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Human Dignity and Global Pandemic


Human Dignity And Global Pandemic

Why do we need the Constitution for the Federation of Earth?

Glen T. Martin

What Does it Mean to be Human?

What is a human being? Why do we place such extraordinary significance on human life? Why do we speak of human rights or human dignity? We cannot explore these questions without including questions about the whole of the universe or the ground or source of existence itself. The universe has evolved us. It has produced human beings with all the exceptional qualities of human beings, some of which I will outline below. Who or what we are is fundamentally inseparable from the meaning of the whole. The famous “Anthropic Principle” investigated by thinkers like Errol E. Harris (1991) argues that intelligent creatures such as us were built into the structure of the universe from its very beginnings.

Throughout much of the ancient and medieval worlds, the understanding that human beings possessed a unique dignity within the design of things was taken for granted. Today, the dominant civilization has lost this sense of the whole. It is in danger of losing any sense of the dignity of human life. We are fragmented into a collection of confused atoms struggling for power, ascendency, and wealth. We think of the world as made up of individual parts (atoms), rather than that all the individuals in the world are really aspects of greater wholes. We have lost sight of the whole that we are as human beings, a whole that manifests our common dignity. We have lost sight of our unique role on planet Earth and within the cosmic scheme of things.

Restoring our sense of the dignity and meaning of human life will today require uniting humanity within the framework of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. It is only when humanity is united politically, economically and democratically that we will begin to think in terms of our unique dignity and the important role that we should be playing on this planet. We understand today that human beings are firmly rooted within our planetary home and its holistic biosphere. Climate science has made this very clear. The realization of this holism should lead us to understand that we must unite economically and politically in order to harmonize ourselves with the planetary biosphere.

The Fragmentation of Modernity

With the rise of modernity with the scientific revolutions of the 17th century, there developed a reductionist view of nature and a corresponding reductionist view of who and what we are as human beings. Human beings were viewed in terms of the mechanistic world view of the day. The world was thought of as a giant machine and human beings were merely atoms (or individual substances), both physically and subjectively. Philosophers like David Hume (1957), writing in the 18th century, thought of humans as bundles of merely personal subjective wants and desires. The greatness and dignity of human life that had been characteristic of the thinkers of the world’s great religions and the philosophers of ancient and medieval times was seriously diminished. Humans were little more than conscious machines to be studied by behavioral scientists as if we were just another natural phenomenon among the plethora of living things on the Earth.

The modern economic system developed based on this reductionistic view of human life. It was thought that innumerable human atoms and their businesses operating in competition with one another within a “free market” to accumulate private profit would result in the greatest prosperity for the greatest number. After nearly four centuries of people greedily engaging in their “free” enterprises, we find ourselves in a world where 1% own 50% of the world’s wealth and hundreds of millions live in dire poverty and misery.

In the modern economic system, the dignity of persons disappeared into systems of exploitation and commodification. Human beings became simply another form of capital to be exploited in the service of private profit. Working people had to struggle against great odds just to have laws prohibiting child labor for their children. They had to struggle and suffer just to get safety measures installed in the factories where they worked. They had to engage in brutal struggles just to get social security or health insurance. Capitalism intrinsically resists any encroachments on its “free market” mechanisms for accumulating private profit. The dignity of workers is not commodifiable and fits into no economic equations concerning investment, production, supply, or demand.

Like the capitalist atomism of business interests competing for private profit within a “free market,” the early-modern atomistic and mechanistic paradigm divided the world into competing units called sovereign nation-states. Each sovereign government had effective power over its own citizens and organized them in ways that promoted national interests. The citizens were encouraged to patriotism, to be willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of their country, and to nobly offer their hearts, minds, and bodies to “defend” their country’s interests in foreign wars.

The dignity of those killed and whose life-supports systems were destroyed in the other countries did not count in the “homeland.” Only “German lives” or “Japanese lives” or “British lives” or “American lives” counted. Human dignity was replaced by national identity. As with capitalism, the dignity of citizens is not calculable within the equations of national self-interest in a world of competing, militarized sovereign nation-states. More value was placed on “our loyal boys,” “our valiant troops,” or “our citizens abroad.” The common human dignity animating human lives everywhere disappeared into a world of power politics, intrigue, corruption, and foreign wars.

