Saturday, November 24, 2012

Unity and Scatter

Some meditations start in the mundane, today’s in events in Egypt. There President Morsi assumed more powers; in consequence secular, modernist, and liberal elements once more erupted in violent protests. Now it occurred to me that Morsi is linked to a religious majority, the Muslim Brotherhood; the secular elements, however, are notoriously disunited because they have many and often conflicting goals: nationalist, industrialist, capitalist, socialist, centrist, leftist, rightist, and so on. When the focus of interest is something in this realm—which turns out to be the very essence beneath the concept of secular—it is very difficult to find unity.

The natural sequence in this realm of ours, where entropy rules, is from unity to scatter, thus from order to disorder. Every culture begins in a transcending unity and then, over time, becomes secular. But in times of major challenge and disaster, we always observe at least a temporary turn back toward unity, the transcendental. Hence there was a brief upsurge in church attendance following the 9/11 attack. Major traumas in the offing concentrate the mind, wake people up, and then they seek—unity.

Now the very essence of that idea, of unity, is that it is, by its very nature, transcending. It doesn’t work as an organizing principle, goal, or motivator unless it transcends the particular. Attempts to find some decent substitute, like community, nation, or even humanity ultimately depend on something above them to work effectively. Not surprisingly, therefore, that stalwartly secular document, the Declaration of Independence, which bases itself on the Laws of Nature, completes that phrase by adding another (echoing a line of jurists, Blackstone foremost among them): “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” I also note, with some bemusement, that the word “united” in the title, preceding the words “States of America,” is still rendered in lower case…

Order is in the direction of unity. Nature, left to its own devices, causes scatter, entropy.  As people we are potential unities at birth, but it takes much effort and learning to achieve a foretaste of it in this life—in which autonomous urges pull us in all directions. And this has a cost. Nature itself must be opposed so that the transcending self that we are can actually, to some extent, manifest. The urge to scatter appears to be built right into this region of the universe and if we’re diligent and lucky, we’ll master it to some extent as we grow up. But the battle never ends.

Now, of course, as writ small so also as writ large. Hence we meet the same demands at the social level of governance. It is much easier to govern if a transcendental goal is present, understood, and sought by a majority. Any person who has labored at achieving unity in his or her own person will be inclined to join into the collective effort if it aims above itself. If it is only an “alliance,” a common word in secularism, or a “coalition,” of similar interests—read pieces of the scatter—those who look higher will tend to prevail.

The little unity of the individual self, when it has emerged above the clouds of scatter, will also recognize the same unity behind all kinds of very different religious forms so that “Muslim Brotherhood” will not seem something dreadful and threatening right out of the box. Does scatter confuse the transcendental faiths of humanity? Of course it does. But then we live in the natural turbidity of the fallen world.

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