Beyond Hard and Soft Materialism: An Analysis of the Human Spirit

Beyond Hard and Soft Materialism: An Analysis of the Human Spirit
“War Room”, Still from Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb, 1964.

The coverage of the Ukraine war displays the core worldviews of our ruling regimes. First you have the hard materialism of post soviet autocracy which reduces the world to buildings to be destroyed and bodies to be killed. The notion of success returns to the pre modern idea of slaughter and plunder (check out the Mongols on this).

Then there is the soft materialism of the Western Liberal and Left culture. Materialism here provides the basis for the paradigm of individualist consumerism where humanity is constructed as atomised decision making machines engaging in cost benefit analysis to maximise their utility. The logic of this view leads to a deterministic Left defeatism in the face of oppression. Western commentators convince themselves that when the forces of oppression become “overwhelming” then there is “no option” but for the people to submit. The paradigm is eighteenth century Newtonian physics: a strong material force overcomes a weaker material force. The weaker force has “no chance” of winning.

All this is total nonsense. As a researcher in radical political change at King’s College for five years I quickly identified that such reductive materialisms are ideologies which have little to do with the empirical record. Yes people submit to tyranny and yet just as often they rebel. It’s a complex system out there. Why? Because human beings are not inert objects subject to material forces. We desire recognition, love, meaning, and glory. We fear death and at the same time we are drawn to death. We are in this world but not of it. We are animals but also gods. The old name for complexity is “spirit”. This debate on the nature of humanity is as old as human existence.

The practical point here is that is entirely possible that the Ukrainians will win not despite of all the death and destruction but because of it. It is within human agency to determine our destiny. We do not know the foundational justification of this sentence I have just written. If we did then we would not be “indeterminant”. If you know what is unknowable then it was never unknowable in the first place. And so on.. the endless merry go round of philosophical debate.

Sometimes things don’t change for a long time and then they do. For all of human existence up to the 1950s we could not destroy ourselves. Now we can. We are now in the Endgame for humanity – for the first time for 250,000 years. We can go extinct via a nuclear winter and/or a via descent into a hothouse earth through putting CO2 into the atmosphere.

So here’s the thing. If we continue to use violence to combat violence then it is mathematically inevitable that we will no longer continue the linear alternation between war and peace but at some point spiral into the “last battle” and destroy the human race. We will go extinct. The notion that deterrence is an absolute is hopelessly naïve. Ironically then this is what you might be called the hyper realist position in an Endgame context. If we continue to be old style realists – believing in force and domination we will blow ourselves up or destroy nature and thus ourselves.

This hyper realist position is same as the old idealist position in making clear that only civil resistance will deescalate violence and create the pathways into a new civilisational equilibrium based upon deliberative democracy and the inalienable rights for all living beings.

This will not be brought about by old fashioned high minded theorising and virtue signalling but through the a practical plan for the systematisation of civil resistance infrastructures. I think this is about to happen. Not despite us having no time left (three years according to Sir David King) but BECAUSE we have no time left. It will require the coming together of funders, creatives, and activists to pro actively design, organise and enact sequences of non linear social confrontations that progressively transform the old materialist paradigm and its social forms into a new regime of the human spirit. Or to put it another way, we decide we are not going to sit around waiting for them to have us die.

We find ourselves thrown into this life at an “interesting” time.

I will expand on the practical design elements of this transformation in my next post.

For civil resistance email again:

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