In India Mahatma Gandhi organized the Salt March to underline the dignity and rights of ordinary people. The British Viceroy of India declared: “It will take more than a pinch of salt to bring down the British Empire.” The “empire” comes before human dignity. What is British counts for more, what is Chinese counts for more, what is Russian counts for more, what is Indian counts for more. Not human dignity, not justice, not love, not the emergence of one world civilization of peace and justice and sustainability.

In the early decades of the 20th century, some thinkers began challenging this reductionism of human beings to just another creature who had evolved on Earth through the Darwinian process of natural selection. Alfred North Whitehead as a philosopher and scientist rebelled against what he called “this triumph of materialism” and reasserted what he called “the religious vision” that was always there, however obscured by the reductionism of science: “It has the power of love presenting the one purpose whose fulfillment is eternal harmony. Such order as we find in nature is never force—it presents itself as the one harmonious adjustment of complex detail” (1925, 60 and 192).

Whitehead associates the holism of the cosmos with love. He sees the universe as a process guided by an ever-increasing love. Process philosophy rebelled in this direction. Existentialism rebelled in another direction, some theologians in another, and humanism emerged in a fourth direction. All of these were attempting to restore a missing dignity, gravity, and consequence to human life that the prevailing science and culture seemed to ignore or diminish. Philosopher Karl Jaspers, in his 1930 book Man in the Modern Age, wrote of the leveling down of humanity into a mass in which the immense significance of human life was in danger of being lost: “Everywhere on occasions we encounter peculiar forms of corruption dependent upon self-seeking and the pursuit of private advantage. They continue because they are tacitly accepted by all concerned.” (1951, 57). We are in danger of losing our selfhood, Jaspers declared, in danger of losing the possibility of “transcendence” into a higher human future.

After the second world war, existentialist writer Albert Camus declared that hope remains only in the “most difficult task of all: to reconsider everything from the ground up.” The new order we seek, he declared, “cannot be merely national… It must be universal” (1946, 46). Similarly, in his book The Broken Image: Man, Science, and Society (1964), Floyd W. Matson attempted to restore the image of human dignity and the vast significance once associated with the fact of being a human being. He quotes Karl Mannheim on the loss everywhere of the vision of transcendence: “The disappearance of utopia brings about a static state of affairs in which man himself becomes no more than a thing” (ibid., 256). Without a utopian vision that actualizes our human dignity, these thinkers declare, human beings become only things to be manipulated by capitalism or nation-state power politics.

Fragmentation and the Global Pandemic

Yet in spite of the efforts of many thinkers to overcome the fragmentation and reductionism of both capitalism and the sovereign nation-state system, and to reestablish the vision of human dignity and our vast human potential for self-transcendence, the immense inertia of these systems brought them crashing into the 21st century with ever-increasing chaos, madness, and disintegration of civilizing trends. The human rights movement disintegrated under the onslaught of the war on terror, with nation-states becoming more lawless and terroristic than the groups they claimed to be fighting. The environment that sustains human life has continued to disintegrate all around us under the weight of the absurd dogma of economic growth, a growth evaluated as GDP, the gross domestic product of competing sovereign nation-states.

The global coronavirus pandemic has exposed the entire corrupt world system for what it has become. While the pandemic rapidly spread worldwide due to a globalized economy and transport system, the fragmented nations descended into petty in-fighting, bickering, and struggle for the needed resources and remedies. They competed as well for who to blame for the collapse of their universal economic con-game. The UN Secretary General put out a video to all the world begging the warring groups and nations everywhere to declare a ceasefire so that people might deal with the terrible conditions of the pandemic. Yet wars, economic blockades, sanctions, and struggles continued regardless of people everywhere becoming sick and dying from the virus. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the hand of their Doomsday Clock to just 100 seconds before midnight.

Meanwhile within nations, the poor, who under the capitalist system live from day to day, week to week, depending on their meager pay, have lost their jobs and face starvation. This is true not only in places like India and Bangladesh, but in the United States as well, where the government has been bailing out the rich businesses while millions of poor are falling through the cracks and facing desperation, homelessness, and ultimately starvation.

Under capitalism and the system of militarized sovereign nation-states, there is no world health system in place to protect against such a terrible pandemic and nip it in the bud. There is no world sustainability system in place to slow down and reverse the disintegration of the planetary environment. There is no world peace system in place to eliminate terrorism, war-making, or even weapons of mass destruction. There is no world justice system guaranteeing everyone the right to live with dignity and sufficient food, clothing, and shelter. There is no freedom system in place to protect against the spying upon and manipulation of people by nation-state and mass-media domination and control forces. There is no social security system in place to protect people who have lost jobs or livelihoods.

