of this concept of giving primacy to human agency over socio-political structure and nature as a determinant of civilizational progression is only a partial view of a complex reality. The liberal view of humanism as an end in itself is also a partial view which strives to decouple ethics from the accumulated animalist fears which are coded in our DNA. Our emotions, aggression, passion, angst, pleasure and greed for existence are part and parcel of human agency which cannot be reduced to the civilizational burden of building an ethical society of narcissists.

On the other extreme, the proponents of structuralism reduce human agency only to a small cog in the machine of a larger and complex structure of political, social and economic institutions of a society. This point of view assumes the human species as an automated being devoid of any creative potential, discretion, emotion, fear and ideals of a superior society. Then there are postmodernists who would present the human species as a virtual creation with simulated ideas – in that a disconnected world of symbols shapes the perception of social reality. Despite all these conceptual categorizations, the civilizational journey of human beings has been a mix of all these and more and there is no unified theory to make sense of our complex journey from cave to condo.

Socialists strived to offer an integrated approach by knitting together human agency and institutional structures in a dialectical relationship. Socialists asserted that the role of human agency like political leadership or the act of a revolutionary against an existing structure and the class consciousness of individuals played a pivotal role in political formations against the capitalist system.

Having said that, socialists failed to provide a cogent explanation of how the integrated evolution in the former USSR failed to achieve the desired results of a classless society and the communist ideals of a free society. When a question is posed about the fall of the USSR, Chinese transition and Cuban isolation most communists would start counting the structural and systemic reasons exonerating the role of political leadership. Some of them would come up with apologetic exploitations saying that the true ideals of socialism were not followed and hence it was bound to fail.

The structuralists, functionalists, postmodernists, liberal humanists and socialists converge on a similar conclusion in explaining the failure of their ideal society. All of them would conclude – apologetically – that the true principles of their respective ideologies were not implemented in their spirit. The postmodernists would go an extra mile to obfuscate the matter further by suggesting that it is not ideology but perception and simulated images that create our political and social reality.

Coming back to the complex relationship of intellect, instinct and narcissism – the self-indulgence and introversion of human species – can collectively be expressed as the will to survive. All sociological inquiries lack the fundamental aspect of human evolution as a species to dominate to assure its survival and procreation. Our anger, angst, pleasure, passion and fear are some of the underlying factors which are deeply coded in our DNA and these instinctual feelings cut across all ideologies and worldviews. Humans have always strived to dominate for survival more than aspiring to build societies of higher ethical standards.

Some of our postmodernists have already proclaimed the end of ideology but they have failed to offer a convincing explanation of the wars, conflicts and disasters which have left an indelible scar on our so-called civility. Human beings need a more intellectually refined and comprehensive framework to make sense of the complexity of the evolution of human civilization.

This is not the right time to bid farewell to ideologies, this is the time to move towards an integrated worldview. Human beings are both social beings and animals so their civilizations are shaped by this dual struggle for an ethical society and the perennial fear of extinction.

The writer is a social development and policy adviser, and a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.


Twitter: @AmirHussain76