“Man is immersed in dreams… He lives in sleep… He is a machine.”
Imagine that each of us has been living in a bubble. There is one bubble for each of us.
Imagine that when I go to look at a sunset, I see it filtered through my transparent bubble. That when I go to touch the pedals of a flower, I feel the inside of the bubble as it conforms to the shape of each pedal it comes into contact with. That when I move about in the world, I feel the inside of the bubble on the bottoms of my feet and maybe even on the tips of my eyelids. And that when I go to kiss my wife, we feel only our lips caressing our respective bubbles.
What does the bubble signify? Only that I seem to experience a world of separate, solid objects “out there” while I am behind a thick divider “in here.” That my sensuous engagement with a world of other people and other beings is always “filtered” through this protective layer. And that there is a kind of unspeakable, because unknowable, isolation I feel–an isolation from anything “above,” from anything and anybody “around,” and from any animating world “in” and “through” me.
Now imagine one more bubble, the bubble of bubbles: that is, the bubble continuing all individual human bubbles. Call this bubble, which contains some 7 billion people, the “human species.” See that it’s cut off from anything but humankind. This is Humanism.
This two-part thought experiment replicates, to a degree, what it’s like to live, as we do, in the the Humanist Era, the era starting perhaps at the end of the Renaissance, the one we’ve come to embrace while at the same time taking for granted. For we are living out certain basic assumptions that, as the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once observed, are “so obvious that people do not know what they are assuming because no other way of putting things has ever occurred to them.” Which assumptions seem to be so obvious to us in this case?
First, that the world of matter and energy is separate from us and that the cosmos, now understood as a universe (or multiverse), is inert, objective, distant. Second, that anything we might call the divine–God in the Abrahamic traditions, the Dao in Daoism, sunyata in Buddhism, or the Self in Hinduism–is inextricably severed from us, having slowly, over the course of modernity, withdrawn from human affairs. Third, that other sentient beings like wildebeests and squirrels and cockroaches are removed from us and therefore, in many cases, are no more than impediments to our conquests. Fourth and above all, that the only things that matter are anthropocentric in nature: what I, a human being, think of myself, want for myself, fear in relation to myself, and what I think, desire, and fear in connection with other human beings. When what I’m describing above is not narcissism, plain and simple, it is species-wide narcissism. In fact, it is both. We are enclosed in a dream consisting of one human drama called “psychology” after another called “politics” after another known as “economics”…. And so on and so on and so on.
Meanwhile, Humanism has failed, the Earth is dying, and we homo sapiens are alone and lost. We need to wake up–now.