The result is planetary chaos. The dehumanization of human beings now raised to apocalyptic proportions. The death of millions means nothing to those who wield these systems of wealth, power, domination, and violence. Human dignity does not exist for either capitalism or sovereign nation-states. Reductionism and fragmentation can never seriously address what is inherently transcendent and universal.

Can there be a rebirth after this collapse? Many people are asking this question. The rich and powerful are acting to secure their continued domination after the pandemic. But their domination depends on the dehumanization of mankind. Their domination requires fragmentation, atomism, and compassionless exploitation in a dog eat dog world. Those human qualities that led to the idea of human dignity, however, remain with us. They are difficult to eradicate because they are intrinsic to our humanity. Can we retrieve them and enhance them to the point there we create a decent civilization for the Earth? That is the great challenge of our present moment. Let us review some of these qualities.

Recognition of Human Dignity

Human beings have come about on planet Earth with several qualities that betoken the idea of dignity. Throughout civilization historic cultures, religions, and philosophies have generated the idea that we are a microcosm of the whole (the macrocosm).

First, human beings are conscious in a way that no other creature exhibits. We are self-aware. We know that we know, and we alone can ask the question of existence: what is the meaning, origin, and nature of existence? What is the significance of our self-awareness in the scheme of things? We alone, through our consciousness, can discern meaning, crave for meaning, and attain to meaning.

Second, we are not only subjective (conscious) being. We are also bodily being. We appear to live as unique creatures, who, through our being-in-the-world, join the material world, the living (biological) world, the world of consciousness, and the realm of transcendence. It has appeared to many throughout history, including today, that we are truly a microcosm, a special manifestation of the ground and source of Being itself, uniting all these dimensions into one self-aware manifestation of the whole.

Third, only human beings have reason, the logos, the capacity to discern the order and laws of the universe and formulate principles of reasoning, knowledge, and truth. As philosopher Raimon Panikkar observes: “We know things because they are knowable; they are knowable because between things and our intellect there is a primordial relationship” (2013, 146). Our reason opens an immense window onto reality that we observe in no other creature. What is the significance of our emergence as a self-aware window into reality?

Fourth, among all living creatures that we know of only human beings can think in terms of freedom, with its concomitant ideas of responsibility and capacity to choose, and the question about what is the meaning and role of freedom is the cosmic evolutionary process. How is it that freedom seems to have blossomed out of a universe that is everywhere conditioned by causal laws and a mechanical determinism?

Fifth, among all living creatures we alone appear to distinguish between good and evil. We alone can comprehend moral principles and live according to these. We alone appear to sense a cosmic demand, a divinely commanded duty, to live according to such principles. We alone encounter value: the true, the good, and the beautiful. And we alone appear capable of evil. This human quality appears to have a cosmic significance, a dimension far transcending our individual existence.

Sixth, human beings are capable of an “I-Thou” relationship. Our lives are intrinsically relational. We can communicate with one another and relate to one another with respect, love, compassion, and concern, apparently far beyond such relationships in other “social” animals. This appears to be a capacity that shows up in a deep and compelling form only in human life. We are capable of a deep oneness with one another that does not abolish our individual uniqueness. Historically this quality has led extraordinary persons as well as ordinary persons to conclude that “God is love” or “relationship is the foundation of all things.”

Seventh, among all living creatures, we appear capable of self-transcendence. All of the above “gifts” of human existence appear open ended and capable of unlimited realization. We can grow beyond selfishness and egoism into ever-greater love, compassion, and communicative relationships. We can attain transcendent forms of awareness, rationality, or moral purity. Some thinkers have declared that we are more accurately defined by our potentialities, rather than our present actualities.

Eighth, among all living creatures we alone live within history, both personal history and civilizational history. We understand the idea of becoming and realize that we could become greater, better, or wiser than we now are. Indeed, all our human qualities from consciousness, to freedom, to morality can become greater, more actualized, than they now are. Even our dignity can become greater, our sense of having a transcendent worth, an incalculable value within the scope of things. One great Indian thinker and mystic, Sri Aurubindo, for example, concluded that “the universe and the individual are necessary to each other in their ascent…. [The universe] creates in itself a self-conscious concentration of the All through which it can aspire” (1973, 49). In other words, the universe has become conscious of itself through us.

The Constitution for the Federation of Earth Restores and Actualizes Human Dignity.

No matter how we interpret its cosmic significance, dignity can be further actualized in each of us and in all of us. And because we are intrinsically social and relational, my dignity is actualized along all these lines only through living and being with others. The dignity of others is similarly actualized through who and what I am in relation to them. We come to realize that we are bound together in our common humanity, our common consciousness, our common logos, our common compassion, our common capacity for love, our common universality of value. Dignity is a common human dimension binding all together simultaneously. That is why we attribute inviolable dignity to all, even children, the infirm, criminals, or the insane. We do not “possess” dignity or rights as individuals; we participate in them in virtue of our common humanity (cf. Martin 2018).

My dignity cannot be fulfilled as long as others are denied the conditions for actualizing their own dignity. As long as human beings are exploited, crushed, or subjected to violence my own dignity remains diminished. A violation of human rights anywhere is a violation of the rights of all of us. We are one in our dignity, to which all the above-named qualities point (cf. Kirchhoffer 2013). Dignity is not fragmented like the egoism of capital or national sovereignty. The collective egoism of thinking that we are Russians, or we are Chinese, or we are Americans is clearly a manifestation of our fragmentation as crippled and maimed human beings.

We are maimed by our fragmentation in all the above-named ways: in our consciousness, our bodies, our freedom, our love, our relationships, our morality, and our historical destiny. Only by joining with all others in a world system predicated on peace, justice, freedom, and sustainability can our own dignity open to its highest potential actualization. Only through ratifying the Constitution for the Federation of Earth can human life take on the character of a world dedicated to the realization of human dignity.

The Constitution for the Federation of Earth actualizes this dignity within its principle of unity in diversity. Everything in nature has this holistic quality of a multiplicity of parts embraced within ever-more holistic fields. The Constitution does not philosophize about dignity, it establishes a world system predicated on that dignity—and upon the prospects of continually enhancing and actualizing our dignity. By recognizing the whole that human beings are as a species and a civilization, the Constitution is able to found or establish a peace system, justice system, freedom system, and sustainability system for the Earth.

All human beings are embraced by its recognition of their dignity. They are guaranteed the basic necessities of life precisely because they are human beings, including worldwide good health conditions, pandemic prevention, aid in times of natural disasters, clean water, clean air, and a healthy biosphere. In sum, they are guaranteed a world of peace with justice and sustainability because this alone expresses and enhances our common human dignity.

Not only does our historic recognition of human dignity demand a holistic world system under the Earth Constitution, the moral demand to further actualize our common dignity also demands this. We are at a crossroads. Shall we return to systems of dehumanization and degradation: global capitalism and sovereign nation-statehood?

Or shall we ascend toward our higher common human destiny characterized by love, compassion, truth, justice, and sustainability? Now is the time for a fundamental decision. Can we embrace the Earth Constitution as that document that can redeem our broken world system and raise us to a higher level of existence on our planetary home? Only then will we restore and enhance our common human dignity. Fragmentation is dehumanization, destructive of human dignity. Now is the time to humanize our planet. Now is the time for us to become more truly human.

Works Cited

Aurobindo, Sri (1973). The Essential Aurobindo. Ed. Robert A. McDermott. New York: Schocken Books.

Camus, Albert (1980). Neither Victims Nor Executioners. Trans. Dwight MacDonald. New York: Continuum Press.

Constitution for the Federation of Earth, found on-line at www.earth-constitution.org. See also Constitution for the Federation of Earth: with an Introduction by Glen T. Martin. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Democracy Press, 2010.

Harris, Errol E. (1991). Cosmos and Anthropos: A Philosophical Interpretation of the Anthropic Cosmological Principle. London: Humanities Press International.

Hume, David (1957, orig. pub. 1752). An Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. New York: Library of the Liberal Arts.

Jaspers, Karl (1957, orig. pub. 1930). Man in the Modern Age. Trans. Eden and Cedar Paul. Garden City, New York: Anchor Books.

Kirchhoffer, David G. (2013). Human Dignity in Contemporary Ethics. Amherst, NY: Teneo Press.

Martin, Glen T. (2018). Global Democracy and Human Self-Transcendence: The Power of the Future for Planetary Transformation. London: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Matson, Floyd W. (1964). The Broken Image: Man, Science, and Society. New York: George Braziller Publisher.

Whitehead, Alfred North (1967). Science and the Modern World: Lowell Lectures, 1925. New York: The Free Press.